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How Nordstrom and Starbucks Approach Customer Love

Ashley Sefferman  //  August 8, 2017  //  24 min read

We had the pleasure of hosting Ryan Bruels, Director of Engineering at Starbucks, and Jeff Raffo, Director of Engineering at Nordstrom, for a fireside chat on customer centricity at our 2017 Customer Love Summit.

Nordstrom and Starbucks at Apptentive's Customer Love Summit

Nordstrom and Starbucks are the gold standard for building exceptional customer experiences that transcend digital and in-store, and we got the inside scoop on how they decide what to build next to stay cutting-edge, how they successfully roll out new features globally, how they provide their world-famous customer service across channels, and how they use mobile to foster customer loyalty. As department heads for two of the most customer-centric engineering orgs that exist today, Ryan and Jeff have unique perspectives on what it really takes to put customers at the heart of a business.

Specifically, Jeff shares how Nordstrom approaches:

  • Personalization through bridging the gap between digital and in-store experiences through paying attention to cultural nuances and solving the top in-store challenges through digital channels.
  • Aligning internal teams to focus on the customer through empathy, knowing the data, and balancing the speed of their digital experience with their culture of connecting with customers.

And Ryan explains how Starbucks thinks about:

  • Improving user experience by getting in front of customers as much as possible, eliminating assumptions, and allowing yourself to be surprised by how people actually use your ditigal experience.
  • Loyalty starting with partners (employees), and including a seamless digital experience that brings customer and company together.

Whether your company is early in its mobile innovation journey or consider yourselves seasoned pros, we can all learn a thing or two about #customerlove from Nordstrom and Starbucks. Watch the complete talk with Ryan and Jeff to learn how their teams approach customer love and put the customer at the center of their product roadmaps. If you prefer to read rather than watch, we’ve included the transcription below the video.


Emily: Who’s excited for this panel?

Crowd: Woo.

Emily: Let’s get right to it.

Emily: What the heck does the director of engineering do at each of your companies? What do you guys do all day long?

Jeff: Very little.

Ryan: Right. Advocacy is a good one. I think…when I think of our roles, certainly my role at Starbucks, it’s about, how do you create an engineering culture? How do you create a culture around, like, great software engineering and customer-focused experiences, in the context of a big retail company? I think that’s a huge part of it. So, relationships with business, tech, to kind of get great things done.

Jeff: Yeah, I think developing a culture of engineering is ultimately important, especially in the enterprise space. Also, I spend a ridiculous amount of time meeting with my peers, to make sure that I am in the loop on what they’re doing, and vise versa, to make sure if there’s some huge crosscutting project, that we’re ready to go and we don’t stub any toes.

Emily: That’s perfect. Well, that leads right into my next question. So, we all know that technology is constantly changing how we live our lives, and customer behavior. So, how do you decide what to build next and stay cutting edge and ahead of it all?

Jeff: So, for us, we have an insanely talented product and user experience team that really helps and does a good job of guiding us on where we need to go. That combined with an emerging culture of test and learn and doing things like A/B test, to figure out which experiences resonate the most with our customers couldn’t be more important to us at this point.

Ryan: Yeah. I think one of the really interesting challenges for any company in our space, is like not only are we paying attention to the digital analytics and the stuff that comes in from our mobile applications, and then web applications. But we have to pay attention to store logistics too. I mean, we have to pay attention to what’s happening in our stores, and the recent examples around our mobile ordering system is a great example. How can we use our digital experiences to make that in-store experience, like, really, really good and minimize chaos and everything? I guess, it’s just constantly listening to customers by way of data or actual store logistics, I guess.

Emily: So that’s a super hard problem. Can you dig in a little bit more about how you do the digital and in-store, how you keep track of all of that and all the tech stack that you’re working with? How do you do that?

Ryan: Yeah. That’s a big one.

Jeff: That’s a tough one.

Ryan: It’s a multi-headed hydra. Analytics are huge. As we’re talking today about customer data and the kind of metrics that we pull off our digital experiences, that’s a huge part of it. But there’s numerous other ways for us to get ahead of customer insights. We are constantly in front of our customers. We’re doing customer insights kind of research. We are putting A/B test into the app – Jeff kind of mentioned that – to really test, “Is this something that’s gonna help our customers through the funnel? Is this something that’s helping them get even through the line faster at the store?” Things like that are the daily part of our work.

Jeff: Yes. So, organizationally, we have…so we have a mobile apps business unit and we have a business unit. We also have an omnichannel business unit that looks across those experiences for opportunities to use both of those platforms, to enable things within the store. I think that’s fairly new for Nordstrom, but it’s been really, really successful so far.

Emily: How did it go about…I know you guys have changed quite a bit the structure.

Jeff: Yes.

Emily: How did this come about?

Jeff: How did this come about? That’s a really good question. I’m not totally sure, to be quite frank. The omnichannel, like, anybody with a brick-and-mortar presence and an online presence, omnichannel is a huge thing for them. But yeah, I’m not completely able to comment.

Emily: Okay, fair. So, Jeff, this Reserve & Try on In-Store feature is super hot right now. I’m sure a lot of you guys have tried it, especially the women in the room. Can you tell us about it and how you rolled it out and how you worked with the stores, how you tested? Tell us a bit about it.

Jeff: Yeah. So the experience…So, currently, it’s only released in western Washington. It’s going to expand nationally here in a couple of months or so. But the experience, for those of you who don’t know about it, essentially…So, two of the biggest complaints we have about stores is it’s really hard to find inventory, and it takes a really long time to do anything in the store. So we’ve allowed customers, using the mobile app, to search inventory in their store, on the app, and then reserve it. To where the store will then accept the reservation, figure out where that merchandise is, and send a text back to the user saying, “We found your item. Please come to the store when you have time.”

And then the user comes into the store, we have it staged in the waiting room for them, the dressing room for them. They can try it on. They can decide if they like it. They can also decide if they would like other things with it, and then check out right there. So, the ultimate business KPI for this experience is, “Will we be able to get people in and out of the store within 10 minutes?” And, yeah, like you said, it’s been a very, very hot experience for us and one that we’re really, really excited about.

Getting it enabled in the store hasn’t been necessarily a seamless experience. If you grew up in technology like me and I think Ryan did as well, so the cultures around the store are very different than the cultures around the technology group. Though it’s changing pretty quickly. But historically, that’s very much the case. So the way we think about problems and the way the store thinks about problems couldn’t be more different in a lot of situations. So, one, developing an application that is store-centric was a challenge for us early on.

I think the biggest enabler in helping fix that was essentially sending, no joke, the VP, the director, the engineering manager and all the engineers, all the product folks, all the program folks into the store, talking with the people that are actually gonna enable the experience. To get a good idea, essentially building empathy for those people so we can build things that we knew they were going to need, as opposed to what we assumed they were gonna need. I think, if anything, that was one of the biggest things we did to help this become a seamless thing.

Ryan: That’s really…I mean, it’s really interesting. You have these…they’re not worrying worlds, but they’re not worlds that have necessarily always talked to each other. And that’s like the digital and this in-store thing. And so, on the one hand, you have pressures on the digital, which is like we wanna complete our order fast. We wanna get in and out. Like, we know what we want. We just wanna order. In the case of Nordstrom, you want to be able to try on the clothes. In the case of Starbucks, you have to go and pick up your coffee.

But it’s a very, like, rapid fire, in and out kind of thing. I wanna be done. And that clashes sometimes with Nordstrom and Starbucks, both value this customer connection. Like the salespeople at Nordstrom, the partners in our stores at Starbucks, part of the culture is all about this connection. So there’s a potential, if you don’t focus and really try to strengthen this relationship between your retail teams and your tech teams, that you could completely disconnect your salespeople and your partner, your in-store partners from the digital customers. Like, how can we create that connection while still achieving the goals of the digital experience? I think it’s just been a fascinating problem to work on.

Jeff: I totally agree. So one other thing I was gonna mention is that the nature or the culture of the in-store employee for Nordstrom is one of very much an entrepreneurial culture. So if these technology solutions we provide don’t meet their needs, they’re going to go right around them. So it’s really, really important to make sure you understand your customer in that situation, because you could spend millions and millions of dollars developing something that nobody ends up using very, very easily.

Emily: That reminds me of a couple of headlines I saw around Mobile Order & Pay being too successful. Can you speak to that and kind of how you bring that feedback back to the team? What changes do you make?

Ryan: Yeah, sure. A brief context, the Mobile Order & Pay, so this is an ordering experience within the app. You can literally select drinks, food, whatever you want to order, pay with your preferred sort of payment method and then actually go pick up the order in the store. How many people have actually, like, used MOP?

Jeff: Everybody.

Ryan: Nice. See, I have a different thing about the difference between analytic data and, like, survey data, because that was really interesting. But, yeah. So, as MOP got more and more successful, obviously, we’re all really thrilled by it. But as we talked about it on our investor call a couple of months ago, there was sort of a downside to that, which is sort of a…it’s so much increase in the traffic in the stores. But that traffic wasn’t traffic that was standing in line to order drinks. It was traffic that was sort of just waiting for their drinks. Like, they wanted to come pick it up and were just kind of like at the store, maybe not at the right point.

So, what that had an impact on was potentially you open the door and there’s all these people around you. You figure that’s the line and you’re like, “That’s okay. I’ll peace out.” So, what that really has done is pushed us to really strengthen that relationship with our partners in-store, to really think about how we can use the digital experience to smooth out the line, how can we be more accurate with our wait time data, for example? How can we be more clear to the customer when their drinks are ready?

We just launched a great pilot which is rolling out to stores, where we do this very…it was a very simple A/B test, actually, to start. Where we just say…we have a little notification that comes up that says, “Your order is ready.” And like, that simple thing sort of alleviates a lot of anxiety on the customer behalf and they actually know, “Okay. Now I can sort of stand up from my table,” or “I can come in the store and pick up my drink.” So it’s pushed us to just really understand the store operations a lot more.

Emily: That’s really smart. And Jeff, I’m curious, so you’ve also launched Buy and Pick Up in-store.

Jeff: Yup.

Emily: So can you talk about what learnings as you have from the Try On, to Buy, kind of any different hurdles?

Jeff: So it was actually reverse. So we enabled buying…We call them BOPIS. It’s Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store. It’s not a great moniker.

Ryan: BOPIS.

Jeff: Yup. Super awe-inspiring. But it was different, right? Actually, it’s so funny, the code name for the stores experience was ROTIS, Reserve Online Pick up at the store. Anyway. Not interesting to anybody but me. So, they definitely helped inform each other. I think we learned a ton about the in-store experiences from a technology standpoint, from the BOPIS work that we did.

And then again, as both of us have mentioned a couple of times, doing A/B test to figure out locations within the store, where it makes the most sense to pick up items. Which type of in-store employee should be working with a customer at any given time? Like, all that experience, it’s really hard for me to pin-point one right now, but there was a ton of data amassed during the BOPIS work that really informed a lot of the roadmap for what we did with Reserve Online.

Emily: Ryan, Starbucks is a global operation. You have thousands of stores. So how do you think about global scale with mobile innovation?

Ryan: Man, another, like, huge question. There’s the obvious ones, right, which is like technology at scale, millions of customers using the app every day. Like, how do we expand that out to some of our major global markets? So I think some of the more interesting challenges that I think this is what really makes being a digital product team within this big retail company so interesting, is we have to pay attention to things like cultural nuances and differences in the way that other countries sort of think about their morning coffee habits and everything like that.

So, without diving into too many details, like, even the way that we express our loyalty and rewards program, it’s very different culturally. Like, sometimes you may have a culture that redeems rewards in a different way or they don’t see it as sort of wanting to get a free drink, but maybe they want a different sort of input into Starbucks, for example. Customer experience is king. I think if you think about Starbucks, we try to create sort of a very welcoming and consistent sort of brand experience across the world.

When you walk into a Starbucks in any country, it is both familiar and it’s that third place that we invite you to come in and sit and enjoy. But it also has sort of the cultural distinctions. Every country has their own sort of look and feel at Starbucks. We must take those as part of the digital experience as well. I think it’s really that customer experience angle that’s the most interesting approach to that, in addition to making sure it all scales well.

Emily: One thing you mentioned in the prep is that you actually have multiple apps across the world. From a technology perspective, how do you keep the apps consistent? Is it all based out of headquarters? Do you have teams abroad that are working with your team?

Ryan: Yeah. Current state, we work with a variety of our international partners to do the development work. It’s one of the stronger goals of our technology teams right now, to just look out at the globe and see what doesn’t make sense. In full honesty, it’s one of these things that we’re just trying to make the right plan for right now. I wish we had our grand plans for the global takeover, but we don’t. It’s definitely still something we’re learning. But it’s, again, part of the fun challenges.

Emily: Awesome. So I got this question when I asked folks around what they’re curious in. And a lot of people would like to know, like, “What’s the decision-making process before launching a new feature?” Like, what are kind of some of the things you have to go through internally before you decide something like Mobile Order & Pay, or Reserve & Try on In-store?

Jeff: So, depending on the feature, there’s various maturations you have to do to get something to actually see the light of day. From a Nordstrom standpoint, it can range from a board decision. But typically, it’s something that lands in the product team, an ideation process happens. They go through and they test it. They come up with comps to see what makes the most sense. You’d write out a business plan and you’d find what business KPIs you need to achieve to have this thing actually make sense and spend money on. Then if all those things turn out to be positive, then the project is scoped and handed to the engineering team to execute on.

Ryan: Yeah. I think it comes from a variety of sources. I think more and more, we’re trying to be a data driven digital products team, which means a lot of the product decisions we make are driven very concretely by the analytic data. But it really can…there are multiple influences. It may be that we’re making changes to our Starbucks rewards program, our loyalty program. And that necessarily needs to have its front face in the mobile experience.

And so, that the…it may be sort of a new program from our loyalty team and then that gets…between our engineering and product management team, sort of worked out, designed, all that. It could be something wholly internal. So it’s something that we know we wanna either improve in the app. Or we’re seeing analytic data that says, “Oh, man, we can probably improve some customer experience and really shorten the time through the Mobile Order funnel,” for example. Or Erick has sort of alluded to this, sometimes you just get a call from Howard and there’s some changes to make. Thankfully, he’s an incredibly sharp dude. So if he says he wants something in the app, there’s usually a good reason.

Jeff: I think it’s a pretty interesting time to be alive in this space right now. Because the process I just described sounds very long and onerous. There’s a strong desire within Nordstrom to shorten that as much as possible, and not spend a lot of time trying to figure out the exact right thing and get things out as soon as possible. So you can then get it in the customers’ hands and then figure out whether it resonates or not.

It was a huge pain point for my engineering team early on, to where we would do all this work. We would release the experience and then it wouldn’t have any needle moving business KPIs. So we did all this work and we tested it and we looked at all the data, but we never pulled anything back. It didn’t make sense. If we were going to be watching the data, we should be doing something with the data. So now we’re doing a better job of getting things out quickly, understanding we’re pulling things back. Not to throw it in the bucket, but to figure out why it didn’t work, alter it, and then redeploy it to hopefully iterate over time and make it better.

Ryan: Yeah. Another hand raise. Who’s actually deploying A/B tests into their digital experiences? Yeah, okay. This is definitely a transformation for a lot of product teams right now. And I can’t express just how valuable it is. It really unlocks the ability for you take some bigger risks, to move a lot faster because you’re literary responding in real time to customer data. And instead of just putting something that may be risky, but could have a huge reward, instead of putting that out to 100% of your digital customers, you’re doing it at some small ramp. And you’re saying, “Okay. We’re just gonna put this out at 1% and then kind of see what the comparative data looks like.” It’s so incredibly valuable for digital experiences especially.

Jeff: It’s the single biggest advantage you can have in the marketplace, to be able to test and learn from your experiences and then improve them over time. It’s still an emerging practice, which is kind of surprising. But yeah, if there’s one thing that you guys take away from this, yeah, understanding how your customer is using your products and applications at a very granular level is something that’s gonna help you quite a bit.

Ryan: Yeah.

Emily: Well, it’s a perfect segue into our next question. So, most of us in the room are on the product side, on the CX side or on the marketing side. So we would like to know, what is the best thing non-engineers…How can we best work with engineers? So, like, unlock the secrets of how can we better work with the tech teams and engineering teams? What are your tips?

Ryan: All the laughing I’m hearing, it’s clear, like, we’ve all had our relationship struggles and sometimes it’s worked really well. Yeah, that’s a great question. I think, to me, it’s always been…Any PM team that I’ve worked with, it’s always been just a really healthy relationship. But sometimes there’s, like, language differences and things like that. But just for me, it’s all about just integrate the tech teams early. Like, I think if there’s anything that I know and I see this in my teams every single day, they are deeply connected to the customer.

They’re constantly thinking about making sure that their customer experiences are high performance. And, like, they know how to solve problems in a way that’s true to their platform, and that’s just invaluable experience. So bringing them in on not implementation of a solution but really on answering the question and the problem that you’re trying to solve, I think that’s critical, and they love being in that space.

Jeff: Yeah. I agree with everything he said. I think, tactically, one of the things that we found a lot of value in from an engineering side is co-locations. Co-locating the product manager with the engineering team, with the program team, has been a huge, huge benefit to us. Like we’ve been saying this entire time, know the data, watch the data and make decisions off data and not use emotion or intuition. I think those are two of the biggest things, for sure. Yeah.

Ryan: And somebody mentioned hackathons and Hack Days and things like that. Those can be extraordinarily valuable for just seeing that play out in a short period of time. I think some of our most productive, sort of hackathon type things have been…We did one in December and I’m thinking in one of the projects that had a tremendous amount of success and just got everyone really fired up. It was a team that was a combination of a product manager, engineer, and a CX designer. Just them all being able to look at the data and all being able to understand the engineering behind it, and really understand the vision of the interface behind it and everything. It was awesome.

Jeff: I don’t want to make it seem like it’s what the product team has to do with engineering. It really goes both ways. So, having the product team understand what the engineering practices and principles are is really important. The reverse is true too. The engineers really want to and should know how you guys go about your jobs. Because it helps build empathy and then there’s understanding and then there’s easier work environment.

Emily: So, along the data train. So let’s talk about how you approach customer experience beyond MPS. What metrics do you pay the most attention to?

Jeff: Demand and revenue. We’re in business, right? We’re all here to make money, and those are predominantly the things that we do outside of MPS. Which is really, really important.

Ryan: Yeah. I think revenue, for sure. We obsessively pay attention to our daily MOP data, to make product decisions. So, for us, especially if you think of Mobile Order and Pay, like, we wanna get people down to that order button, right? And then that takes X number of steps to the interface. And I think diligently we monitor time and any choke points in that funnel, and we use that to iterate on our interface really rapidly. So it’s some of that sort of the funnel data. The analytics that shows you a customer’s path through the application, I think is critical.

Jeff: I think that’s a great point. I think it’s really dependent on the experience itself. So there are different things that you should be looking for with different user flows. Funnel data is huge, cart abandonment, things like that, where people are exiting out of the experience because there’s too much friction. So I would change my answer to say it’s not necessarily a specific set of data. But it’s a specific set of data depending on the problem you’re tying to resolve.

Ryan: The other one we’re really big on is the sort of more technical data. So we have lots of analytics and monitoring around the health of our systems, and the health of our application as a whole. So we’re getting a little geeky, but we monitor, like, HTTP response time. So how long does it take to call our APIs? How long does it take to load a particular screen? How long does it take for our point of sales to respond? Things like that. We monitor all of that to make good product decisions. So sometimes some of the changes that we make may not affect the experience at all, but something that’s actually underlined. Yeah.

Emily: Great. So I’d like to shift gears to loyalty. So at Nordstrom, you’re known for the White Glove approach. You have an incredible customer service. How do you translate that to digital and to mobile specifically when maybe they don’t get to interact with a human?

Jeff: Right. The non-interacting with the human thing is actually new to us. Just like you said, the Nordstrom experience is very high touch. If you walk into the store, “Hi, Mr. Raffo. What can I do for you? You have that nice pair of jeans. Can I also sell you this really expensive pair of shoes?” Not everybody likes that. Like, myself specifically, and it was one of the things that we aspired to achieve with the Reserve Online, pick up in store experience, was that we wanted to give the customer the option to define how they wanted to be interacted with.

So if you wanna walk into the store and have a high touch experience, you walk in and you follow the normal flow. But store reserve was really one of the things that we put out there to be, “You know what, Jeff, if you don’t wanna be bothered, if you don’t wanna be upselled [SP], you can use this and we’re not gonna bother you at all.” But how you infuse that into digital experiences, I’m sure this is true for Starbucks as well, it may sound corny, but it’s not a fallacy to say that customer centricity is really infused into the culture.

Like, I prided myself throughout my career to be a very customer-centric person. And even coming to Nordstrom, it was one of the reasons why I came to Nordstrom. But I was literally blown away about how it’s talked about and showed literally everywhere and every single thing that we do. So you can spend a lot of time analyzing data, you can have the best product managers in the world, but if you don’t have that customer mindset with you at all time, you’re not going to achieve the level of customer satisfaction that you’re going to…

Emily: Can you give us some examples? What does it look like? What are you hearing? What is the…?

Jeff: It’s funny, because…Some cultural aspects are very in your face and some of them are kind of very behind the scenes or maybe reside below the level of consciousness that you have on a day-to-day basis. But it’s sitting in a meeting and have somebody say, “Wait a minute. Have you thought about what she wants?” The customer in Nordstrom’s standpoint is a she. So it’s really funny because people talk about “she” all the time or “her” all the time.

So it’s like, he talked about what she wants. I understand that that makes sense to you, Mr. Software engineer, but please change your mindset to this person and what we know or what we think we know about this person. In some situations, there are posters on the wall, to kind of…So we use customer personas. I’m sure you guys are all familiar with customer persona or fictional characters that kind of define the different people that you aspire to serve. So we have all of that. But to me, that’s kind of marketing material, and it’s really just infused in the nomenclature and the actions and the behaviors of everybody.

Emily: And Ryan, Starbucks has some of the most loyal customers on the planet. So how do you use the mobile app or digital to further that loyalty or tap into that loyalty? How do you do that?

Ryan: It’s really similar to what Jeff talked about. It’s like…step one is it’s cultural. We really have, in my mind, it’s like two sets of customers. We have…both of which we obsess about. One is our actual sort of store customers, the people coming in. We’re part of their morning routines. We take that very seriously. We’re not just your cup of coffee. We’re like literally part of your morning routines. If we give you a good experience at 8 in the morning, the rest of your day may be a little bit better, right? So that’s hugely important to us.

The other side is our store partners. All of our employees are partners to the company. That’s what we call them. And that’s just a small indication of the cultural aspects of that, which is like we really…the decisions that we make, we’re always asking the question, like, how is this gonna affect our store partners? How is this really…Is this gonna make their lives easier? Is this gonna improve that relationship with the store partner and the customer? It’s just part of the common talk track in every meeting that we have, I think.

Then after that, as it affects the digital experience, it’s really about what does that digital customer want and what’s gonna bring them back into the experience? It’s a similar question to what’s gonna bring them back in the stores? So this could be that just our mobile order feature is just so good that you wanna come back to it. It could be that we create, as part of our loyalty program, we have a number of sort of interesting and really fun games that you can kind of go through that help either introduce you to the new products or sort of it almost incentivizes you to come back every day because you can actually get to the end of the chain and get some free drinks or something like that. It’s just we’re trying to increase that connection as much as possible to our digital customer, and it’s just a daily part of our work.

Emily: Awesome. So, a lot of companies in the room aren’t quite as far along as Starbucks or Nordstrom on their mobile journey and in customer experience. So, what advice do you have for them? Maybe they’re just getting started. Some are launching apps within the next year. Some are launching mobile order and pay. Some are launching loyalty programs. We kind of touched on all these things. But what advice do you have for them, of where to get started or how to excel or maybe what pitfalls not to do, things not to do?

Jeff: So, a pitfall for me would be…and we talked about it earlier, but don’t spend a ton of time figuring out what the exact right experience for your customer is and get it out as soon as possible. So, ideally, you guys are all familiar with the concept of what an MVP, minimum viable product is. Spend a lot of time figuring what that’s going to be. Get it out as quickly as possible and learn from those experiences through data.

Ryan: Yeah, nailed it. I just think, yeah, eliminate assumptions. Like, that’s the thing. Anything that you may want to build in laden with assumptions, and then the best way to get ahead of those is to pick the assumption and build the smallest way to test that assumption and then get it out to customers. Like, as quickly as you can, you wanna validate that your particular product idea is desirable by customers, which means you have to get it in front of them. It’s viable for your business. So you have to be really connected with your business partners. And this is near and dear to my heart, it’s feasible for your tech teams. Like, make sure they’re engaged so that it’s the most sort of efficient and most involved and just high quality solution from a tech side as well.

Jeff: Yeah, it doesn’t scale nearly as well, but physical interaction between yourself and your customers, your engineering teams [inaudible 00:30:26] you can with the customers goes a long way, for sure.

Emily: So building off of that. A lot of talks today have talked about feedback, and I’ve heard a couple through what you guys have shared today. What are the best ways of maybe you’re working with product? When are you guys meeting with customers in person? Like, you both have obscene amounts of data, tons of data. So how do you make sense of it and then decide what next step to take?

Ryan: The cool part about the obscene amount of data is it becomes statistically relevant, very fast. Within a very short amount of time, you have really statistically relevant data. So that’s great. But if you’re not collecting data that’s sort of pure volume, there’s a lot of great tools and a lot of great processes for just…Again, if you have the right analytics, you can trace a customer’s time and operation through your experience and find the choke points.

There’s numerous sort of feedback mechanisms where you can actually interact directly with customers. We’re in pockets experimenting with actual different approaches to getting with customers. Like, to really sit down with lots and lots of customers, with the digital experience early on. Even before we know what we’re trying to build, we’re actually having them help us validate the question we’re trying to ask. That’s kind of the fun part, is you even bring them back to the point of…we’re trying to solve this problem and then you go to the customers and they’re like, “It’s not really a problem.” Like, okay. Let’s back up and figure out what we’re really trying to figure out.

Jeff: I think, yes, you’re kind of talking about usability test as well. So one of the things that we do, like, on the idea of not spending a lot of time figuring out the exact right solution, you do need to do some type of research. So bringing people off the street and sitting them in front of a mocked design of what the experience is gonna look like and say, “Okay. We’re trying to…would you please try to figure out how to buy something?” And just watch what they do. See if they go to the product page or see if they go to…Understanding real user behavior early on in the process can give you a pretty big head start in figuring out what the right things to do are.

Ryan: Customers will always surprise you, so go listen to them, for sure. Yeah. This is coming from someone that’s written code for more than two decades now. I love the paper prototype. Like, getting a paper prototype in front of customers that’s like, “Oh, okay. You’re thinking about putting a button here,” and seeing if they actually press that on paper, and it turns out no, they don’t. They’re actually like up here. All the stuff is really fascinating and you never learn that until you’re in front of your customer.

Jeff: Yup.

Emily: That’s awesome. So, this next question. So put on your Jeff hat and your Ryan hat, not your Starbucks and Nordstrom hat.

Jeff: Yeah.

Emily: There’s a lot happening in mobile right now. So what are you excited about in the next year? Like, what new innovation? What hot thing is coming that you’re like “Wow, that’s really cool. I’m excited about it”? Maybe it’s different ways that customers are shopping or trends you’re seeing. What gets you excited?

Jeff: There’s a lot.

Ryan: Yes.

Jeff: By the way, it’s really hard in this forum to take off my Nordstrom hat and put on my Jeff hat. So I’m gonna do a poor job of this. But something that me and Ryan are working really hard on right now is trying to bridge the gap between digital and store experiences. I think if you’re a retailer, going to work for a retailer, there’s no single bigger problem to solve than that right now. Outside of that, I’m really looking forward to the iPhone 8. Yeah. I don’t know, what do you think?

Ryan: Oh man! Apple and Google are both investing a lot in really humanizing their experiences. Like, we got to this point where we’re all kind of obsessed with smartphones now. So now they get to play more in the motion and moments of delight and things like that and working on their performance and just kind of making the platform as a whole cool. So I’m actually just super excited to just be really integrated as tightly as we can with Apple and Google, to just take advantage of some of their really cool interfaces and everything. Man! Machine learning, like, that’s huge. Big data processing in general is really interesting. What can we do right now that’s either more manual or really cumbersome, and we can do that all sort of through machine learning that’s adapting to our customers over time.

Jeff: Personally for me, the digital assistant/home automation stuff, I think is gonna be really, really interesting. I’m very excited about that. It’s been around for awhile, but it’s starting to become real at this point. I’m super excited about that.

Ryan: Yeah. It seems like we’re just scraping the surface on things like that. At Starbucks, we’ve launched an integration with Alexa. We’re doing some voice ordering experiments in the app right now. We’re kicking off in Ford cars in the months to come.

Emily: What does that mean?

Ryan: Like, you’ll actually be able to order from your Ford vehicle.

Emily: And then go pick it up?

Ryan: Mm-hmm.

Emily: Cool.

Ryan: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Emily: That’s awesome.

Ryan: That’s just like…it really is just scraping the surface of what that could become. I totally agree. It’s super exciting.

Emily: Let’s give a round of applause to Jeff and Ryan. Thank you both so much.

Ryan: Thank you. Appreciate it.

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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