This morning I was musing about one of our most successful clients and trying to figure out the “one big thing” that led them to get the results they’re getting. This particular client grew it’s automation from 15% to over 60%, helping them grow profits by over 100%.

Although they did a lot of things right with their app, there was one thing that stood out. They knew their customer.

This is an easy thing to say, so let’s see what “knowing the customer” looked like:

  • The business people had deep industry knowledge, including a great understanding of customers needs and wants.
  • They weren’t afraid to test ideas about their app on customers. We’d shape some ideas and then talk to customers about them to get early feedback. This is low-cost gold dust.
  • We’d co-create app sketches and prototypes and then grab customers and say – “Try and use this”. Then see what happened. Sometimes we’d even do this ad-hoc in the pub 🙂 It was all valuable learning, and of course more low-cost gold dust.
  • Our client wasn’t afraid to show work-in-progress to customers. In fact, they encouraged it.
  • They’d watch customers using their app. We had recordings of beta-testers using the app and could see where they struggled and where things worked well. A few of us (including the client) would sometimes watch customer videos rather than watching TV. It was fascinating.
  • We had 2-4 hour review meetings every Friday, where we’d bring this new knowledge back around the table and work out what to do next. We’d all argue about the right decisions, but ultimately it all came back to “what do our customers want?”

In the world of app-makers and digital people, this deliberate act of knowing the customer is called “gaining customer empathy”. It’s a well-known design best practice.

What I’m describing above is a fairly rough n’ ready version of gaining empathy, but the results are the same. You end up with a product that helps customers get the job done, and which keeps them coming back.

I’d argue that knowing the customer, listening to them and involving them in the app design process was what made this app successful.

Hope this was helpful, feel free to reach out to me if you want to know more.

P.S – You can apply this to any product you’re making – apps, web sites, Alexa skills, documents, books, furniture, cars..! It’s a universal design skill. Use it.