How tech leaders are prioritizing customer experience

| 8 min. (1583 words)

The Tech Leaders’ Tour is a series of events bringing tech leaders together to learn from each other about improving software quality and customer experience.

This one was special because we are able to hold it in-person, in one of our favorite cities — Auckland, NZ, where there are no social distancing rules at the time of writing.

In today’s climate, technology companies are faced with many challenges. But one thing should remain the same — the focus on delivering value to the customer.

To support that focus, many of today’s leading companies are reevaluating how they create customer-centric software. For Xero and Vend, that means giving the customer a seat at the table during internal meetings. Tend is building processes and systems with the customer in mind early. For a technology giant like Lancom, a customer focus means prioritizing the customer experience along key points in their journey.

Hosted by John-Daniel Trask, CEO and Co-Founder of Raygun, our panel discusses how they prioritize the changing demands of customers in today’s digital world. Here are the key findings from how each company approaches this challenge.

Watch the full panel below.

Xero: Increasing customer satisfaction by giving the customer a seat at the table

Emily Henlein, Executive GM of Design at Xero

Xero is one of the fastest-growing SaaS companies globally. Over 2 million subscribers rely on Xero’s cloud-based accounting software to connect them to the right numbers for their business anytime, anywhere, on any device.

To deliver on this vision, Emily Henlein, Executive GM of Design at Xero, has made it her mission to make sure the customer is at the center of every conversation they have.

“If the customer is not in the room with you when you’re talking about a product problem or a problem you’re trying to solve, you’re likely not going to solve it correctly.”

Many people can likely relate to being in a meeting where ideas don’t align with the customers’ problems. Emily says, “I’ve been thinking a lot about when people will come up with really good solutions, but they’re looking for a customer problem, and that is something that I’m starting to see more and more of. Not just at Xero, but just generally. People will have a good idea, and then they backpedal to, ‘who’s the customer that we’re solving this for?’"

Emily offers that, “It’s been a really good question to ask in meetings when you start to sense it, and you’re like, ‘What’s the problem we’re solving?’’".

John Daniel-Trask of Raygun agrees, saying that we have to be careful about “not confusing cool with useful or in demand.”

Tend: Meeting the changing expectations of customers today with job stories

Josh Robb, Founder and Chief Product Officer at Tend Healthcare

Josh Robb, Founder and Chief Product Officer at Tend Healthcare, has 20 years’ experience leading teams and building software products worldwide, so he has seen his fair share of change when it comes to the customer’s role in software development.

When talking about changing customer expectations, Josh said, “Consumers are now used to these incredibly high-quality products. Instagram is a phenomenally polished user experience. And so the bar for customer experience is phenomenally high. Consumers don’t realize there’s hundreds of millions of dollars in investment supporting that. They just expect things to work that way.”

“So as people that are building software, I think that we have to really think about how we’re going to meet our customers’ expectations. Because if we don’t, then someone else is, and we’re going to lose the business.”

So how does Josh suggest that companies keep up with these changing demands? Josh says, actually asking the customer, lots of customer research, and job stories over user stories.

“I think the most powerful insight that I’ve had in the last 12 months, is we’ve switched to using job stories rather than user stories. And it seems like a small thing, but it actually makes such a big difference because it’s not, “I need to X.” It’s, “When I need to do X job, I need Y, so that I can complete Z.” Even framing up the conversations we’re having around features in terms of those jobs to be done, has been really powerful in terms of helping really bring the focus onto, ‘What does the customer need here?’”

Lancom: Prioritizing development time with customer “wow” moments

Waruna Kirimetiyawa, Group CEO at Lancom

With 37% of our tech leaders expressing that limited time is a barrier to monitoring customer experiences, engineering prioritization techniques are a popular topic.

Waruna Kirimetiyawa, Group CEO at Lancom, suggests team leads can use the question, “At which points in your software do you need to wow people?” to prioritize what gets addressed and when.

Waruna says that focusing on the end-user doesn’t mean that you have to go overboard with optimizations. Prioritization can come in the form of understanding the pivotal moments in a customer journey map and ensuring those moments are both seamless and delightful.

“You say ‘We want everything to be faster. We want everything to be just right at their fingertips. We want it to be all AI/ML-driven.’ But the expected outcome in that process has to align with the appropriate experience.”

Once you have the journey mapped out, Waruna says you can start to see where the customer’s biggest sticking points are. “If we can change what their experience is there, then they will have a positive experience, and then we need to end on a high. There needs to be a wow moment that we can end on, that we can come back to.”

Vend: Prioritizing the customer experience during a tough time for online retailers

Acting CEO of Vend, Ana Wight

Acting CEO of Vend, Ana Wight, has navigated her team through a time that has been enormously stressful for their retail customers.

When asked about how Vend changed their approach to the customer experience in a challenging climate, Ana says that they had to reevaluate and reprioritize their customer roadmap according to their customers’ needs. Ana said she had to ask, “For those retailers that are going to survive, what are the things that will be different coming out the other side of this experience? And that also meant we thought about things that were on our product roadmap that needed to be accelerated, things that we did from a customer support perspective that needed to change, and really thought about what does great look like in a time of huge uncertainty for our customers?”

Ana goes on to talk about putting the customer perspective first during problem solving exercises.

“Vend’s competitive advantage is, in the point of sale space, is that combination of beautiful, easy to use, easy to learn, but then very grunty on the workflow side. It’s actually this constant tension and excitement and evolution around how we build something that is complex, but actually feels easy and beautiful? And that’s also, I think, why there’s product, engineering, design, and more recently at the end, commercial, all working together. You can’t get it if you’re not all trying to solve the same problem, and bringing those different perspectives.”

“There is a temptation, sometimes, to imagine what you think your customers want rather than looking at the data or the interviews to say, “This is actually what they’re trying to do.” And sometimes it’s the boring stuff that actually is the thing that your customer really wants.”

Using monitoring to accelerate the customer feedback loop

In the Tech Leaders Panel in Portland, seasoned host Scott Hanselman, Partner Program Manager at Microsoft, says that the wealth of customer data used to make engineering decisions can be overwhelming. He suggests that using application performance monitoring solutions can be a way of gaining actionable data rather than just noise.

“We can measure everything, which leads to too much data and loss of inertia. Therefore, actionable data is becoming worth its weight in gold. Where monitoring is concerned, prioritization is easier when the focus is on customer experience.” Scott says that software tools will help surface this information faster, and uses Raygun’s error grouping feature as an example.

A continuous thread through our Tech Leaders’ events is that the customer experience should be front and center from product ideation to delivery. While many companies approach customer centricity differently, the key takeaways from our tech leaders were:

Get the customer’s voice involved early by including customer data at meetings across design, product, and development. Map the customer journey through your product to understand the wow moments, helping your team prioritize the biggest levers. Meet high expectations set by customers with great user experiences for better business outcomes in today’s digital climate.

There were many more insights, so make sure to watch the full talk.

To watch past editions of the tech leaders series, and get a rare glimpse at how companies like Alexa, Nike, Microsoft, AWS, Tableau Software, Raygun, The Standard, Xero, Vend, and PushPay monitor software quality, catch the recordings below.

  • Auckland panel - Xero, Vend, and PushPay on prioritizing user experience during the development workflow.
  • Wellington panel - Trade Me, Xero, Raygun, and Sharesies on maintaining an excellent standard of software quality.
  • Seattle panel - Amazon Alexa, Tableau, AWS, and Raygun cover customer feedback mechanisms for better quality software.
  • Portland panel - Scott Hanselman leads a panel of speakers from Microsoft, Chef Software, Nike, and The Standard talking about tools, people, and processes when building world-class software.

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