Mind the Gap

Anne Jackley, Senior Director, Digital Products

Molly has written about focusing on the customer and the need to involve customer panels when innovating new or legacy products. That engagement is absolutely critical, but let’s take it a step further. Today I wanted to take a slightly deeper dive into how we use all that feedback to create or update products. How do we choose what to do first? Do we group all of the feedback and see where there is substantial interest in a particular problem? Most statistical analysis involves normalizing data, and often the outliers are cast aside so we can focus on solving for the 80%. That’s what most people need, right? What’s wrong with that?

That’s important, of course, but I’ve always been interested in outliers, and I think it’s essential to take a look at those deviations. Discordancy from the norm can be a powerful signal, and what we learn from outliers can be critical. They can foreshadow developing trends or problems, or point out a gap we didn’t realize existed. Because here’s the thing: even our best effort to sample the population in whom we are interested still only produces a sample. How we select the customer panel or survey group is dependent on us, who we know, and how we found them. Looking at the outliers helps to reassure us that we aren’t only listening to what we expect to hear.

I don’t mean to suggest that we only focus outside the 80%, but I do think it’s important not to discard the deviations without a little more due diligence.

Another way to look for gaps is to see where there is a difference between what customers say they want and how they behave. Digital products are exciting to me because they give us an amazing amount of information about the people who use them. It’s not just “analytics” — it’s a two-way conversation that wasn’t possible in a print-and-distribute model. When I produce a digital product, I get to “see” how people interact with it. If what they are actually doing doesn’t support what they say they need, that’s another signal that we need to dig in a little more.

Take a look at how you’ve engaged customers for innovation. Have you found gaps and, if so, how have they changed the way you create a solution?

Next time: let’s look at how B2B products take this one step further. How do we address the duality of our audience (buyer and seller, developer and investor, in-house and law firm) within the same products?

Anne Jackley