Solve customer problems by asking them

‘Customer-centric’ is a frequently used term by many striving to find ways to respond and capitalise on changing customer needs. But what do we actually mean when we say these words? How do we solve customer problems? Is it simply putting customers at the centre of our thinking when we create new products and services? Partly, but that’s just a small part of a much larger meaning.

Any business or entrepreneur can easily get excited about building things and getting their latest idea out to the market. Generally, companies want to keep developing better products and services to continually provide value to their customers and in return drive revenue growth.

However one of the biggest challenges is to build products and services that people actually want.

Learning through the experience of asking what customers want

I recently learnt about the importance of asking what our customers want first. I started working with a newly formed team within Australia Post’s Information Security Office with the remit of helping Australians use the internet more safely.

Our first task was to use a customer-led innovation process and speak to our customers to generate a list of pain points regarding online security. After many days of research and brainstorming, we found their biggest problem was protecting their online personal information.

We then came up with an idea to create an app to solve the problem and began working with start-up accelerator BlueChilli. We embarked on a six week process by following their lean validation methodology. It’s designed to fast-track a start-up’s path to building and launching a successful business idea to test our initial assumptions.

Our first step was to further validate our initial customer findings by hitting the streets of Melbourne’s CBD and inner-city suburbs to learn more about customers’ online habits.

As we started speaking to people we discovered that their views on protecting their personal information were different to what we initially assumed.

But we weren’t too far off the mark. They also thought that having the ability to easily see who had their information and stop the barrage of spamming emails and messages would be worthwhile.

While it meant that we had to go back to the drawing board in some ways, it showed us that everything we thought we knew was irrelevant until it was tested with customers.

Another big lesson was that idea validation is easier said than done. You need to be mentally ready to change your idea depending on what customers are telling you. The key is not to be emotionally attached to your original idea. If the customers don’t care about your solution, do not hesitate to change your course and work towards refining or even completely overhauling your idea.

A bond created by working to help customers

I certainly felt there were days when the team felt alone in their quest. Then, there were moments when nothing felt more rewarding than feeling like you are on the right path to solve customers’ problems.

When you go through such big moments together as a team, it builds a special bond between each other.

In our last week at BlueChilli, we had a number of customers willingly share their contact details and sign up to our early version of the app.

We then pitched our prototype solution to members of our executive leadership team and received highly encouraging reviews. Now we are back at Australia Post and further developing the product with colleagues from various teams.

The moral of the story…

This experience has taught me that to truly be customer-centric you should never make assumptions about what your customer wants – you need to ask them.

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