Designing software around customer intentions isn’t a controversial concept. Most business people agree that knowing what customers intend to do on a website or in an application, and providing customers with various ways to accomplish these intentions, is a good idea.
And yet, when the design (or redesign) process is underway, we sometimes bump up against resistance. At times, this comes in the form of: “But, what about [insert some piece of info/content]? Shouldn’t we let our customers know about this?” Or it may sound like: “We’ve always had this on our site, and it’s an important piece of content.”
We have to wonder: The content is important to who? And, when is the right time to serve this content up?
Questioning importance usually brings up a lot of debate because various stakeholders find it difficult to let go of their favorite departmental content. The most common reasons are some variation of entrenched company stakeholders finding it challenging to either look at things differently or accept the sunk time cost of creating said content.
To make matters worse for customer advocates, the business owners or C-suite decision-makers, often brought in to break up the debate, use their understanding of the ecosystem to do so. Further, their understanding may or may not be rooted in the latest customer data.
And there is the challenge. How do you communicate that designing for customer intentions is good for business?
Communicating the Customer Intentions Method to Management
- Lead with understanding the customer. To start, we don’t lead with extreme process overhaul. A new process takes time, a gradual acceptance of looking at things differently. Focusing on customer intentions starts with considering what customers intend to accomplish interacting with your software.
- Start with what you have. Unfortunately, stakeholders may not want to spend more time/money on research, or stakeholders already feel they know enough about customers. Review existing data and talk to people closest to customers/users to see what they know. It helps to gather what exists, then use it to show (not tell) the gaps in customer data to stakeholders. We don’t know what we don’t know. Exposing assumptions is often a necessary interim step before we can move on.
- Bring the right people around the table for alignment sessions. With necessary customer data in hand, alignment sessions accomplish two vital things: (1) sharing customer knowledge so that everyone is on the same page regarding customer intentions, as well as (2) getting the stakeholders on board with the process of leading with customer intentions. Again, we are not hard-selling this process. Instead, relevant stakeholders in your company must come to their understanding that this is the best way. You’re not a salesperson; you’re a guide. It’s hard to argue with customer data once you see it front/center.
- Probe with relevant questions. This both happens during the initial alignment sessions in step three, and in subsequent conversations as well. Namely, we ask, does this content fit what customers intend to do in our software? Does this content help customers meet their intentions on this webpage, task, or screen? What related content might the customer need on this page to fulfill their intention for this page/screen/task? Asking these questions lead stakeholders on a self-evident journey of content discernment.
The light at the end of this four-step tunnel is usually some level of realization that a site/application has to serve customer intentions rather than be organized by how the business views itself.
Additional Communication Tips
With the above process in mind, here are some additional communication tips to use in conversations with business stakeholders when you’re explaining why designing for customer intentions is a good idea:
- Align business and customer values. As people, we tend to gravitate towards others who share our values and belief system. The same holds for doing business. Customers tend to do more business with and remain loyal to businesses that explicitly share their values. If a business can demonstrate they understand customers’ intentions and share their values long-term customer retention will increase.
- The right content at the right time. This goes back to that “start with CX first” Steve Jobs talked about often. It’s a bit of magic when an application or site serves up appropriate content/function in the exact place or moment you need it. Doing this is very challenging for a business, but understanding customer intentions is the starting line of this journey.
- Cognitive overload is here to stay. Availability of information and customer choices are growing at an exponential rate. As a result, so is competition for your customer’s attention. At the same time, these attention spans are getting shorter. Overloading customers on content that stakeholders think customers want leads to attention burnout. People give up. Streamlining content based on customer intention is almost a courtesy by now. Help a customer out.
Structuring websites or applications around customer intentions is one of the very first steps needed to aim your business toward cultivating customer loyalty. The above provides a beginning framework to trying the customer intentions process in your company. But, there is a lot more we’ll be sharing as we learn and modify.
In the meantime, we love to hear what your experience has been like with this process in your business and, of course, any questions you may have.