Follow the North Star: Why customer-first companies will win
PRESENTED BY INVISION AND PENDO
As budgets tighten and customer expectations for a consistently positive product experience continue to rise, companies are facing pressure to align internal teams and processes around a common goal. And with the increasing digitization of everyday life, employees are engaging with customers more than ever, from sales and marketing teams to product, design, development, and beyond.
Today’s workforce is fueled by transparency. Any and every department is able to access and promote their product message directly to customers. And yet true collaboration across teams remains a significant challenge for many organizations. Deep-seated silos and company in-fighting will ultimately hurt the user, as well as your bottom line.
Decisions need to be driven by what your buyer wants; not what one internal department deems right and necessary. But how do companies make that shift? This guide, co-created by Pendo and InVision, will outline the steps that companies need to take in order to focus every employee on the same north star–the customer.
-JESSICA DUBIN, SENIOR PRODUCT MANAGER, INVISION
A culture of collaboration
“CULTURE EATS STRATEGY FOR BREAKFAST.”
– Peter Drucker
Culture enables strategy, brings it to life, and determines its success. And a culture of collaboration across teams, departments, and executive decision-makers that is oriented around the customer will determine which companies remain competitive in today’s marketplace.
Netflix understood the business value of culture from its founding. All prospective employees are required to read a robust culture statement before interviewing. Sheryl Sandberg has called it “the most important document ever to come out of the Valley.” Why? Because a cultivated company culture attracts and retains top talent. And when it’s focused on inclusivity, diversity, and bringing people together, it enables an environment of enhanced processes, experiences, and a shared understanding of the customer that ensures all employees put them first.
Understand your purpose
To put the wheels in motion and align your company compass on your customer, it’s important to have a well-planned onboarding process in place for every new hire–regardless of their team and function. At both InVision and Pendo, for instance, all new employees go through a week-long orientation to get acquainted with their company’s values, to learn more about their products and history, and to ultimately gain a complete understanding of the customer.
While these onboarding practices ensure new employees have a shared view of the user from day one, it’s critical to reinforce that perspective through daily decision-making. This is where cross-functional collaboration plays an important role.
When designing new features or solving product issues, the folks at InVision always start by bringing together teams across design, product, and engineering, along with sales, IT, support, finance, and beyond. And there’s a crucial reason why:
“Our customer solution is only going to be effective if we have a full understanding of the problem–and if we have the support of all teams in the implementation,” says Senior Product Manager Jessica Dubin.
Build cross-functional connections
Successful company culture depends on fostering healthy relationships with colleagues and customers alike. Employee engagement comes down to the relationships that are modeled by company leadership and forged among different teams. And when it comes to remote work, this matters more than ever.
“The most critical thing for building an inclusive remote culture is to ensure that all rituals are designed to support remote team members,” says Elizabeth Ojukwu, engineering manager at InVision.
To do this, companies can begin by accounting for different time zones, making sure everyone can be on video calls, having conversations in open channels instead of direct messages, and making any documentation and code as accessible as possible to everyone on the team.
In a time when in-person meetings and live team-building activities are no longer the norm, these steps ensure that every employee feels valued, seen, and understood while equipping them with the tools and information needed to keep that shared view of the customer top of mind.
-JOHN MAEDA, CHIEF EXPERIENCE OFFICER, PUBLICIS SAPIENT
Share what you know
Businesses are finally catching up with the idea that improving the ways people work and fostering the exchange of ideas is a key to success. Today’s economy is characterized by the volume, availability, and rapid shareability of information. And, in turn, new expectations of how to make the most of it–from updating inefficient processes to integrating teams and making decisions based on what the customer wants and needs.
In order to transform the way information is shared and decisions are made, companies need to be transparent with their knowledge networks, actively documenting data and communicating key takeaways. But, remember–information-sharing needs to exist on the foundation of a unified customer view if it’s going to deliver valuable meaning, context, and insights.
Otherwise, it’s easy to lose sight of the very customer pain points you’re working to solve. Given the sheer volume of information available, and the diversity of perspectives and roles at play, having a widely-understood view of the customer is a necessary filter and common ground for every team and employee.
-JESSICA DUBIN, SENIOR PRODUCT MANAGER, INVISION
For creativity and innovative thinking to flourish, people need to feel supported and heard. “We have a principle of candor with compassion,” says InVision Staff Product Designer Cailtin Wagner. Team members are encouraged to feel confident and speak their minds on new customer solutions while voicing concerns when something doesn’t feel right.
“We work in an ever-changing field, and respect for our colleagues who bring different skills and perspectives is the foundation of effective teamwork–and essential to a product and customer’s success,” says Jennie Baird, VP of product at News Corp. Diverse points of view always enhance the problem-solving process when they’re informed by what matters most–the customer experience.
Building relationships is the most challenging part of being remote, but InVision–which has always been distributed–is intentional about creating a strong culture of feedback, trust, and support to make sure everyone is aligned on customer needs.
Managers are intentional about creating a caring and collaborative space–checking in on their teams, asking questions about their wellbeing, and creating forums to socialize virtually. And to make sure this happens, the company provides managerial training through Degreed as well as expert mentorship and curated in-house content on remote team management skills. Before COVID-19, regular company offsites offered opportunities for in-person team-building–a vital practice for fostering real relationships among peers.
When your workforce respects and understands one another’s value, everyone is poised to actively listen to their teammates–necessary when attempting to align around a shared language and common goal of optimized customer experience. To ensure this, leadership needs to drive the right kinds of discussions.
Ruth Frank, VP for client and user experience at Pitney Bowes, agrees. “We ask questions that spark great conversations and illuminate areas where there might be gaps in our collective team knowledge.” They include:
- Who are our users?
- How do we know they want this feature?
- How do we know if they’d use it at their desktop versus their mobile device?
Different departments then partner to find the answers. When inevitable trade-offs have to be made, Frank says the most important thing is to keep the client top of mind, followed by broader business goals.
-RUTH FRANK, VP FOR CLIENT AND USER EXPERIENCE, PITNEY BOWES
Streamlined organizational design
“THE MOST COMMON BARRIER TO CUSTOMER CENTRICITY IS THE LACK OF CUSTOMER-CENTRIC ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE”
-Dennis Lee Yohn
Implementing cross-functional collaboration requires a progressive company culture that embraces modern, innovative practices and technologies that enhance and streamline workflows. This improves the experiences of employees, shareholders and, of course, the customer.
Teams that ultimately depend on one another–including engineering, product, and design–still often struggle to find a shared language.
The key is designing a thoughtful organizational structure and enabling teams with the right tools. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. According to designer and technologist John Maeda’s 2020 CX Report, digital transformation is difficult because of the various systems and technologies that have accrued within companies over time. And in corporate environments, few want to be the first to rock the boat and suggest changing something that’s been in place for years–even when there are new, better ways to do the work.
Here’s a look at how to ensure you’re building collaborative teams that come together around your company’s north star–the customer.
At its core, Product Operations is the intersection of product, engineering, and customer success. It exists to support research and development teams and their go-to-market counterparts to improve alignment, communication, and processes around product development, launch, and iteration. But how does it work when it’s at its best?
By communicating each division’s needs and wants in a language everyone can better understand, ProductOps helps foster conversations that pinpoint problem areas with insights from data-backed stories. When given the right resources and space to flourish, ProductOps can help a fledgling start-up successfully scale or assist a legacy company in rediscovering its purpose with new and improved practices that are centered around the customer. But it
doesn’t happen overnight.
Standing up a dynamic ProductOps team requires an investment from leadership all the way down, and the biggest challenge, according to Pendo’s Director of Product Operations Christine Itwaru, is the sheer volume of data accumulated from customer and business research, which can often lead to analysis paralysis.
As companies expand into new industries and customer segments, here are a few ways ProductOps supports evolving business priorities:
REACH ACROSS THE AISLE.
ProductOps needs to work with product, revenue and customer teams to collect qualitative and quantitative data. They also collaborate with product marketing to understand user personas and gather feedback during beta periods. This data should later be made available to everyone in the company to ensure a shared understanding of the problems they’re working to solve.
IDENTIFY CUSTOMER PAIN POINTS.
Work to understand the pain customers feel across segments and industries to improve onboarding guides and ensure that customer outreach helps everyone get the most out of your product. At Pendo, this is facilitated by partnering with the sales team pre-sales and with the customer success team post-sales. That way, Itwaru says, “we can lean into the data we need to build a great experience.”
TIE NEXT STEPS TO CUSTOMER NEEDS.
For release announcements, connect back to the value the customer will receive out of each change delivered. Have your product marketing team highlight customer stories where changes have driven outcomes and can be measured. These combined efforts enable future products that are focused on specific solutions and allow customers to lean into features that give them the most value.
Digital product design gets more complex by the day, and as companies invest in scaling design, new disciplines and teams are woven into the existing company fabric. As such, the inevitable operational gaps that emerge can lead to inconsistent customer experience. By operationalizing design, creating standardized systems, and aligning teams, design operations streamline workflows and pave the way for better customer experiences right from the start.
“The biggest challenge is usually prioritization,” says Jay Wyche, lead product designer at Pendo. He shares that, at times, some members of a team may be focused on delivery, while others deal with future projects or customer feedback from a previous iteration. When trying to collaborate, this can lead to jarring context shifts or misunderstandings.
“One of the most effective ways to mitigate this has been alignment along the customer first, and maintaining lines of communication throughout everyone’s process,” Wyche says. To avoid pitfalls and keep everyone on the same page, his team shares regular progress updates that display how their function focuses on customer needs and team goals.
Here are a few ways DesignOps can drive alignment among designers as well as their cross-functional partners:
SHARE DESIGN WORK EARLY AND OFTEN.
Operationalizing design ensures partners across functions are brought into the design process as early as possible to lend their expertise and offer valuable insights. This way, disparate departments learn crucial communication tactics, as well as each other’s language.
STANDARDIZE MEETINGS AND FEEDBACK.
Daily critiques and standups create alignment, prevent duplication of work, and ensure that the team is working toward the right solution for the customer.
INVEST IN DESIGN KNOWLEDGE.
Leading companies share principles, practices, and tools as broadly as possible and brands like BBVA have even systematized the sharing of their best practices. With 5,000 design ambassadors around the globe delivering design thinking principles, optimized processes, and prototyping tools, all BBVA employees worldwide benefit from this shared information.
Development Operations unites software development and IT operations to deliver rapid, responsive, and high-quality services that cater to a customer-first experience. Covering everything from security and data analytics to better collaboration practices, DevOps teams work to speed up the processes involved in taking a new customer solution from development to delivery.
It’s not easy to maintain the highest standards of value, reliability, and quality for the end user with so many balls up in the air. And avoiding silos is difficult, too, regardless of your department or whether you’re working remote or side-by-side. At companies like Pendo and InVision, processes are designed to ensure collaboration every step of the way, which helps avoid misalignment among departments. Teams partner closely throughout the ideation and
planning phases, with customer needs always front and center.
“To ensure smooth transitions across teams and new hires, we usually spin up personalized on-boarding guides,” says InVision Engineering Manager Elizabeth Ojukwu. These guides include lists of detailed tasks and expectations for their first two weeks, as well as 30, 60, and 90-day milestones. New engineers also get assigned an onboarding buddy who they meet with daily during the first week, and who serves as their go-to person for support and guidance.
In addition to onboarding, here are other ways to ensure DevOps creates a more seamless product development process and consistently delivers customer value:
Encourage engineers to write up internal blog posts about interesting problems they’ve worked on so they can share that knowledge and get recognition for their work. Ojukwu’s team also creates videos to document and introduce new features to the broader organization. “These videos are always a cross-functional operation, including engineers, designers, and product managers,” she says.
Engineers should frequently collaborate on technical specs and diagrams as well as share responsibilities when it comes to code reviews. At InVision, the team uses Freehand to develop a shared understanding from the start, says Ojukwu, and “all of our code repositories and documentations are open and accessible by everyone within engineering.”
TRUST YOUR EMPLOYEES.
Your people know how to manage their time and set expectations based on outcomes; that’s why you hired them. An environment of “flexibility and trust creates a sense of co-ownership that is required for an employee to remain motivated and deliver results,” says Ojukwu.
To keep everyone on the same page when partnering with diverse teams, it’s helpful to sketch stories into visual flows in order to see the bigger picture and communicate specific departmental knowledge and language into something everyone across the organization can understand. “We use Freehand to do this,” says InVision’s Senior Product Manager Jessica Dubin. “It’s a really lightweight whiteboard tool that’s easy to use and highly shareable.”
“Sometimes you have to say the same thing three different ways before the entire team understands, and that’s okay. That’s part of having a shared language; language is naturally adaptive and tricky, but the best way to learn a new one is to show up, to listen, and to not be afraid to speak up.” – Caitin Wagner, staff product designer, InVision
“Feedback is critical,” says Ojukwu. “Not just any feedback, but meaningful feedback that’s tailored to the individual.” With a variety of professional development initiatives, including sessions called Learning Pathways, InVision supports managers in building this skill.
Meanwhile, on the product development side, there are rigorous kick-off, discovery, design, and pre-release reviews that are open to all of engineering and product development, ensuring transparency, alignment, and frequent user validation and research sessions. “User research is always synthesized and thoroughly documented so it can be distributed to the entire organization,” Wagner adds, “so that the new knowledge and insights gleaned can be a shared resource.”
Truly unified teams display genuine balance on their way to design maturity and digital transformation. At BBVA, Head of Global Design Margarita Barrera helped establish the golden triangle of working between business, technology, and design.
This new way of collaborative working led the bank to create a design at scale global program for employees. It aims to integrate design methodologies and improve design practices across the organization to support the bank’s corporate strategy. “I think a key to our success has been this completely new way of collaborating across disciplines,” says Barrera. “We sit and work together in the same place, using agile methodologies and introducing customer insights at every stage.”
-JESSICA DUBIN, SENIOR PRODUCT MANAGER, INVISION
“IF YOU WANT TO BUILD PRODUCTS THAT PEOPLE NEED, LOVE, AND WILL PAY FOR, YOU HAVE TO PUT THEM AT THE CENTER OF YOUR PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT PROCESS.”
-BETH LEIBOVICH, DIRECTOR OF USER RESEARCH, MINDBODY
Without the customer as their north star, companies risk having a product experience where individual features fight for first place. Instead, with a clear vision of the end-to-end customer experience, internal teams see where they fit in the bigger picture and how to ensure their product solves real customer needs.
“Put simply,” says Pendo’s Christine Itwuru, “if you’re not solving the customer’s pain, what are you trying to achieve?” Success comes when customers feel the value your product has to offer, creating a chain reaction for more and more acquisition opportunities.
“Without them,” she adds, “there’s nothing to win.” Read on to discover what the world’s best businesses do to make sure everyone keeps the customer top of mind.
-DANNY VILLARREAL, HEAD OF CUSTOMER SUCCESS, JUNGLE SCOUT
Customer empathy occurs when a company identifies a customer’s emotional needs, works to understand the reasons behind them, and then commits to iterate and respond in the best possible way. Design and design research can be very helpful to create a shared, humanized understanding of the user. “The customer isn’t just an account number or job title,” says Jay Wyche, lead product designer at Pendo. “These are real people with real challenges.”
At Pendo, the team displays user personas across walls and whiteboards in collaborative spaces, making sure to contextualize the work and feedback with a relevant persona. “Instead of talking about the ‘User’,” says Wyche, “we’re talking about a real person.”
It’s the same story at BBVA. Design ambassadors are taught the importance of customer empathy each step of the way, according to Head of Global Design Margarita Barrera, “putting the user at the center of every company project with the goal of creating something that makes their lives easier.”
Study user behavior
“We study how people make decisions and have a deep understanding of this human behavior, so we can share this knowledge with other teams,” says Álvaro Gaviño, BBVA’s behavioral economics global leader, a department established as part of their digital transformation program.
The team at BBVA works cross-functionally, analyzing as many designs, products, and services as they can through a human-centered lens. “The goal is to develop more trust with our customers and to help them make better decisions regarding their financial health through the way that our products and services are designed.”
At wellness business management software company Mindbody, Director of User Research Beth Leibovich has a few more tricks up her sleeve. She suggests the following:
Get a customer on the line, interview them about their daily life, and let the company tune in. We also strike up a Slack channel where anyone can ask a question and the researcher will work to fit it in. At the end of the day, this reminds us of who we’re serving, and why they use our products.
Observe as a first-time customer is dropped into a product and just watch. It’s insightful. It’s surprising. It’s painful, sometimes. And it reminds all of us that we don’t know what we don’t know about how people use our products.
Have a researcher go to a customer’s business and live stream the walkthrough back to the office. It’s like a site visit, but scalable to the whole company. They get to see where our customers work, and where they use our products.
-BETH LEIBOVICH, DIRECTOR OF USER RESEARCH, MINDBODY
Always iterate and improve
Research shows that small changes and improvements like facilitating customer transactions and reducing wait times can lead to immense ROI. According to customer experience consulting firm Temkin Group, a typical $1 billion company can gain $775 million over the course of three years in this way.
And through research and empathy, any team is empowered to make the right kinds of changes and updates for their specific customer needs. At Patientco, for example, one of the company’s core values is to Improve Each and Every Day. Marketing Manager Bobbie Brookins and her team put a lot of effort into getting feedback and optimizing their user experiences.
When an auto-logout security feature began irritating customers, the issue emerged as a feedback theme in an in-app survey supported by Pendo. “The lack of warning was such a small thing that we didn’t realize it could be so frustrating for users,” Brookins says. Being able to provide specific use cases and exactly how many users were impacted helped speed processes along with a quick pop-up implementation offering customers to stay signed in before getting automatically logged out.
-BOBBIE BROOKINS, MARKETING MANAGER, PATIENTCO
Creating exceptional customer experiences calls for a complete understanding of the customer’s experience of your product. “The reality is that customers get acquired through multiple channels,” says InVision Senior Product Manager Jessica Dubin, and as such, they’re served a range of in- and out-of-product messages while exploring the offering.
The end customer experience has to feel seamless–even though the user sees content from marketing, product, sales, and support. To mitigate this, Dubin says, “We have to work together with the customer journey as our common language.”
E-learning platform Firefly learned this overnight, when the pandemic led to an unprecedented jump in usage–six to seven times that of normal peak season. To ensure that their services continued running smoothly and reliably while delivering on valuable new features, the team needed a full picture of how customers were interacting with the product. Pendo’s analytics provided this and allowed them to adapt in real-time.
“We’ve been using paths to see schools’ user journeys from their dashboard, which indicates where users are getting stuck and where they need guidance. And we’re using Pendo’s Guides to drive users to explore a wider variety of features as well as providing examples for more effective workflows.” – Samantha Benson, ProductOps Lead, Firefly
Developing a company-wide, shared understanding of your customer starts with customer listening. Let employees observe focus groups, sales and support calls, organize customer visits, implement co-creation labs, and encourage participation in customer events like advisory board meetings and industry conferences.
“Every member of the team is deeply customer-centric, and whenever possible we try to engage with and listen to our users,” says InVision Staff Product Designer Caitlin Wagner. They frequently reach out to customers who have provided feedback, good and bad, to learn even more about their experiences and what else can be improved. And, as always, the team leverages opportunities to share customer feedback with the larger organization.
According to Jungle Scout, it’s vital to have many channels for actionable customer input. “Each channel has a discrete value, and you don’t want to go all in on just a single one,” says Jungle Scout’s Head of Customer Success, Danny Villarreal. “Use support emails, Net Promoter Scores, surveys and polls, customer interviews, and tools like Pendo to create a 360-degree-view of your customers and what’s important to them.”
John Maeda insists that technologies need to communicate with each other, because “if one thing is wrong, the whole system falls apart. That’s why a customer data platform (CDP) is so interesting. A centralized data store to coordinate with all other systems, so that data can go from point to point.” This is obvious for startups, since it’s how they’ve always worked, he says. But for many established enterprise organizations, this is just the beginning–with the ability to personalize customer experiences with shared data well within reach.
Elizabeth Ojukwu’s engineering team uses tools like Github, JIRA, Confluence, InVision Enterprise, including Freehand on a daily basis to collaborate on product briefs, UX design artifacts, and technical specs. InVision’s digital whiteboard empowers everyone to work together in one place, creating a knowledge base that is easily accessible across teams. And the tool’s customizable templates are built specifically for brainstorms, retrospectives, technical diagrams, wireframing, and more.
Meanwhile, Pendo’s tools help teams ensure that they’re using the right customer data when making product decisions. So when designing for a specific feature, Pendo delivers analytics from active users of that particular feature–not just someone who might have viewed the page a few times. “This is incredibly valuable because these users often provide more targeted insight on actual workflows and processes,” says Lead Product Designer Jay Wyche.
“And on the flip side,” he adds, “data for customers who have low or no engagement allows us to gain insight on the first-time use or onboarding experience.” Pendo insights highlight how customers spend their time with a product and allow them to provide feedback directly within the tool. And it’s easy to organize that feedback by customer segment, which allows for informed and streamlined collaboration between sales and customer success.
“Our own tools have highlighted areas of improvement both from a process and delivery perspective, and they help us rally around a shared mission on behalf of our customers.”
-Christine Itwaru, Director of Product Operations, Pendo
-CAITLIN WAGNER, STAFF PRODUCT DESIGNER, INVISION
If you’re not close to your customers, you’re simply wasting resources while making guesses on what will work to win business. And if you’re chasing what the competition’s doing, you’re just as unlikely to solve for what your market actually needs.
“We live in a world where so many of our interactions are on the screen,” says InVision Senior Product Manager Jessica Dubin. “We talk with our friends via text, we share our experiences on social media, and we shop online, too.” Those numerous daily interactions add up, and they can create some momentum and joy in people’s lives–or, adversely, a lot of frustration.
COVID-19 has forced people to adapt to unfamiliar working systems they were in no way prepared for, but it’s also produced some of the most innovative and creative problem-solving techniques we’ve ever seen. “Our customers have come up with brilliant new ways to manage their workflow and business, and the more we listen and learn about how people are adapting and how they’ve overcome these challenges, the better we can equip ourselves to innovate as well,” says InVision Staff Product Designer Caitlin Wagner.
Companies have learned so much in 2020, and they need to continue incorporating that evolving knowledge into product vision, function, and development. It’s no longer enough to have a product that meets a particular need; “the experience has to feel good,” says Dubin. When teams are finally empowered and able to align around the customer, life will get a little easier for everyone–employees and users alike.
-NILI METUKI, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF DESIGN RESEARCH AND STRATEGY, INVISION
About InVision and Pendo
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