When companies are in the stages of new product development many adopt the practice of starting with the Minimum Viable Product (MVP)—essentially meaning that they design a product that includes only the bare bones number of features that would be acceptable on their customers’ terms. A recent conversation on the concept of customer value got me thinking that perhaps the MVP concept could be iterated on itself. Is the “acceptance criteria” the right way to identify what is of value to your customers and will it help them in accomplishing their goals? For example, if you ask a customer their thoughts on a specific feature, such as “Do you like the addition of seeing your account activity on the mobile app?” They may say yes, but does that really mean that adding that feature actually provides them with value and help them to accomplish their personal reason for using this feature in the place? In this example, we are just asking about the concept, with the assumption that it would be valuable without thinking about what would make it a valuable addition to your customer.
A case in point from a recent travel experience: I recently traveled between Washington, DC to Dallas to Hong Kong on an airline. Given that it was a long trip, and I am a competitive points junkie, I was excited to receive miles and see how many that I accrued. I logged on to the airline’s app and noticed that you can now see your flight activity. I scrolled down and I could see the miles accrued from my flight back from Hong Kong all the way to DC, but only DC to Dallas on the way there. So, staying true to my points-driven nature, I called the airline and talked to a customer service rep to report missing miles. Upon providing my flight information, she said, “I am so sorry, I have been receiving calls from customers with the same issue since we implemented this new feature six months ago. You actually just have to click into the flight to see the full trip.” She then went on to say that she’s logging this instance with her technical team. This new feature that appeared to be acceptable to customers, was only functional on the surface. It actually didn’t offer any value to me, since I had to spend my time calling customer service, I felt a bit stupid, and from the sounds of it, it likely cost the company because of an increase in call volumes and future hours of the product team’s time on updating this feature.
So what could we, as companies, be doing differently to be more customer-centric in new product development and design? I would propose that we shift our thinking, ever so slightly, to think about the Minimum Valuable Product. Instead of assuming what is generally acceptable try different user research methodologies (Gartner subscription required) where you can ask or observe if the addition of that activity feature would actually bring value to the customer, reach their end-goal. Instead of bringing your preconceived notions to the table, let your customers help you to focus on what will truly make an impact.