Customer Obsession is manifested in many of the career ladders of the top technology companies. But why is that and how can you, as a Software Engineer, show this principle right now at your current job?
Customer obsession is a principle that describes your effort to make your customer happy. It can be applied to almost all positions in a world where you are working on problems that not only you have. This goes from end-customer-facing roles to internal roles where your customer is another employee.
To make your customer happy there are different methods you can apply to make it work. The most important one is to know what your customer wants and for that, you have to be able to put yourself into the customer’s perspective and try out the work you have been doing from that perspective. See where you can improve things and be proactive with your actions to make the customer love your work.
The biggest technology companies are actively using this principle:
A lot of companies have made this principle a core principle of them, and that has a reason. Within the last 10 to 20 years our software was getting closer and closer to the end customer. Everyone has experience with top-notch experiences provided by big apps like Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, or Uber to name a few. They just work, as expected, and without any problems. Why? Because the customer loves them.
So let us jump into the examples.
Practicing customer obsession is difficult on day to day basis as a software engineer. This is because they do not have everyday contact with the customers of the product they create. But there are many indirect touchpoints, you can have. Let us discover them!
Ever got asked a question by your support or salesperson in the company about a customer problem? This is a big opportunity to show customer obsession. Try to understand the salesperson or the support person first. Listen. And ask a lot of questions. And also if possible get to the direct words of the customer. Once you have gathered enough information you can answer questions quite easily, but get the whole picture first.
In bigger companies, you are mostly shielded away from direct customer feedback, and your product owner will probably talk to you regarding the "customer’s" problems. Make sure that the data backs this up, and that this is something the customer wanted.
In the example presented before you could see already that you should be able to understand the customer by listening to third parties like someone in the company. But now let us go one step further. Someone in the company will have calls with customers from time to time. Ask them to join from time to time. Maybe once per month for an hour will work out. But this will be a worthwhile hour, you will learn a lot. And in these sessions, take notes of what the customer wants, how they think, and how you could affect them with your work.
Features and bugs are normally driven by the customer. A customer wants something to be done in your company’s product or found a mistake blocking their workflow in one way or another. The special skill to have now is to think more ahead, especially for features. The customer requests a feature, but the problem might be that the customer wants to achieve a lot more than they requested. To solve this, you need to think like the customer and think what are the next steps for this feature. Is there a relation or can it be made easier? For example, if you do frontend development it would be a simple idea to count the clicks till a customer will achieve what they wanted. Is there a way to reduce the clicks for the customer by prefilling fields in a clever way like they have used it last time, or based on other suggestions? Or when it is a backend problem, you can put extra focus on error messages and guide the customer to a solution or what they should have done instead. Most errors are simply describing only the state, good errors will give hints what the customer should do instead.
As we have learned in the last examples you will have to get a feeling of how the customer is seeing your product. This is difficult:
If there is any secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from that person's angle as well as from your own. - Henry Ford
But no problem, you can learn it. Listen to the customers and use your product. Write down the smallest things that are problematic for you. Wrong colors, wrong behavior, and whatnot. You will get a feeling of what the customer "could" feel. Not all humans, and also not all customers, are equal. Some see one thing as a problem but others look at different problems. Try to understand each perspective. It will be golden for your whole career.
As we mentioned before, finding problems and barriers in your product is worthwhile. From now on simply spend 1 hour with your product every week where you write down annoyances when you are using it. Gather these thoughts and present them to your product owner or create tickets for these problems.
A problem most companies have with customer obsession is that it is not measured. Most companies just have abstract KPIs like revenue or user numbers. But what impacts the customer obsession is probably two metrics:
Both can be measured. Customer churn is easy to measure but customer satisfaction is difficult. For this, you could work together with your product owner to send out surveys to the users of your product every month. If response rates are low, invite them to an "interview". People love being interviewed instead of being just a data point. But work on getting these metrics and make sure the company is using them for product development.
Earlier we mentioned that customers ask questions and have demands. A problem is mostly that customers are not dumb but cannot find the answer they are looking for. This can be a user experience problem but also simply because there is no content. So what can you do? It’s easy, write documentation and guides on how your product can be used. For example, if you get asked a question twice by internal teams, write that question down in a FAQ and share it with your team and company peers.
If it is external even write some documentation for them. Most of the time something is better than nothing. A big point should be made that documentation is hard to write. A good guide can be found here though: The documentation system. Read through this guide and make it a goal to write down questions in a FAQ and provide documentation.
Good artists copy, great artists steal. - Pablo Picasso
With that quote, it becomes clear that it is fine to look at other customers and how they show customer obsession. For example, just simply look at competitor’s documentation and write down why it is better to use them instead of your company’s product. The same can be applied to everything else, like how APIs are designed, how many clicks you need to get to the result the customer wanted, or when your customer is an internal person, how you present them with a solution that should be of high quality. So spy on your area of work on how competitors are doing, what they might do better, and what you can improve for your customers. Copy the good parts.
Outlook is a big part of the higher you want to climb the career ladder. Employees that can establish a vision on behalf of the customer are golden. Based on KPIs and data from existing customers it should be clear already what is needed in the future. Formalizing this data and bringing the company or even team on the right track is important. Especially when it is about revenue and how the product could generate more profits for the company. Have a look at customer support requests and other data and see if you are observing trends in the whole industry that could be a business opportunity, whether it will be a completely new product or just a new feature. But with enough data, you can present it to your product owner to get validation and lead a project that will be successful. But more importantly, you will tackle the problems of customers that they mostly do not even recognize yet.
We hope we could give you some ideas on what you can do as a software engineer to do when you want or need to show more customer obsession. After all, there are many more examples of how you can show customer obsession. If you want to have a free lifetime license, feel free to reach out to us with an example of how you showed customer obsession at your job.