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Gathering Customer Insights on a Global Scale with T-Mobile, JC Penney, and Concur

Ashley Sefferman  //  September 26, 2017  //  30 min read

What if you could easily identify your most valuable customers? Now imagine you have; what would you ask them?

We had the pleasure of hosting James Meeks, Head of Product, Mobile Apps at JCPenney; Lisa Hillman, Senior Manager, Digital Adoption and Strategy at T-Mobile; and Courtney Steffy, UX Analyst at Concur to discuss these questions and more at our recent Customer Love Summit (moderated by yours truly!).

In their discussion, James, Lisa, and Courtney share how they gather customer feedback and insights—on a global scale—using mobile. They also share how they utilize customer insights to redefine focus groups, validate business decisions, and give customers a voice. They wrap up by providing actionable insights into how listening to customers through mobile increases customer loyalty, LTV, revenue, and retention.

If you’d rather read than listen, you can check out the full transcript below. Enjoy!


Ashley: Hey, everyone. There’s so many of you. This makes me so happy. Well, thank you guys so much again. I’m Ashley, as Emily said. And today, we are going to be talking about identifying valuable customers and implementing their ideas through feedback. And I’m very excited to have this incredibly smart experienced panel along with us, and I don’t wanna waste any time. So, we are just gonna dive right in to our first question.

So, I wanna begin by talking about segmenting customers. James, I know you and I chatted a bit about this. So, I’m curious around what behaviors your mobile customers take that sets them apart from the rest of your customer base?

James: Yeah. So, a good question. At JCPenney, we consider ourselves to me an omni-channel retailer, right? So, we have our customers who shop online, as well as our customers who shop in the stores. And the stores are a huge part of who we are today. So, one of the things that we’ve noticed about our customers are their device is with them anywhere they are in the world, and they actually want to use our app in mobile technology when they’re shopping in the stores.

So, we like to focus on those customers and those things in features that are gonna help enable them to improve that store shopping experience, right? So, we created a number of things that just aids you while you’re shopping in the store. We released a digital wallet earlier this year which allows them to store their rewards, their coupons, their gift cards, anything that just make the purchase process easier for them. But then we’ve also introduced store modes.

So, one of the things that we’ve found just by gathering feedback on our customers was nobody can figure out the price of an item in a store. And you think fundamentally, right, like, that’s so easy. You put a sign up notes, it’s really not that easy though. You put a sign up, signs get moved, signs get outdated. And then we have this price checkers in our stores for a number of years only to find out that a previous leader said, “We don’t wanna use price checkers anymore.” So, none of them work.

So, literally, you go out to a price checker in the store and there’s a sticky note on it that says, “Do not use me.” So, what we did we did was we leveraged the app and we implemented some technology that allowed us to tap into store pricing for all of our stores across the entire chain. So, now, you can take with the JCPenney app in any stores, scan items, get the price for it directly there. It just really enhances that experience for them.

Ashley: That’s great. Do you guys have anything to add there?

Courtney: So, overall, one of the things that we experience at Concur as a software as a service, expense and travel tool, that’s very global. But we’ve really started launching our mobile efforts fairly recently for software as a service base. And what we’ve learned is that those users really are high frequency users. So, they’re gonna be very, very engaged. And I think that’s kind of what’s been iterated so far, or talked to today so far.

So, what we’ve learned, we’ve had to really like approach them in totally different ways than a lot of our other users because they’re so engaged that they can be a really good listening post for us.

Ashley: And Courtney, I know Concur does this on a global scale as well. Can you maybe share some insight into how you approach that side of it?

Courtney: Yeah, absolutely. So, Concur right now operates in about 22 languages, 15 of which are on mobile. Because of that, they were also a highly configurable product in addition to that. So, we have to look at every single market completely differently. And one of the things that we’ve started doing is looking at the language component and listening to that. We’re starting to figure out how to do sentiment analysis in a machine learning way on different languages.

So, that’s something we’ve just started doing as well as how we actually approach. We know that certain markets are going to be more heavily mobile adapting than others. So, understanding how we treat the actual mobile product for those countries is gonna be absolutely different. One country is not gonna be the same as the other.

Ashley: Makes a lot of sense. So, with segmentation, as we all know, comes metrics, how do we measure segmenting can be very tricky. Lisa, I’d love to hear from you around how T-Mobile is approaching segmentation, and whether some of the metrics you and your team lean on to really understand what’s working and what’s not.

Lisa: Sure. So, hopefully, you all know who T-Mobile is. We’re a telecom provider based here in Seattle, the fortress over in Bellevue. And T-Mobile has historically been primarily a retail-oriented company, retail and customer care, in spite of the fact that we are the mobile carrier and we own and run your device. So, we’ve been on this transformation to move from a retail and care-heavy interaction with our customers to an actual digital interaction. That seems kind of logical since we are the mobile carrier that we would have a mobile app and mobile interaction but it’s so relatively new for us.

So, from a segmentation and a metrics perspective, largely the mobile interactions and app interactions are through service applications, right? So, the T-Mobile app is an account management app. We have T-Mobile Tuesdays, which hopefully all you who are T-Mobile customers and have Tuesdays, where customers are getting loyalty rewards and basically, free products every Tuesday from T-Mobile, and then a variety of others.

So, primarily, service-based applications. So, when we look at segmentation and metrics, we’re usually looking at cost and revenue in terms of financial metrics. And then we look at, sort of, customer attributes like, “What rate plan are you on? How long have you been with T-Mobile?” Some demographic elements but we’re still, sort of, on that maturity curve to understand demographics, channel of origin, whether you come from a paid channel or an organic channel, age, that sort of things. So, it’s still, sort of, an evolution for us.

From a CLV perspective, I think the interesting thing is that we’re starting to see that our mobile digital customers are actually higher CLV for us not just because they are lower cost but they’re actually our more valuable customers. They tend to be our more engaged customers similar to Penney’s, more brand loyal. And we see that also in the surveys and sentiment. We ride the wave of the brand loyalty when it comes to customer sentiments. So, we see that in Apptentive quite a bit and we use it in that way.

Ashley: Also, the metric I kind of wanna dig into, any of you, I’d love to hear from all of you on this. LTV, we’re all looking for the group of customers that have the highest LTV. What that means is so different for everybody, if you’re B2B, if you’re B2C, just anything that has to do with your business can affect this metrics. So, I’d love to hear your thoughts on LTV and how you approach it.

James: It’s an important metric for us just because we don’t only want you to transact one way with us,right? So, if you’re a mobile customer today whether you shop and whatever the app, we don’t want it to end there for. Like, as a company, it just makes more sense for us that we can tie you to the store customer and becoming that omni-channel customer. So, we like to track our customers from like a full life cycle range to know that. What you’re doing online as well as what you’re doing in the store and how can we tie those two back together because, ultimately, you mean more to us in our business.

If we can get you to go through our stores more frequently, that’s gonna get other people into the stores. You guys watch news, store traffic is down, right? So, anytime that we can take, what we do and how we can market and leverage our customers from a mobile standpoint to push them to the stores, it just makes them more profitable for us as a company.

Lisa: So, I think for us, I mean, we look at LTV or CLV but the most important thing is the customer stays with T-Mobile, right? We get them in the door and then we keep them. Upsell is a component but not as important as making sure that they continue their service. So, I think that’s part of the reason that customer experience and customer love is so important to us and always has been, whether it be in the customer service centers or in retail.

So, we spend a lot of time just making sure customers are happy. We are just talking in the other room, a lot of that has to do during the device launch, just making sure they don’t go somewhere else, right? So, when hypothetically something launches in another month or so here, making sure that that moment is perfect for our customers.

Ashley: So, it sounds like mobile moment is the thing that you guys really focus on?

Lisa: It is and I think there are…we know there are key moments in the customer’s life cycle where they will be upset. We know that network obviously is a major component for us and explaining to customers that, “No, seriously, it’s getting better.” But making sure that once you get them over that one network hurdle, that things like Tuesdays is a big component for customers who really love their free pizza or just having that experience. There are customers who had been with T-Mobile for 20 years because they do call the call center and they get that service that they love. So, it’s a question of then how do we translate that into a digital environment?

Courtney: Yeah and actually, at Concur, we’ve got a little bit of a unique perspective. Our customers are actually really not our users. And so, we have a very interesting distinction there where we actually look at really user value. But user value is gonna be more in like frequency of usage, not necessarily a lifetime value. We don’t look at how much they’re spending necessarily. We use that as a segmentation tool, but we don’t necessarily use that as anything more than really, kind of, how we treat them a little bit differently.

So, a large part of what we look at is actually gonna be frequency of usage. So, how often are people traveling, how often are they expensing and catering the product along those lines that’s, kind of, the key way that we look at our metrics.

Ashley: Awesome. All right, enough talking about metrics, you guys. Metrics are great but they are huh. So, let’s switch gears a little bit. I wanna talk about listening to customers. All of you, this is such a priority for you and your product roadmaps and I know we all had very deep conversations in prepping for this panel.

So, I’m very curious around what methods you’re all using to really listen to your customers to gather feedback? Lisa, I’ll start with you. The whole concept of customer obsession at T-Mobile I know, kind of, drives everything. Let’s talk about that a little bit.

Lisa: Yeah, I think… As I mentioned, we’ve been listening to our customers from the beginning because it’s so important to us in making sure that they stay. So, in a digital environment, we use your standard tools, your four Cs, the Apptentive, app stores, things like that. But then, we get a lot of our feedback actually from what we call our frontline. So, our retail stores and our care folks and that manifests everything from groups at the call centers who put intake ticket, send straight to the product team.

So, “Hey, guys, we want payment arrangement to be more discoverable because we’re getting calls about that,” to send sort of thing in the retail stores or its leadership that, sort of, lines up and gives the product teams direct feedback. We’ve got UAT guys who go and read it. So, we’ve got a T-Mobile subwrite it and they read those reviews and provide them to us. So, I think there’s an interest in, sort of, we listen everywhere but then we actually action on a lot of that stuff in ways that you wouldn’t necessarily think.

So, we’ve got emergency response, kind of, team in the socials arena that anytime someone twits a John Legere, please don’t do that today, they’ll raise it up. And if there’s issues like…things happen, like product changes because someone in the call center said, “We need this feature.” So, that’s really cool to see sort of that virtuous cycle of commentary coming back directly from the customers because we always stay on the product side. We can look at the data and we can look at those surveys and, yes, we do prioritize based on that, but those care guys and those retail guys know our customer better than we ever will.

Ashley: Tweeting a John. Ask our emcee Red about that later. All right, Courtney, what about…

Lisa: If it’s good, it’s okay, Red.

Ashley: What about you at Concur?

Courtney: Yeah. So, we actually…I think like for every company, there are so many listening posts for what’s going on with users and what’s going with customers. And one of the challenges we’re actually going through right now is how do we bring all that together. So, we have our customers, so we actually have people that are implementing our software with those customers and we have that listening post. Then we have the actual users through mobile and web. Web, we actually use a homegrown survey satisfaction tool. And then on mobile, we’re using Apptentive, and then we have like a whole variety of different areas.

So, one of the biggest challenges we have is not only getting all that information but then bringing it together and then trying to figure out how we get it out to the organization. So, we’re right in the middle of that hurdle. And I think, poor Veronica with Apptentive team is dealing with all of my slew of questions about that. But it’s been really, really exciting to see some of the changes that have been happening from that and being able to see product actually impacted directly from some of these scenarios. As they were mentioning with Buffalo Wild Wings, a lot of times your users can pre-empt problems, and we’ve definitely seen happen a few times.

Ashley: Cool. So, before we get to James. Courtney, I do wanna just dive in a bit deeper. So, you’re a UX analyst. So, any of you who are interested in talking with someone in UX, Courtney will be a great resource for you here today. And you’re one of the only, I think the only speaker we have coming with that background. How does your experience with your work particularly influence how you implement these channels and how you think about it from the integration perspective?

Courtney: So, it’s actually kinda two-folds. So, not only do we come from the user experience side, so we are ultimately 100% responsible for the user experience. But like I said earlier, Concur looks at customers and users very differently. Like one, there’s a relationship there but they’re super different.

So, we actually find ourselves on the UX team being advocates for the user and having to make sure that we are amplifying that voice as much as we can because we’re like their soldiers in our company that are really trying to make sure that that experience is prioritized even though they’re not the ones with the dollars, they’re the ones that ultimately impact the dollars. So, that’s one of the big ways that’s we’re looking at it, is just really making sure that we are getting that information and the importance of that information out to the organization.

Ashley: Great. So, James, back to the original question around asking for feedback and listening to customers, how does your team at JCPenney approach it?

James: I think similar to everyone up here on the panel, right? We probably ask for too much information from our customers. We’ve noticed that with all the customer’s demographic, they’re very, very detailed in what they’re gonna tell you. So, if you mess up, like, you literally hear about it all day long.

So, we have…not only do we do email, I mean, we have surveys. But then bringing Apptentive on board was really just very, very helpful for us because we had a problem where we only got negative feedback and we never really asked our customers what we thought about or what they thought about us. It was always when something went wrong, they came to us.

But to be able to flip and get in front of their face, we then say, “Okay, well, we’re open at all times.” So, every time we have a release now, we have an email address where you can contact us directly but then we also have the in-app feedback tool. So, we tell you directly, “Hey, send us the message, good, bad, ugly, we wanna hear it.” We get the ugly stuff, people tell me every day they hate so much, they hate the app. But a lot of times, what you find with that dialogue though is they’re telling you what’s really wrong.

So, if you listen to your customers enough, you’ll get the insight into what it is you need to fix and the things that you need to be building or focused on. So, it’s important to us to have our ears to their voice because they help drive the product roadmap at the end of the day.

Ashley: Totally, and it can be tough sitting here, getting these reviews around how much people hate you. Never fine. But, like you said, it drives the product roadmaps. So, walk us through a little bit more about what you do once you have this great feedback, how do you guys implement that? Your mobile team is big, how do you make sure everything gets used out of it and how does it drive the rest of your strategy?

James: It’s really just prioritization at the end of the day, right? So, you have to…everything that you get from your customers isn’t always gonna be beneficial, right? But you wanna give them a platform to at least say, and then you take the data that you have, right? So, you go and see your numbers, we try to be a very data-driven and analytical company. So, we’re always looking at the data and to figure out how our business is performing, and then what’s the correlation between how it’s performing, or how it maybe underperforming, and what your customers are saying about it.

So, we have a forum every morning, everybody is in the feedback, we have to spend time as a product team in the feedback and then it’s, “Okay. What are the top three to five items that we’ve notice that there are themes there, customers keep talking about? How do we get that stuff prioritized into our next upcoming sprint to make sure the that dev team is working on those things to improve the product for our customer?”

Ashley: That’s great. Courtney, Lisa, if you guys have additions. Sure, we’d all love to hear how your teams are also approaching it.

Lisa: Yeah. No, I think that prioritization is key, right? There’s so much to be done, right? Especially when you’re sort of a legacy infrastructure company that’s still on this path and you’re not digital native, right? So, for us, one of our biggest challenges, we can do the UX, we do a lot of usability studies, a lot of focus groups, but at the end of the day, we have to connect into our billing system which has been there for 20 years, right? So, there are certain things that are not always gonna be slightly off that we as product and marketing don’t really want.

But outside of prioritization, I think, like for us, an example is we knew that we needed to do biometrics at some point, right? Everybody’s got fingerprint log in, why wouldn’t you do it? But next to the giant list, you’re like, “Is it that important?” And really, the business case not only came on, “Okay, we can improve these seconds in log in.” But on the fact that if you went into the iOS surveys at the app stores, it’s like, “Touch ID, touch ID, touch ID, touch ID.” Seriously [inaudible 00:19:09] touch ID. And that was the business case was customers are demanding it, we gotta do it. So, we’d actually launch this week, which is super exciting. Or, is rolling out. Apple now does roll in releases which is super cool. That’s a new thing for us.

So, but to your point, right? It’s prioritizations. Sometimes you’re fighting against different teams. If one VP says, “No, seriously, I want a shop mode or whatever.” We looked at that too and we’re like, “Oh, my god that’s really hard.” Maybe 2019, but all of those things need to shark tank their way out. And the customer voice is the best voice in that sense.

Ashley: Well, and it sounds like doing this a scale for a company as large T-Mobile and all the teams that are all bought in to this seems tricky. What are some tips that you found are helpful for other people maybe fighting the same problem?

Lisa: So, I mean, I think having prior alignment between those teams helps, right? So, I think when we originally launched the team, it wasn’t officially an agile team, but it was effectively an agile team, right? You’re in a room with the engineers, with marketing, with products, just saying, “Okay guys, seriously, it’s February, we gotta go.” And that’s the best way that we found and we are moving into an agile transformation model at large.

And so that you’re not getting these problems where you throw in something over the fence, and that’s been a big issue for us in the past is marketing decides they are going to launch something, they tell product, engineers hear about it, and then somewhere down the line middle [inaudible 00:20:59] and the IT find out and the why the gets lost along the way. So, making sure that you’re all sitting in the room, having the conversation with design, with UX and iterating and then wrap at agile fashion has been our most successful approach to this.

Ashley: That’s great.

Courtney: Yeah, actually we’re in the middle of doing the exact same process. So, our whole organization is made up of a large amount of engineers who all operate on agile but we’re in the process of getting our UX team aligned with that which is really exciting. So, that means that our priorities will soon be aligned as part of their priorities, which is cool. So, doing that is helping us with that scale because we actually have a huge amount of volume, too. But in addition to that, it’s also looking at how do we automate?

And so one of thing is we’re gonna be implementing the Apptentive API soon to get that kind of in our own systems and start to leverage that more automatically as well as machine learning and whatever algorithms that we can apply to be able to figure out what are those priorities. Because sifting through several thousand comments weekly is really challenging. And trying to figure out what is the actual themes, what are the themes that are coming out of that and prioritizing those is really challenging. So, having some machine do the heavy lifting is very helpful. So, that’s something else that we’re looking into right now.

Ashley: Cool. Well, for my perspective, you guys are sitting here making it sound pretty easy to do this, and as we all know, it is not. It is hard. And especially, the more of your team that buys into this notion that customer feedback should be driving your roadmap, that’s the only way you’re gonna be able to build the best mobile experience possible, the more challenging it gets.

So, let’s go one by one. Let’s talk about quick challenges that you have faced. The more specific you can get, the better, and especially if you’ve been able to overcome those challenges. I’m sure everyone listening would love to hear about it.

James: It’s a daily challenge. I would say one of the biggest challenges that we had, right, coming into the organization, we had just recently launched our iOS app. So, there was a bunch of like press and hoopla about it. The team, they did it 90 days. The whole organization was super excited about it. I was the new guy coming in and I’m like, “Yeah, this thing is terrible though.” So, I didn’t gain a lot of fans joining the company. But I’m a pretty direct and honest guy. I felt like if we really wanted to have something that our customers are gonna be happy about and that was really gonna perform for us, we had to go back and do it over again, right?

So, we built the business case around here is why we should do it, here is what the data and the metric say around why we should do it, and here is the lift you’ll get once we go back and redo our app and do it the right way. So, initially, I had the IT technology side saying, “No, this is stupid. We already did it once.” And then I had product and marketing on my side like, “Yeah, he’s actually onto something. We should do it.” So, the biggest thing that kinda helped me overcome those gaps were just proving it out via data. Like, we weren’t converting at a high enough levels to where anybody could say that this app is gonna be best in class and our customers are really gonna love it.

So, it was all about going back, figuring out how to it and then taking what the customers were saying about it and figuring out what was the best experience there, too. So, we decided to a beta test and beta-launched this app. We reached out to our customers. We did a survey of about 10 of them, we said, “Hey, we’re launching a new app. We wanna know if anybody wants to participate on the beta program.” And we had hundreds upon thousands of people signed up for it. And the new app that we launched in July of last year, it was actually with our customers first.

So, we got their feedback one-to-one and they kind of helped us iterate very quickly to put out a new app. So, July 5th last year, we rolled out this app to all of our customers, but it wouldn’t have been possible, right, if we didn’t have that business case, if we didn’t have the metrics in the beginning, but then we also needed that customer feedback to kind of help us go at it and make it make sense for us.

Courtney: Yeah, I think we’ve had some similar shifts. On top of that, something else that we’ve struggled with is how to become proactive rather than reactive, and especially when you’re dealing with such a scale. And we’re still struggling with that. I don’t think we’ve solved that and probably it will take a while to do it. But one of the challenges that we have is we really do wanna to get to the point of two-way conversation. I mentioned listening post and that’s a very much a one-way conversation.

So, trying to figure out how we possibly get to this two-way is one of the biggest challenges that we’re struggling with and some of that’s bandwidth, just how do you implement the tools that already exist? Like, Apptentive notes tools helps with that kind of two-way conversation, or bandwidth around like how do you respond to his messages that we’re getting in? So, all of that is something that we’re struggling with and we haven’t fully solved yet. We have roadmap hopefully, plans for all of that. It’ll help with but it’s kind of a constant struggle a little bit.

Lisa: Yeah, I think, beyond the legacy infrastructure and what not, I think one of our biggest challenges has been just faith, right? We believe in the customer and that’s never been a problem, right? So, the customer feedback is not our challenge. Our challenge is this transition from a retail and care-oriented environment to a digital environment. And when you have…last year, we had the COO come out say, “We have a digital strategy now. We’re part of this transformation. We’re gonna do it.” But you’re still moving an entire organization that’s used to pointing all marketing messaging to retail or all service messaging to care. And so, it’s a lot of low hanging fruit and my team is largely responsible for all of that stuff moving over.

But you do have to have that faith and make sure that leadership and everyone from the top down is part of that journey. So, that’s been a large part of our challenge, it’s just the education of our peers, right? Like, how do you do a deep link, right? I mean, super basic things that you would think everyone should know, but in a non-digital environment, that’s what you’re dealing with. It’s just, sort of, getting over that leap of faith. I think an example that’s been helpful and maybe I’m skipping ahead, Ashley, but…

Ashley: That’s okay.

Lisa: So, last year, we launched this new version of the app, old version was terrible. We had a 1.2 startup in the market and we’re like, “We got to get rid of this thing.” And launched the new version of the T-Mobile app, still has some room for improvement. But as part of that launch last year, we integrated asynchronous messaging which is essentially WhatsApp with customer care. Or, a version. It’s not actually WhatsApp.

And that was a giant leap of faith for the organization because you’re talking about removing all web chat, right, off of all desktop and mobile environments, giving the customer direct digital access to a care agent, right? Retraining huge sections of the call centers to be writing, and they had to have grammar tests, and in a completely different mode of operation from a standard call center. So, it took a huge leap of faith on the part of the care leadership, on the part of the digital leadership and everyone to say, “No, we’re really gonna go there because we believe this is the future of how our customers are gonna interact with us.”

And we originally ran a pilot and it’s like, “Nope, no pilot. We’re changing whole call centers over.” And it has been an amazing journey because when it works, it is brilliant and customers love it. There was a period where the care leadership was like, “Oh god, we can’t do this. This is off. Too many people are showing up. It’s too successful. Turn it off.”

Ashley: That’s such a good problem to have.

Lisa: But when you’re a care center and you’re dealing with your metrics and all those kind of stuff, they don’t like it so much. And we’ve been sort of jonesing in to market this thing, and they’re like, “No, there’s too many people using it, you can’t do that.” But every time they question it and every time, it’s like, “No, it’s not reaching parity with voice yet. We’re not there yet. We don’t believe.” We, sort of, step back and say, “No, this is the right thing to do for the customer, they do love it. We do know that there’s operational challenges. We do know that there is work to be done. It’s brand new. It’s never been done at this scale before, but they do like it and we know it’s the future, so believe in it.”

Ashley: Sure. Yes?

Male: Can I ask a question? If it’s all right?

Ashley: Sure, go ahead.

Male: So, I heard a couple of people say…I heard the customer voice is always right and then as mentioned, they said that listening to everyone, right? That it’s social, customer service. To get a, Henry Ford said, “If we asked the customer what they wanted, they would have asked for faster horses.” So, how do you distill down a product roadmap when you have many voices?

Ashley: So, just to repeat for those of you who might not have heard, we’re gonna talk about distilling down a product roadmap when you’re hearing from many different customers suggesting many different things.

Lisa: Yeah, so I think going back to our point of prioritization earlier, right? We don’t…like, there are some comments where we’re, sort of, like, “Thanks, but no.” Right? There’s a lot of crazy things that we hear also, right? I think there were some comments about, I don’t know, the chocolate mafia or something. It’s a review, I don’t know. I’ll find it and give it to you guys.

But we hear a lot of crazy things, too, but there’s that prioritization that happens, right, where you as a product owner may innately know what that roadmap is gonna look like, right? You’ve got that first version of it to say, “I think we should do payments and in-store pick up and Apple Pay and whatever.” Right? And you’ve got your list and you say, “Okay, this is what I wanna do and this is the business case and what not.”

I think customer feedback, we use for two things, right? One is new ideas. So, sometimes we hear from customers that the product owners wouldn’t have thought about previously, or they’re just problems that we didn’t know existed, right? So, I think discoverability of payment arrangements is one of them, right? And we got that from the call center rep, right? Where they’re like, “You know, we can’t find this one button and we’re trying to explain it to somebody, can you move it?” Okay, cool, we can do that. That’s pretty easy and we wouldn’t have thought necessarily. We might have found it eventually in UX.

I think the other one is just validating. In your product roadmap, putting your ideas that you have. So, if you’ve got that prioritization and that’s what you have your business case based off of, it’s saying, “I have this gut reaction, are we hearing the same things from our customers in terms of what they want?” So, it’s not necessarily we’re only looking at the surveys and saying, “Okay, these are what we’re gonna build.” We’re using it either for ideas that we wouldn’t have had otherwise and signals that we wouldn’t have had otherwise, and then sort fixing the ranking.

You have other things, James?

James: Yeah, I would just say as a product owner, it’s your job to be the visionary as well as the strategist, right? And regardless of what customers are saying, you still have to have that perspective. And the only way you have that right is by paying attention to your industry, becoming a subject matter expert about all things mobile or whatever industry you’re in whether it’s telecom or retail, from my standpoint.

Knowing what your competitors are doing, having a perspective on where you think the industry is going and then building things, but asking yourself before you build anything, “What am I trying solve for?” If you’re just something blindly, you’re not trying to solve anything, then you’re not helping yourself or helping your customer. But then you sprinkle in the feedback and those little gems and those nuggets they give you for things that you may not be thinking about.

So, from my world, right? Customers, for whatever reasons, still go into the store to pay their credit card bill every month. Blows my mind when the credit team tells me this. I’m like, “You got in your car, put gas in it and you drove to the store to pay your credit card bill.” And they’re like, “Yeah, people just love to do it.” I’m like, “Okay, well, let’s just put the credit card tool in the app, like, no brainer, right?”

And so, I don’t make any money out of that, like if you come in the app and you pay your bill, it doesn’t help me at the end. I’m not judged on that at the end of the day, but it’s little stuff like that you’re not really thinking about like, “Hey, well, if it’s gonna be convenient for them and it means that I’ll get more traffic,” and then my thing is if I get you get into the app, it’s up to me to engage you other ways, then I’m gonna take that side of stuff, right? But I just think you have to balance.

You being the product owner and you being the visionary of where your product is going, and then also taking into account customers will tell you what you’re doing well. And they may tell you something you’re not thinking about. It’s always good to get a perspective from someone who’s not always on the weeds and looking at it every day.

Ashley: For sure. Well, going back on this challenge question originally, as you are all sitting here, who of you, can you raise your hand if you have also been struggling or currently struggling with something that these panelists have talked about? All right, that’s a lot of people. So, I think the big takeaway here is like a conference of this size, this is great, you actually get to meet others struggling with the same thing that you’re trying to solve.

I definitely encourage you all to meet other people and have these conversations. If these three huge companies are struggling with this, I’m sure it’s very common that a lot of us are, too. So, take the opportunity today to really dig in and talk to these folks afterwards. They will be happy to expand more, I’m sure.

So, let’s bring it back for a quick story time before we wrap here. So, we talked a lot about customer insights already. I’d love to hear stories from you guys around how a piece of feedback or a decision or something that you’ve heard from your customers really drove your product strategy, whether it was a positive thing or a negative thing or something in between. Any of you wanna start?

Courtney: Yeah, I got a good one. So, generally speaking, at Concur, our app has previously been considered what we call companion app. So, it is not full featured. It doesn’t have everything that our web service offers which is definitely a good thing. In some cases, as I mentioned, we have a lot of configuration capabilities, so to offer that in mobile would be pretty crazy. So, it’s a little bit more limited but the way that we’ve looked at it from the strategy perspective is it’s only gonna handle like these couple of things or it’s the question of do we give them everything.

And so, that was one of the biggest challenges we had to deal with is understanding, “Okay, how do we even shape the strategy what our mobile app should be?” And so, what we were able to do is look at a lot of different user data including the actual user comments, but looking at QuickStream data and a bunch of other sources to understand how are users actually using this product. And my team went on what was basically a local road show about mobile and the user story behind that to help train and form that.

And what we found is that there’s actually two very different users of our mobile product. There’s this user that’s basically a road warrior who is always traveling and needs to have it as a companion in order receipts, in order to figure their itinerary, to book their next leg. But there’s also that infrequent user that’s only gone in once and has no idea what the app is even for. And so, how do you guide both those strategies in one app? And that was something that was totally unknown to our strategy team. And with the data that we had, we were able to say, “We do need to build for these two different user stories because it’s a huge amount of our volume that we’re seeing.”

Ashley: And, Courtney, I know you shared with that at Concur’s UX team, your motto, if you will, is “Proactive versus reactive.” Do you feel that has helped these types of situations when they arise? Has it helped you be able to deal with them and strategize in a quicker more effective way?

Courtney: Yeah, it’s definitely a work in progress. But yes, it is. It’s something that…one of the things that we’re really trying to do is really totally encapsulate what the users are really looking for and be able to be that expert when we’re called upon by products or by executive leadership or what have you. So, in order to be proactive, you really have to be fully ingrained in what is user story, what is the user feeling and what does that experience look like?

So, we’ve had to do a lot of that and it’s in a lot of ways, it’s actually, by being so ingrained, it’s prevented a lot of challenges around customer dissatisfaction where we actually have clients that are coming to us and saying, “But my users really don’t like your product.” And we’ve been able to say, “Hey, actually, these users aren’t liking the product for this client, maybe we need to go talk to that client and figure out what we can change.” So, it’s prevented a lot of challenges that would have otherwise escalated a lot higher for sure.

Lisa: So, I think already gave away my story about async messaging. But I think…

Ashley: I’m sure you have more, right?

Lisa: Yeah. So, since I sit on sort of what we call a “digital adoption,” right? So, my challenge is how do we design a strategy for user acquisition? Originally, we were focused largely on the T-Mobile app which is account management app, extremely boring, right? So, I’m trying to get you to do things that you innately don’t want to do like pay your bill. And how do I make that compelling and just make part of what retail tells you to do and just part of your everyday life?

So, that’s, sort of, been the journey that we’re on or have been on for the last year. Right now, we’re at interesting pivot point where it’s not just about that app, it’s about all of the apps that we have thrown into market at some point over the last 10 years that are still lighting up on customers’ phones. And we’re asking this question of what an app ecosystem looks like, what should the strategy look like in a world where you can’t have everything in one app?

I want you to operate digitally. What is your digital life look like for T-Mobile when I need you to engage with all of these different services that I’m trying to sell you? They live in different applications. The retail associate doesn’t understand all of them and I’m trying to get you to do that. So, we’re just still working through this but it’s been an interesting challenge, and we’ve actually talked to some of our partners in Seattle about how they have handle through this in issue of an app ecosystem.

When I think about it, it’s, sort of, like, if I got 10 minutes a month with any given customer, which app do I want them in? What do I want them doing and how do I get them back, right? So, user acquisition is a big issue for us from a digital perspective. Again, customers don’t think about us as a technology company. You’re not like, “Okay, I wanna go in the name ID app today.” Right? Like, “I wanna go into caller tunes today,” because you got to get your ring tones.

So, it’s just a question of how do we rationalize the applications that we have thrown into market and published, consolidate them in some way, what does this stack look like in that instance, and then how do we re-engage them in an appropriate way going forward? So, that’s sort of the journey that we’re on right now and it’s really work in progress. So, if anybody has ideas about how to handle a rational app ecosystem, happy to hear those. We only get so much mindshare of our customer because in their life cycle and tenure with us, it’s they’re either paying their bill, buying a new device or they’ve got a problem, right?

Usage to me is actually a bad thing in some instances, which is very counter intuitive, because if they’re using the app, it means there is a problem. And so, how do I deal with those situations when engagement is not necessarily positive? So…

Ashley: All right. Yeah, go ahead.

James: I would just say, one of the things that we ended up building at JCPenney was a digital wallet and that was strictly driven by customer feedback. So, if you talk to our customers who shop at Kohl’s, so we call one of our direct competitors, right? The biggest thing that they would always say was, “We will shop at Kohl’s over JCPenney because Kohl’s has a digital wallet. They make it so easy for me to add these different things that they mail to me, add them to my wallet.”

So, we heard that a long period of time but we didn’t actually do anything or make any decisions on it. And so, we finally sat back and said, “Okay, well, if we did this, would it actually help us gain back of those customers who tend to go to our competitor more than they go to us?” So, that was really the main driver for building out that feature. It was to close the competitive gap, but it was because our customers told us that this is why went to someone else other than, and was important to what we could to pull them back to JCPenney.

Ashley: That’s great. Well, we are running out of time and I wanna make sure you all come for actionable tips, right? You’re not giving us your day unless you can take something back and use it right away. So, I love to go through just rapid fire fashion. Can each of you share three tips that our listeners can go back and use some of those strategies for how you can leverage consumer insights to make your mobile experience better?

Courtney: Okay.

Ashley: You’re first.

Courtney: Oh, I know I’m gonna…I think there are some overlap in what our tips are, too. So, I might steal a few. But one of the first ones I have to say because I’m from user experience, so this is totally gonna give me away there, but make sure you’re involving your users in your product, and you’re involving in your product roadmap. So, not only bringing them in, so if you have a user experience team, don’t be afraid to bring them in and actually do some user testing, if you don’t do that already. But if you do do that, as a product manager, product owner, go sit in on those experiences and see what is actually coming from that voice. It’s a great way to listen. So that’s one, it’s kind of involving them.

The other one is integrating that data across all the teams, so making sure you’re amplifying that voice either through like dashboarding or even just monthly reporting or presentations. At our company, at Concur, we do a lot of lunch and learns. So, a great way to share user story that way.

And then lastly is automate. Even you don’t have a lot volume right now, you will most likely, hopefully. And so, that’s kind of the idea. The more you automate, the more that you can get more rich insights out of it. And help you prioritize, help you share that story out.

Lisa: Yeah, I think one of my biggest ones is just ask for help, right? I sit in an organization where we run across functional agenda, right? If we sat in our little silo and then try to either build product or market product on our own, I would be horribly unsuccessful. I think asking for help in getting those subject matter experts. T-Mobile is a relationship-based culture with a lot institutional knowledge and silos. So, actually just going and hunting down that retail store rep who understands what folks in Indiana are going to want, I would never know those things, right?

So, leveraging those people but then also giving the help back is important. We do quarterly brown bag with our engineers, showing them the campaigns that run as a result of what they built. And that is innately valuable to us, partly because they’re just happy to know what their product actually did and that we’re talking about it. But then the next time I go over them, I’m like, “Can fix the add ID issue?” They will do that for me.]

So, I think just having that virtuous cycle between the teams is really important, and having that positive relationship regardless of where in the company you sit is super helpful. I think that’s the only one I have right now.

James: Yeah, and I know we’re short on time, so I would bring it down to one and it’s something I learned in working in sales years ago. It was always be closing, right? I hated that term but it made sense, always be closing. But in this world, it’s always be listening. Your customers are gonna talk to you. The have valuable information that they wanna give to you, so you should always be listening to it. You don’t always have to decision on it, but at least take the feedback, figure out how it makes sense for your business and then go from there.

Ashley: That was awesome. Thank you all so much, round of applause for our panelists. Great. And really, talk to these people. They have seen it all. They’re insanely smart. Corner them. Get their thoughts before you leave.

About Ashley Sefferman

Ashley Sefferman is Director of Marketing at Apptentive. A digital communication and content strategy enthusiast, she writes about multichannel engagement strategies, customer communication, and making the digital world a better place for people. Follow Ashley on Twitter at @ashseff.
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