Helping Developers Understand Your Customers’ Needs with Drew Wilde
WP eCommerce Show

00:00 / 23:21

In Episode 90, we are talking about a strategy that is ripe for implementation in businesses large and small. Often developers, who are busy in the trenches working on your products, don’t have the opportunity to really understand your customers and their needs.

They hear from managers with their own ideas of what that next feature should be or hear everything via someone in the middle. But to truly understand customers, the developer needs to get out of their comfort zone and interact with them. That is why I invited Drew Wilde, Associate Product Manager at Bluehost, to join us. They have several strategies and programs in place to make this exact thing happen and the results have been nothing short of amazing. Join us to learn more about how you and your company or online store might take these vital next steps.

We chatted about:

  • How to get your developers out of their comfort zone and think like your user or customer
  • The unique approach Bluehost has taken to team visits with customers
  • Why it’s important to have your team members involved in support and the benefit of that
  • How to take the feedback given from customers and make sure it is in the loop for all team members
  • The value of a User Experience Team that is embedded in development teams

Thanks to Our Podcast Sponsor: Bluehost


Bob Dunn: Hey, everybody. Bob Dunn here, known as BobWP on the web. On today’s show, we are chatting about something that I have always wondered about. If you’re selling tech-oriented products, you likely have developers who are secluded in their cubicles, in their own little world of code. The feedback around customer needs needs might reach them through project coordinators or the marketing department. And although there is usually some channel they go through, they never really get to work with the customers directly and hear their problems and concerns.

Can you imagine how much more effective it would be if those development teams were directly in touch with the customers? I’ve dealt with a lot of tech people over the span of my career, and I see this as a gray space. A lot of developers doi what they know best, but when it comes to communicating to customers, it can be a bit of a challenge. To help us better understand this, I’ve asked someone who’s actually doing it at Bluehost: Drew Wilde, Associate Product Manager at Bluehost. They are implementing this process, and I hear it’s going quite well. Hey, Drew, welcome to the show.

Drew Wilde: Hey, thank you very much Bob. Happy to be here.

Bob: Before we get into this conversation, I would like you to share with the listeners a little bit more about what you do at Bluehost.

Meet Drew Wilde, Product Manager at Bluehost

Drew: Yeah, of course. At Bluehost, I have the unique opportunity and privilege to lead a couple of development teams as we look for new features and products to improve the experience and the Bluehost product for current and future users of the Bluehost hosting platform.

Bob: As a product manager, do you have a lot of experience yourself in development, or have you primarily worked mostly with developers, or have you not worked with them much at all? I’m just a little curious about that.

Do you have experience in development yourself?

Drew: That’s a great question, Bob. A lot of the product managers do come out of development. They’re former developers who have developed a strategic mind in order to better serve the company from a leadership and product building standpoint. My background is more in project management. I came to Bluehost as an agile scrum master and a PMP (project management professional). I came out of more of a standard project management background, but have been able to work a lot with WordPress, both on the side and at Bluehost, and have a background in phone support as well. My transition into product management was because I was a direct user of WordPress myself, and I could empathize with our target market, which was the novice WordPress user.

Bob: Yeah, and that’s, I think a big key there is that we were all a user at one time. But so many people tend to forget those pain points and what it was like to be a new user, so that’s definitely a benefit. Now, let’s start with this: how do you actually get a development team to get outside their comfort zone? Because they do have that comfort zone of, being with code and code is their friend. How do you get them to step out of it and how how do you get those development team members to think like a user?

How to you get a development team out of the ‘coding comfort zone’?

Drew: Great question. We use a number of strategies. First and foremost, while we’re planning the work, we structure how we want to deliver workable software to our users from the user perspective. It’s very easy to say, “This is a feature that I want because, as a product manager, or as a leader, this is what I want from my development team.” However, then the development team isn’t actually working for the users, or the customers, they’re just working for whoever’s putting work into their backlog. What we focus on at Bluehost, and this is a very tried and true approach in agile project management, is writing all of the software stories, or issues, from the user perspective.

For example, as a Bluehost user, when I log into my account, I want to see helpful content in the form of blog articles in order to improve my experience and always have access to the most cutting edge WordPress resources available. We write it from that perspective so that the developers, while they’re coding, and while they’re working through any issues that they have, are working through it as a user. We’ve even got to the point where we’ve given these users names and personas. If we’re a novice WordPress user, we have a user Sandra. Sandra is that novice WordPress user that we all can relate to. We gave her a background story and we give her a business in order to embody that voice even more.

Bob: Oh, that’s interesting to create these little characters and have scenarios where they actually feel like they’re dealing with somebody besides just a fictional unit. Imagine that user, give them a little bit of criteria around it. Now, one of the strategies you shared with me when we first chatted about this earlier, was the topic of customer visits. Can you tell us how that works? I was intrigued by that and I’d like to hear more. 

How do customer visits work?

Drew: Yeah, Bob, this is a wonderful program we have here at Bluehost that has really helped us find the voice of the customer. We have an organization whose primary responsibility is to reach out to users of Bluehost locally, wherever an office is located, and we have several offices around the country, whether that be Utah, Arizona, Texas, or Burlington, Massachusetts. They arrange for a team, usually comprised of somebody from customer outreach, a developer, a product manager, and a UX designer and researcher. It’s a team of three to four people. We don’t want to be a burden. We’ll do is we just we’ll take a customer out to lunch, or we’ll meet with them.

On one of the recent ones, we met a customer for breakfast, during a time convenient for the user, and we just talk about their experience working with the product. We ask them, “What are some of the pain points you have? What are some of the features you love? Why have you stuck with Bluehost, rather than going with a competitor? What do you feel Bluehost strengths are?” We ask them questions and having a developer there, having a UX representative there, a product manager there, it feeds directly into our ability to populate a backlog of work to do and different ideas around research that we can conduct to see if we can improve the product in some way. Bottom line is, we have these customer visits that improve the voice of the customer program.

Bob: I love that because you can hear somebody say things through email, or you’re talking online, but when you are physically sitting across from someone, you can get so much more of a feel of how they are actually experiencing something. Often that’s not just through voice, but you’re seeing their face, you can read their face and think, “Okay. This is obviously more of a pain point than I realized.” I think that’s huge, especially in a small team setting, to get that opportunity to sit down in a casual atmosphere and talk with the customer one-to-one.

Drew: Exactly. To go back to that previous question about how do we get developers, or other people in the company to think like users, going out and visiting them, talking to them face-to-face is one of the most important and the most influential ways we can help people think like users.

Bob: I think some people might think, “Wow, that must be a lot of resources and time, getting something like that together,” because I think so many of us do the online stuff because it’s so easy, it’s so quick. They don’t realize the value that when you’re putting in the effort, you’re also getting immense value compared to any other kind of communication with your customers.

Drew: Yeah.

Bob: Now, I know developers get into development and they think, “I don’t want to be a support person. If I wanted to be support, I’d go work support.” I think some of us know the reasons behind this, but what do you feel is the real benefit of getting them involved in that aspect of the whole chain?

What’s the benefit of getting your developers involved in he whole chain?

Drew: Yeah, that’s another great question and something that we’re constantly evolving on here at Bluehost. We’re always trying new things to get the benefit we’re looking for. One of the things that’s been the most influential is taking responsibility on the product management side to integrate with support, to listen to calls, and be a part of that, to help the customer process so we’re able to relay that information to the development teams. That’s been our primary focus with this at the moment. For example, I’m going down today to our team in Tempe to be a part of the support channel.

From Wednesday until Friday, I’ll be integrated on the support team training, listening to calls, troubleshooting, and fielding feedback so that I can come back to my development team and talk with them about what I learned, talk with them about different issues, or stories that I feel we can improve upon to make the product better. Another way that we do this, is we have channels for our support team to write issues that our development teams will triage and say, “Oh yeah, this one needs to be looked at, or this one’s actually a duplicate of something else, or this will be handled by this.” We triage those as a development team, listening to the direct feedback and words of support reps who have identified issues through a service desk portal that we allow them to write in.

Bob: That gets me thinking. Does that help the support team by making them feel more empowered because of being able to work or directly communicate with the developers like that?

Does the support team feel more empowered working with the developers?

Drew: Yeah. It’s something like a feedback loop, where we want to make sure that the voice of the customer, the voice of our support reps, that they’re all heard, they’re all taken into consideration while we’re planning the future of the company at a strategic level. Because if a support rep identifies an issue as critical, I mean, they should know that that directly influenced the management team in making the decision to put resources behind it. That act helps with morale, helps with job satisfaction, and, like you said, empowerment,  that they are talking to customers, that we trust them we the most on things that customers are saying they need and want.

Bob: Once you get this feedback, and I know you’ve touched on it a bit already, how do you use it in this loop because it sounds like there are several different people involved. Is there some method to that madness, or is it some Bluehost secret that we can’t talk about?

How do you use all this in the feedback loop?

Drew: The support reps will write service desk issues or speak with their managers and we trust those managers.  We have management roundtables where we’ll have representatives from all parts of the company and when all parts of the company meet together, the voices can be heard. For example, my boss will be in those meetings and he’ll field the feedback from the support team saying, “Wow, there’s a really critical issue surrounding, for example, SSL certificates, that we need to get into the backlog as soon as possible, because this is something that’s causing a high call volume for the support reps, so we need address it.” As soon as that happens, me or one of the other product managers can come up with a story and when we write that story, we reach out directly to those individuals who reported it from the support floor so we can accurately assess and document what needs to happen in order for it to be solved as quickly and easily as possible.

As soon as we establish that communication between support rep and product manager, from that level, it feeds right into a development team. They’ll complete the work within a certain timeframe, which we call a sprint. Then after the sprint, the product managers have the responsibility and pleasure of going through all of the different tasks or stories that were completed and we resolve them ourselves. We get actual live demos before we resolve any of our issues. Then once we get those demos, we have the opportunity to take that back to the support reps and to the support management and say, “Hey, this has been fixed. We wanted to let you know. ” We leave it up to them to say, “You can communicate this out to the rest of the floor, but we’re bringing it to you so those who reported it know that it has been solved.” That’s the feedback loop all the way through execution that we try to master on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, in order to help our support team and to help our product improve.

Bob: Excellent. I like that. I knew when we first approached this subject that there’d be tons of stuff we could talk about, because, to me, it’s not only so needed, but it’s an intriguing aspect of any tech business, especially with getting everybody involved. Is there anything that we haven’t covered that you would like to share with our listeners? I know you threw out a few other things when we were talking about it, but is there something that you’d like to add to the conversation here before we end?

Anything else you’d like to share?

Drew: Yeah. I’d like to touch on two things. The first is that some might ask, “What does a development team look like?” At Bluehost, we try to keep our development teams relatively small so they’re able to swarm on individual issues to solve them as quickly as possible. Not only do we just have developers on the team, we also have embedded UX team members, from a background of either graphic design, or user experience research, that are a part of the team that are expected to solve the problems with the developers. Because while you’re writing software, while you’re heavily involved in these front-end, focused applications, like the Bluehost control panel, many times user experience issues will pop up and we don’t want the developers trying to solve those problems all by themselves.

We want trained individuals on the team who are focused on providing the best user experience possible. For every development team, we have dedicated user experience resources that help take our software to the next level in terms of execution, usability, feasibility, and functionality. That’s one thing I want to make sure I touch on here, the idea of making sure that all teams are having user experience.

The second one is related to the first, but we’re talking about development teams, and these big kind of like almost corporate-level ideas about delivering value to users. I’ve been a part of several small businesses and to this day, I still help a number of nonprofits on the side. It’s vital to continue to think about your users and your user experience no matter how big or how little your shop is.

If you’re a one-man shop, make sure that you’re taking time to think about the user experience, and the voice of the customer, and how you’re implementing feedback, just like you would in a larger corporation. That mentality of always thinking about the user, thinking about how to improve your product, is the key to success in the market. There was a time when it was all about speed, it was all about how fast you could do it, and user experience wasn’t as important. Now, looking at the field, looking at what kind of products are doing really well, it’s easy to see that those that interface with their users as easily as possible are by far doing the best.

Bob: I agree. When I was doing training and coaching, I worked with users for six, seven years, primarily WordPress users. I heard a lot of great experiences they had, and I heard a lot of horror stories. It’s something you’ve really got to focus on, especially in tech. As you said, it’s even more critical because there’s just so much out there everybody has to absorb, whether they’re building a website, using their phone, getting a new TV, whatever. Some people just get overwhelmed with all the technology and the whole experience of setting things up, and then actually writing things, it can drive them nuts.It’s cool how Bluehost is bringing this in, and making this work, and I think other small or large companies need to start trying this, getting the developers out of their comfort zone, getting teams together. Heck, if all else fails, you can do it over lunch some time.

Drew: It’s a lot of fun. You make a lot of good friends, you build your network, and it’s a wonderful way to just get involved and be a part of your customers’ lives, instead of just being a service or a product.

Bob: Exactly. Now, if anyone wanted to talk to you more about this, if somebody’s saying, “Wow, this is such a cool idea. I’ve got to talk to Drew about this,” where would be the best place for someone to connect with you on the web?

Where can we find Drew on the web?

Drew: Twitter’s been great. I’ve been going out to a lot of WordCamps and I’ve been using Twitter as my primary way to integrate into the WordPress community. If you go to @DrewBeWilde, that’s D-R-E-W, B-E, W-I-L-D-E, @DrewBeWilde, you can message me on Twitter. We can get involved in having a conversation about this or anything else that you found interesting about what I shared today.

Bob: Excellent. Well, I appreciate you taking the time and I’ll let you get back to all your teams, and all your developers, and take care of business on your end. Again, thank you for joining us today Drew.

Drew: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

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