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Don't Launch Products Without Talking to Customer Zero

Product launches are hugely complex but, get them wrong, and customers are likely to go straight to a competitor; one customer experience team has an efficient way to make them go more smoothly

A new product launch can do a lot for a company. Not only can it help with a firm’s fundamental aim (bring in more money), it can energize employees, signal a new direction, and give people a wonderfully tangible result for weeks and months of hard work. However, product launches that go wrong – something that is an all-too-familiar event for pretty much every firm at one time or another – are a high-profile way to spread alarm and anxiety.

Managers at a company in CEB’s networks recently described a product launch that had fallen far short of plan. As customers attempted to purchase the new service, a number of common issues cropped up. First, customers were confused about their options; second, some customers experienced problems in the digital purchase process and called the company to complete their transaction; and, finally, call center staff were unprepared for both the volume and the specifics of the problem that triggered the calls.

The end result was also a common one: poor customer acquisition, below-par rates for resolving customers’ issues, and an unsatisfying customer experience. Executives at this company then spent the past several weeks conducting a post-mortem analysis. But looking ahead, the key question is how to prevent this from happening next time?

Governance-Based and Project-Based

Customer experience (CX) teams, whose job it is to make sure that decisions are made with the customer in mind, should consider three attributes when ensuring product launches are customer-centered.

  1. Scale: Their model for keeping the company customer-centric can be efficiently deployed across the company.
  2. Scope: Their oversight of the product launch reaches the countless details and decisions involved in bringing any new product or service to market.
  3. Speed: They should keep in mind the fast-pace of the business, when thinking about their role; especially the compressed time-frames commonly experienced by teams closing in on launch dates.

Common responses involve a mix of both putting governance-based CX guardrails in place and providing explicit, project-based CX support. Both of these approaches can be helpful, but they also have relative strengths and weaknesses in terms of scale, scope, and speed.

  1. Governance-based customer experience guardrails: At many companies with centralized CX teams, new business initiatives – especially those requiring more resources – move through stage-gate governance processes. These evaluate the initiative based on what impact it will have on the customer and standard investment considerations.

    Often taking the form of meetings, executives will question product teams on their service design, explicit and implicit assumptions, and contingency plans.  All with the idea of “stress testing” the planning before approval of any new launch.

    Guardrail approaches are highly scalable. But CX teams sometimes struggle to provide oversight and the necessary analysis of a large number of critical execution details when executive review cycles must happen often and not place too much of a burden on the product teams (i.e., long, in-depth meetings are not always possible).

  2. Project-based CX support: Project-based support allows CX teams to roll up their sleeves and dive into the details to ensure business partners use customer-centered design in their projects. This work often looks somewhat like “internal consulting” engagements. CX teams would typically provide custom research, help with journey mapping or design workshops, build business cases, or assume project management responsibilities.

    This approach can speed up decision making and provide detailed oversight of a steady stream of product launch decisions.  But project-based support is limited by the CX team’s resources. Small teams simply cannot be everywhere.

Making Use of ‘Customer 0’

A technology company in CEB’s networks is able to balance its resources and still provide the necessary support. Its CX team also sought a way to scale-up the kind of support they provide to their business partners, while encouraging all employees to identify with customer needs and use cases.

They opted to create a platform for on-demand, crowdsourced, employee project support. Product teams can rapidly recruit the company’s employees to act as customers and beta test prospective product features of customer workflows.  The company’s CX team refers to this as using employees as “customer zero”.  In less than a year, dozens of teams have tapped their colleagues around the firm for on-demand testing prior to launching new services and features into the market.

While governance models and CX teams will continue to be important, approaches like this will help teams become far more customer-centered in their product design.  It also puts into place agile and “fail fast” techniques without affecting the customer experience of important product launches.


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