Market Problems and Frustrations

Much of what product managers do on a daily basis is prioritize a long list of requests. Requests that come from everywhere: a feature needed to close a deal, an idea from the dev team, a list of open items from support, and on and on and on. And everytime we have a meeting, we walk away with another list of requests.

What’s missing for many product managers—perhaps most—is first-hand experience. Have you personally observed a customer using your product? It can make all the difference to that endless list of requests.

Recently I had the opportunity to meet Jane, a lovely woman in her 80s. She has trouble seeing, so some things take longer and are harder to accomplish for her than for someone in their 20s. When I met her, she was having trouble with her phone. She simply wanted to get to her voicemails and was frustrated to the point of tears. Tears!

She has a phone provided by her apartment complex, but what she really needs is a phone that has:

  • Big buttons (or perhaps no buttons)
  • A charging station so she never forgets to recharge her phone
  • A call-back function
  • The ability to slow down message playback so she can actually understand those rapid-fire 10 second messages from her doctor or her grandchildren
  • A transcription service that sends the text of the message to her email

It doesn’t seem like a lot, does it. And it seems like there should already be a phone that meets her needs on the market today.

The Jitterbug phone is close, but mostly addresses the basic usage of the phone. It doesn’t help her use it as her primary communication tool. It simply makes it easier to make phone calls.

And Jane isn’t very technical. The iPhone has much of what she needs, but it also has a bunch of features she’ll never use, and it’s overwhelming for someone like Jane. If you go to search for a phone on Amazon, you’ll find ones from major providers that are designed terribly (at least to me, and I’m pretty technical), and overwhelming to older consumers.

I was amazed and disheartened to see the world through her eyes. Daily life is simply a struggle. She struggles to open bottles, keep track of her medications, and even just getting around as she no longer drives. And she really struggles to keep track of her various medical services, each with their insular view of her health and numerous “patient portals.”

Do you have customers like Jane? Someone who has a desperate need for your product, but needs it adjusted in a certain way to make it useful? Have you really watched your customers engage with your product?

Think about what your customers’ jobs are and what problems they need solved. Document your personas and their problems. Look beyond your great features and consider how you can solve Jane’s real problems. I suspect that you’ll come up with something truly innovative: a solution that will delight your customers.

And this isn’t just for consumer products. I deal with B2B products all the time and most are deplorable. I’m a consumer of Amazon and TripIt and Wikipedia, and I expect B2B products to be just as good—don’t you?For what it’s worth, I often hear people say that they “talk to customers all the time,” only to find that the “customer” is a sales team, dealer or distributor. Those aren’t customers; they’re channel partners. Channel partners buy your products to sell. Customers buy your products to use.

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success. 

Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.


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