In this Mind the Product APAC talk Audrey Cheng, VP Product at Pushpay, discusses the challenges of remote discovery, and reveals how she and her team have developed a practice to ensure better customer engagements that yield more value.
Watch the talk in full or read on for a detailed overview.
Her key points include:
- Data from your platform isn’t enough – you need to speak to your customers
- Nothing important happens in the office – find unique ways to engage
- Developing a practice takes time – start small, start now
Audrey begins by explaining her role at Pushpay where she oversees the product management and the product UX design function, and her background in customer service. As a result, she’s passionate about discovery and customer engagement, the topic forming the foundations of her talk.
“I’ve always really enjoyed connecting with customers and with my time at Pushpay, I really wanted to find a better way to engage customers.” The aim of her talk, she says, is to provide some valuable insights to help the audience to either get started or refine their practice.
“If you have been on the fence, thinking about how you can engage customers in your discovery, what I want you to take away from this talk today is to get off the fence and get up and going. You’re missing really valuable insights from your customers and whether it’s being remote that’s holding you back or other barriers, you’re missing out on thinking about your product differently.”
Engage Customers to Build Better Products
Audrey uses a visual from a research insights deck showing the customer insights gathered by her team as they tried to solve the problem of adding tax receipts into the Pushpay platform.
The aim of this research from a few years ago, she tells us, was to get a better understanding of the customer’s job to be done. And, as the illustration from the deck shows, the research showed that customers see tax receipting as a complicated, convoluted mess.
She comments of the image: “You can really see the feeling that someone had when they thought about this process, and you really can’t get that from data in your platform.”
This taught the team to ask customers why they feel a certain way about a process. In doing so, they found that they could uncover the real problems to be solved because, what caused their customers to feel frustration was often not the job to be done itself, but rather a problem upstream of the job to be done. This led the team to change tack.
“We decided to take a step back and actually solve the real problem that was causing pain in our customers’ lives,” she says. “One of our customers reported to us that they save four weeks of time, just from what we implemented that year. We were able to add that value to our customers lives, give them back some time and I think that’s ultimately what we try to achieve in our product – to help people by gaining some efficiency or by delivering extra value.”
Nothing Important Happens in the Office
Next, Audrey addresses the remote side of discovery, something that is simply an everyday issue for her team in New Zealand, who she says, are “remote by geography”.
“We also have a low population density,” she says, “and so if you want to expand your TAM, your total addressable market, you have to look at global markets.” For a lot of new businesses serving global markets, this means that you may need to hop on a plane to see customers. This is not always feasible for Audrey and her team as it can mean a 10-hour plane ride, minimum. In fact, about 85% of the customer interviews or interactions done by Audrey’s team are done remotely.
She says that “you have to find unique ways of actually engaging with your customers in order to bring that level of insight into your product development so that you can focus on the real problems at the heart of your customers”. And those interactions need to be great when they happen, because Audrey’s learned that the barrier to quality interactions with customers is not distance but rather the practice itself.
“The feeling that your customers are inaccessible to you makes you very intentional about the way you go about interacting with them,” she says. “It’s that feeling that your time together is so precious that you actually focus on how you can get the best results out of it. It’s taught me about sharpening our practice so that we can get the best insights from our customers.”
As a result, Audrey’s team has made some adaptations to help them make the most of the engagements they can have. “All our product managers and designers engage with customers,” she said. “We work collaboratively. We’re still working on our process of working together, but we work collaboratively. It’s a team sport.”
The team collaborates in the following ways:
- Recognising UX researchers as experts – they help to build capability across the team and the wider business
- Getting everyone involved – all product managers and designers engage with customers
- Building a shared understanding – the team is aligned on how they gather, interpret and analyse feedback in order to effectively build insights into the product
- Partnering with customer-facing teams – the sales, customer success, marketing teams and even the engineers engage with customers through support, making them key partners in the research process
Remote Discovery Techniques
There are a number of ways the Pushpay team conducts remote discovery:
Daily Customer Hours: Each week, a group of customers is sent an email offering a selection of times at which they can meet with somebody from the product team. The group is optional so that customers have the choice to volunteer and opt into the feedback programme. This provides the product team with an opportunity to talk to their customers about the challenges they’re facing, the things they’re most worried about, and Audrey says, “how they’re using our product, what’s working, what’s working well, what’s not working well for them, or what they’re trying to achieve.”
Generative Research: In order to explore attitudes and opinions and to find opportunities for solutions and innovation, the team conducts generative research
In addition, the team conducts workshops, surveys, prototyping and user testing, plus beta testing.
Says Audrey: “After the research and after we’ve implemented the first iteration of our product, we follow up to understand how the product landed with customers and whether it helped them to solve the problem they set out to solve.”
However, a practice like this takes time to develop and implement, “we didn’t do all this all overnight”, she says. It took the team four and a half years to put the practice in place, having originally started only with customer office hours. “You don’t have to start big, you can start small.”
Challenges of Remote Discovery
As anyone who’s conducted remote discovery will know, it comes with some challenges. The main ones being:
- Distance and time zones
- Seasons and public holidays
- Language, customs and culture
Tackling these issues, Audrey says, requires you to learn about your customer’ context and to start to build trust with them.
“Start by finding out more about your customers’ geography,” she says. Learn what’s important to them and what their calendar looks like. “The easier you can make it for your customer to connect with you, at a time that’s convenient for them, the easier it will be to make appointments and have those meetings with really great interactions. If you’re centred around your life and your work, and what’s convenient for you, you’re not going to have those opportunities.”
By doing this, you can demonstrate to your customers how important they are to your development process and, in turn, start to build trust.
Audrey also recommends that you keep the tools you use to communicate with your customers simple. “When we started out, we started with just with Skype and Google Suite,” she says. Think about your customers’ context and what they have access to, as this can help to avoid friction. If your customer doesn’t have the fancy tool you’re using to interact, then it will only add complexity to your process.
“As your practice matures you can select new tools to work with and figure out what your needs are.”
To end her talk, Audrey reminds the audience that what she’s shared are just some of the ways you can start your remote discovery. “Learn the basics and start small,” she says. “What I mean by that is that research is a discipline. You have to learn it, to practise it and repeat.” She says you shouldn’t let perfect get in the way of getting started. “You don’t need to roll this out to your whole practice, you can start with one small problem that you’re trying to solve and apply it to that problem. Just get started.”
Audrey’s Recommended Resources
- Interviewing Users by Steve Portigal
- Just Enough Research by Erika Hall