Video: Stay Close to Customers

by June 23, 2023

For product teams, there's no substitute for spending time with customers. This two and a half minute clip from my Mind the Gap talk outlines why alongside several examples of how.


Most importantly, spend time with customers.

To illustrate this, I want to come back to the Airbnb story I started this talk off with. Back in 2009, the Airbnb service wasn't growing. At the behest of Paul Graham, Joe and Brian went out to New York and stayed with a bunch of Airbnb hosts. There, they saw firsthand the listings these folks had. The photos made them look quite poor. They realized this was a problem they could fix, so they rented a camera, took pictures of their hosts' homes and the next week, the revenue in New York doubled.

"We used to travel and actually stay with our customers", said Gabaya "It was the ultimate enlightened empathy. You were so close to the people you were designing for that it informed you in a way that you know an online survey never would."

Wise words that actually had real impact. Based on the success of their New York experience, the Airbnb team created a photography program to scale the process. And from there, they were off to the races.

Joe attributes all of this to being closer to his customers, which is really the same experience he had at RISD with design critiques and crit buns. Getting as close as you can to the problem helps inform how to solve for it.

And it's not just upstart companies that can make these kind of insights happen. When I worked at eBay back in 2004, we launched a program called Visits that got people within the company into our users' homes.

These programs exist across companies, but people get really caught up in organizational objectives, their own workload, or even documents they're working on, and they don't make time.

There's many ways you can bring user voice into your organization. We could have a whole talk outlining them. At Google, I organized a weekly meeting titled What Did We Learn This Week? It had leads from engineering, marketing, PM, UX, and more come together for an hour every week to hear what we learned from quantitative and qualitative research across all the products in our group.

It quickly became people's favorite meeting. I mean, look how excited they are in this meeting room, right?

The bottom line is there's no substitute for spending time with customers. Do it regularly, do it often.

And if the word user research or usability or whatever scares you, don't call it that. Just call it spending time with customers. It really boils down to staying close to the people using your product and making sure your team directly gets that info as often as they can.