The Product is everywhere, in the "big things" as a brand-new interface for the user portal, but also in the "small things" as the explanation text accompanying each item listed on a monthly bill.
But really, who is the Product Manager?
A Product Manager is often described as the CEO of the Product: we, Product Managers, are responsible for the overall customer experience which is made of all the interactions a customer has with the Product, from the very first interaction a prospect has with the company up to the moment where a customer says goodbye to us. Our main objective is that all these interactions provide our Customers with the solution to the problem we are trying to solve. We are experts on nothing but know a bit about everything, we rely on every single department of the company to turn the Product we envision into a tangible reality.
All those interactions depend on many wildly different people and departments all through the company.
Fortunately, we can rely internally into a network of Secret Agents that convey to us the meaningful exchanges and experiences they encounter in their everyday lives. These agents are our ears and eyes. They could be a Customer Support Agent pinpointing the most visible flaws as seen from the field, a Business Developer bringing ideas proposed by prospects or even competitors, or even a Purchaser providing us with examples of good implementations done by our own providers.
As a Product Manager, how to identify your own agents?
Identification of agents is done during trainings, product talks or introduction sessions. Whenever I am in front of an internal audience explaining the latest product evolutions, clarifying a product feature or presenting the Product department to newcomers, any internal interaction is good to find new agents. They are easily recognizable to the questions and remarks they have: whenever somebody puts the customer needs first and pinpoints a way to deliver a better experience to them: we have found an agent!
A real-life example of how I recruited our latest agent:
At InterCloud, Product Managers are fortunately not the only ones trying to ensure a great Customer Experience to our customers.
We were in the middle of redefining the way our customers would manage their user accounts on our portal and we were having trouble defining a smooth process for the creation and management of new accounts. While discussing this with our Product Owner in the cafeteria a Purchaser was drinking peacefully his morning coffee. Next morning the Purchaser came by my office with some print screens from his Netflix account: “I really like how THEY manage the creation of accounts”, he told me.
I recruited him as a Product Manager Agent on the spot!
How to recrute your own agents?
Once you have identified an agent of your secret service, you need to recruit them and keep them in the loop. They need to know a bit more that the average employee about the feature you are working on, the screens you are tweaking or the touchpoint you are trying to improve. This will help them get more involved in the overall product development process and will allow them to provide incalculable feedback early on.
Your agents need to feel that they matter in the overall product development process. They need to feel comfortable enough to come to you with feedback, even when it is not flattering for you or the product. You also need to convey the need to bring positive inputs too: as important of knowing what needs to be changed is to know what we should keep doing.
In order to keep them engaged, you have to make sure to check on them regularly and provide opportunities for experience exchange. A lunch together, a few words before or after a scheduled meeting or just a coffee from time to time.
How to leverage your agents?
As a Product Manager, in order to get the most of your network, you need to decide on the implication of the agents according to the task at hand. For the design of a brand-new feature, an idea storm workshop with an eclectic audience could be useful so as to get the creative juices flowing. When trying to improve a touchpoint that is generating customer dissatisfaction on the customer journey, you may need to talk to an agent related to the touchpoint that immediately precedes or follows the one in question
Each subject will call for a different set of agents to be called for help, and as a Product Manager you will learn something new, get perspective on the issue and definitely improve your product thanks to them.
These agents are not a substitute to rolling up your own sleeves and getting out there to talk to your customers of course! But your own personal experience as a product manager is as important as theirs: it just adds to the full picture you need to grasp to build the product your customers need and deserve.