Remember the Users Closest to Home

Typically I write about the importance of keeping the user in mind when making business decisions. One special group of users often gets overlooked when decisions are made, to the detriment of the companies that make them — employees.

Your fellow employees have probably known and forgotten more of the crucial elements needed to build user-satisfying products or provide a pleasant customer experience than all your focus groups and surveys can ever hope to divine.

Employees are a crucial means of marketing. If your employees don’t fully believe in what they’re selling, it’s doubtful that they’ll sell very well. If they don’t spread the word on their own goods, why would their friends buy, either? I’ve known people who warned me not to buy from their companies because the customer service or order fulfillment was terrible. That’s fine if you want your company to go quickly down the tubes. But you don’t, so what do you do?

Keep your eyes and ears open. Pay attention as you walk down the hallways. In my experience, most people truly want their employers to succeed. So if someone is complaining about a company’s situation, take it as an opportunity to get some insight into what needs to be fixed. Often, grumbling employees are a leading indicator of grumbling customers.

Market for the employee. In general, if you can please all your employees, you can probably please many of your customers. If the people in your company would jump at the chance to buy your product, there are probably a lot of customers who would, too. If all the workers seem ambivalent and could really do without what you’re selling, chances are that market demand may be a bit soft. Think of your fellow employees as one big focus group. What are the key features that would drive usage by your coworkers? Why do they resist purchasing your flagship product? Why don’t they use your services to simplify their lives?

Put your money where your mouth is. Your employees should use what they sell, or “eat their own dog food,” as the saying goes. Once you’ve done some marketing to your employees, they should be using your products. If they’re not, find out why not and fix it. If they don’t use the product, they will not be able to see what’s wrong with it. And that is bad — because the customers certainly will be able to see what’s wrong.

Realize that rank means little. The people who hold the reins are not necessarily the ones who hold the right ideas or know the right information. Think about it. Who probably knows the most about the specific problems customers are having: the customer service rep, the VP of customer service, or the CEO? Who is the most able to provide insight to the people trying to fix those problems?

Most people know about the three-legged stool theory of stakeholders. You must simultaneously work to please your stakeholders (owners, shareholders, etc.), your employees, and your customers. If you can actually ensure that one of those groups (your employees) is happy with your products or service, you will be going a long way toward pleasing the other two groups. Employees who use, like, and can suggest fixes for their own products will result in happier customers. These customers will be more satisfied, buy more, and please the stakeholders.

Everyone wins when you treat your employees as your most valuable users.

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