Monday, September 30, 2013

Customer focus in product development

Goal of any business is to provide  product/services that delight its customers. When designing a new product/service, businesses put lot of efforts  to understand customer needs.  Interviews, Surveys, Focus groups are some of the techniques that are used. While the insight of  the development team, if they also happen to be the customers as in the case of  IT products in Social media space may be helpful, real test of the new product/service happens when it is deployed.  If the product is entirely new, customer may be ignorant whether a feature would be useful or not or may not  be able to express his needs clearly. In such a case use of prototypes and evolutionary development  would be helpful. In this post, I would share few examples of customer focus and how they can provide unexpected benefits as well.

First let us consider the production of digital magazines. As we all know digital magazines try to mimic the look and feel of print magazines. So they provide two up views, nice animation of page turning, but as the resolution of most computer monitors is poor, they provide  zoom levels of one or two, which may not be sufficient.  One new vendor (Example: Digital DNA epaper) has come up with a feature where the selected article is provided in HTML, where the  text size would be much easier to read.

As a second example, let us consider the publishing of podcasts. If this is just an audio file, it needs to be downloaded and played. Alternatively it can be streamed.  As our rate of reading is much faster than our rate of listening and also provides opportunities for skipping content,  providing a transcript of audio would benefit customer a lot. (Ex:Steven Cherry's Computing podcast on IEEE Spectrum)  It is also helpful if the accent of the presenter is  not familiar to the customer.

As a third example, let us see how the audiovisual recording of conference sessions are being served. Most of these are just served as streaming video files, may be some times with timeline table of contents.  The presentation slides used by the speaker usually are not mixed or provided with the video.  This product will delight the customer, when customer can access the content in different ways like read the slides, read the transcript, listen to only audio and  view the video recording. (Example: GUADEC 2013 Conf sessions by SuperLectures)

While providing the multimodal features is a challenge because of the additional effort needed,  there will be significant benefits in terms of attracting more customers. Not only that, providing the contents in multiple formats particularly text formats also helps the content accessible to search engines and thereby increase their accessibility.

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