Building a product roadmap that puts customers first

mk2Mary Kay Evans, Chief Marketing Officer at Verizon Digital Media Services

For platform-as-a-service companies, technological development is never done. There’s always pressure to ensure that the product is fully stocked with the latest features, but there’s only so much time in which to implement them. So how should a technology company choose what to focus on next year, or even next quarter?

In my tenure as Chief Marketing Officer at Verizon Digital Media Services, the answer has always come down to our customers and the challenges they face each and every day. That’s why constant contact with our customers, from routine service calls to face-to-face meetings, are a vital part of our product planning strategy. When we communicate regularly, we can make sure our priorities are the same as theirs.

Channeling customer feedback into a realistic and constructive product roadmap is vital to any platform-as-a-service company’s product strategy. Here are some of the ways we benefit from listening to our customers, and some key ways to build strong customer relationships:

Listening to customers encourages forward problem-solving
When it comes to driving a product roadmap, there are generally two strategies companies can take. The first is to focus on the future, driving ambitious technological innovation in an attempt to bring solutions to market before customers even realize they need them. That’s difficult to do and risks pouring resources into a product customers don’t actually want, but when done well, it can also have a big payoff. The second, safer strategy is to focus on the present by studying the problems customers have now and building features to solve them.

Some companies may be concerned that taking the second approach too often could encourage reactive thinking. If a company isn’t solving problems with their product until the point customers feel the need to bring them up, they’re working in the past. However, we’ve found that being proactive about encouraging feedback, long before customers come to us, marries these two strategies and brings out the best of both worlds.

Since they know we are listening and reaching out, customers are more likely to bring up their pain points sooner. From there, we analyze the problems and look at developing beyond quick fixes, and instead innovative new ways to deal with these problems that can grow with customers into the future. In that way, communication has made us focus on the present and the future concurrently.

Customer feedback teaches us that service comes first
At Verizon Digital Media Services, our value in the market is delivering great experiences for viewers online. But by keeping open channels of communication with our customers, we’ve discovered that in their eyes, our round-the-clock service is equally important. The way we respond when customers need help in the middle of the night is as important as making sure that our technology exceeds their expectations. To them, our technology and our availability when there are challenges have equal weight.

Opening up opportunities for customers to meet with us and send us feedback sends a message to customers that their opinions matter. We don’t simply make customers’ concerns a key part of our product road map – these regular check-ins also signal care to customers and make them feel involved in the process.

Customer Advisory Board meetings help customers learn from each other
When a company invites customers to a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) meeting to gather feedback and learn about the product roadmap, those customers aren’t simply getting a direct line of communication to the company. They’re also getting the opportunity to meet face-to-face with one another, facilitating a mutual informational exchange.

Chances are these customers are actually competitors with each other. But in our experience, they’re technologists first, eager to find and solve problems and present on the solutions they’ve created. All our customers are facing the same kind of challenges in delivering broadcast scale over the internet. When they share their solutions, they learn as much from each other as we learn from them, making these meetings incredibly useful.

Meeting with our customers, collecting their concerns and analyzing their pain points means hours that we’re not working directly on advancing our technological product. However, these feedback sessions are even more important and integral to all we do. They help us develop solutions for problems now and in the future, demonstrate to our customers that we’re listening, and encourage them to listen to one another. Listening to customers ought to be a key part of any technology company’s roadmap; iit takes the focus off the product itself and onto whom the product really serves.