At Your Service
Building Customer Experience into Each Phase Mitigates Risks for Digital Projects
BY KATE ROCKWOOD
ILLUSTRATION BY CARL WIENS
In today's hyper-connected world, digital project missteps can be amplified in seconds. Products can be doomed before there's even a chance to fix them when rankled customers rake project teams over the coals on social media.
Case in point: Poncho the weather bot, a chatbot created last year for Facebook's Messenger platform. Poncho used artificial intelligence to serve up cheeky answers to questions about the weather. But as soon as it debuted, many customers took to Twitter, posting screenshots showing how the technology in many cases failed to comprehend customers' questions.
Such glitches can have crippling consequences for customer loyalty: One in four customers will discontinue use of a product after just one bad touch point, according to McKinsey's The CEO Guide to Customer Experience. But that risk can be mitigated if project managers weave customer insights and needs into the core of projects from the start.
Processes through which the customer experience is incorporated into product development can within two to three years buoy revenue by 5 to 10 percent while trimming costs as much as 25 percent, according to McKinsey. For project leaders, identifying customer pain points and developing new testing approaches helps to ensure solutions are integrated into user requirements—and the final product. Organizations can leverage customer experience to shape their portfolio, drive efficiencies and boost ROI.
“Integrating the customer into the process throughout the entire project life cycle means the project closeout becomes a formality—not a time to find and fix a multitude of errors and omissions,” says Michael Bartlett, PMP, owner and project manager, InTech Resources, an industrial automation firm in Park City, Utah, USA.
Identifying customer needs means end users should be top of mind from the very first project meeting, says Francesco Bellifemine, PMP, director for product development and deployment, Exprivia Healthcare IT, Bari, Italy. His organization develops healthcare IT solutions for doctors, nurses and patients. “It's not unusual to invite users to participate in kickoff meetings and to explain their point of view,” he says.
“Integrating the customer into the process throughout the entire project life cycle means the project closeout becomes a formality— not a time to find and fix a multitude of errors and omissions.”
—Michael Bartlett, PMP, InTech Resources, Park City, Utah, USA
Besides interviewing customers, teams can discreetly observe them. For instance, while developing software for a hospital emergency room, Mr. Bellifemine's team monitored interactions among doctors and nurses. The team studied their common traffic patterns and how doctors and nurses interacted with patients. “It's critical to observe their internal processes and design a product that follows their user experience,” he says.
But customer input that adds value can be leveraged well before project teams engage customers, says Kathryn Rutkowski, PMP, senior manager for productivity in technology optimization, Westpac Group, Sydney, Australia. Ms. Rutkowski starts digital projects by analyzing relevant customer complaints data. For instance, social media can be a source of customer pain points that, depending on the project, can provide useful problem-solving input.
“If you dig into the data, customers are giving you free feedback that can be hugely valuable to the project,” she says. She examines customer needs—both expressed and unexpressed—to form a high level understanding, and then dives deeper into requirements.
“Customer centricity ensures that the project is delivering something that your customer will use because it solves a problem for them and also for potential customers you don't have yet,” she says.
Pain points are the kryptonite of a great customer experience. Teams can better identify and understand the customer problems the project is intended to solve with tools such as value stream mapping (a lean technique), customer journeys, empathy mapping and customer complaints analysis, Ms. Rutkowski says.
Incorporating customer experience into product development can buoy revenue by 5 to 10 percent within two to three years.
“Customer centricity ensures that the project is delivering something that your customer will use because it solves a problem for them and also for potential customers you don't have yet.”
—Kathryn Rutkowski, PMP, Westpac Group, Sydney, Australia
“Whether you're using waterfall, agile or a hybrid methodology, discovering customer pain points for the first time during the testing phase of a minimally viable product is too late in the process,” says Ms. Rutkowski. “Having to rework the solution creates waste and can result in technical debt— work done to solve a symptom rather than the root cause— that could have been avoided.”
To focus on how products and projects can deliver urgently needed solutions, some teams conduct extensive customer interviews, while others comb through social media channels, online reviews and customer complaints. The insights they reap can shape the project plan.
“Depending on the digital channel the business chooses to adopt—an app in the Apple or Google Play store, for instance—the feedback from reviews and ratings is one of the first places project teams can go to learn about customer experiences and pain points,” says Manesh Patel, project manager, Transport for London, London, England. “Other great sources of information are feedback surveys sent out to customers throughout various touch points in the customer life cycle.”
Armed with those insights, a project professional can better shape every sprint and project phase. As part of the insights-gathering phase, Ms. Rutkowski helps her teams develop a set of guiding principles about the customer experience, so when tough decisions need to be made during the execution phase, the team can refer to those principles immediately.
“This ensures that decisions are made with the customer in mind,” she says.
|The Right Mindset|
|Here are three steps project teams can take to develop a customer-centric mindset, says Kathryn Rutkowski, PMP, senior manager, technology optimization, Westpac Group, Sydney, Australia.|
|1||Emphasize empathy. |
“Project leaders should have team members learn user story methods—even when working in a waterfall or hybrid context. That emphasizes the customer's perspective so teams can better relate to how customers use your products and what they need.”
|2||Make complaint resolutions a requirement. |
“In one of the banks I worked for, a project requirement was to solve the top five customer complaints related to the process or service it was delivering. It's a great way of building a continuous improvement mindset into a waterfall delivery practice.”
|3||Put a face to the project. |
“Videotape interviews with groups of preselected customers detailing their complaints or compliments. These videos can then be played to project sponsors, stakeholders and the project team, so they understand that real people are the project beneficiaries.”
THE BIG PICTURE
In the digital realm, a project rarely exists in a silo. A team's website, app or service is typically interdependent with other pieces of the organization's digital portfolio. Understanding how a particular project relates to the entire portfolio can help elevate the customer experience—and that understanding can stem from the right mix of team members.
“Project managers should rely on a cross-functional team that represents groups across the customer journey—including design, engineering, change management and product management resources,” says Peter Tarhanidis, director, strategic planning and execution, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, Chatham, New Jersey, USA. “And that collaboration should happen from design to execution to close.”
“The feedback from reviews and ratings is one of the first places project teams can go to learn about customer experiences and pain points.”
—Manesh Patel, Transport for London, London, England
A project management office (PMO) can help facilitate that type of cross-functional support, says Mr. Patel. On his digital projects, the project leader meets with a forum of senior managers from different areas of the business to present the project initiation document. “Then each member from around the business advises whether they're involved in a RACI [responsible, actionable, consulted, informed] matrix, so that by the end of the meeting the project manager knows which areas are connected and whom to engage,” Mr. Patel says.
That upfront collaboration also means customer issues that do arise can be dealt with swiftly. For example, at another organization Ms. Rutkowski worked for, complaints started coming in that a button for visually impaired customers had stopped working on its banking website and app. The organization realized that having collaborative partnerships across the teams that were impacted helped them more quickly solve the problem. The complaints team, product customer experience team, agile guild (which supports the growth of agile culture) and website technical team all worked together to rapidly assess and determine the cause and extent of the impact, Ms. Rutkowski says.
Such access issues were preventing visually impaired customers from using the service. So the team fast-tracked a solution into a project sprint already in motion, re-engaged the customer to test the fix and then updated the system with the solution. Finally, the project team combed through the sprint to figure out the root cause. “We determined that different agile teams weren't using the same accessibility-enabled components, and that caused the customer experience process to break,” says Ms. Rutkowski. “So we reviewed and updated our accessibility library and communicated that to all of the agile guilds to prevent that issue from occurring again.”
The real solution isn't only a product that works, she says, but fewer customer experience flaws moving forward. “A project that loses sight of its end user can't deliver true value—no matter how on target it is with schedule, budget and scope,” she says. PM
“A project that loses sight of its end user can't deliver true value—no matter how on target it is with schedule, budget and scope.”
—Kathryn Rutkowski, PMP