How to Ensure Your R&D Stays Connected to Your Customers

Saikiran Chandha
Published 12/07/2022
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How to keep research and development teams connectedCustomers must be at the front and center of your product’s research and development. But with customer behavior growing incredibly complex, this has become harder. A recent Gartner report found that only 14% of organizations have a 360-degree understanding of their customers. Nearly 83% struggled to nail down customer journey maps to identify and prioritize their CX efforts.

How do you ensure your R&D team is not disconnected from your customers? Data helps but make it better by building context. Why do customers want a specific new feature? Why are customers not using a particular feature? Why are customers more excited about a specific part of the product roadmap than others? Building context requires you to interact and collaborate with other departments and customers from the research phase.

Here are a few ways to help your R&D team stay in touch with your customers so that you can build a product that they want.


Build a cohesive team

The traditional linear approach, where projects are passed on from one team to another after completing a phase — from product to design and development — limits intra-team collaboration. It also gets more expensive and harder to course correct as you go further into the development process.

So, ensure each team has a representative involved in every phase. Shared ownership helps your organization make changes or fix problems faster. Imagine having an R&D rep who spent countless hours conducting focus groups with potential customers work with the design and development teams. The insights they can share directly with other units will often be priceless. Also, give them the authority to step in when there is a deviation.

Apart from this, you must empower the R&D team and ensure that they collaborate with the customer support, data analytics, and sales teams during the product definition stage. Working with customer-facing teams will help them understand the customers’ questions, their challenges, the trends in user behavior, and the customer’s extrinsic and intrinsic motivations.



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Find out the ‘why’

Imagine you’ve released a dark-mode version of your app. The analytics show that very few customers are using it. You could conclude that they are not using it because they don’t like it. Or you could dig deeper — maybe customers cannot locate the toggle button, hence the low adoption rate.

Do not assume why customers are behaving the way they are. Their reason for it could be completely different from your hypothesis. The best way to avoid this ambiguity is to ask questions. Reach out to customers after they have completed the action in question. You can use an in-app pop-up or email survey to understand their actions.

On top of that, learning the “why” will help you provide a better customer experience. Once you know their intention, you can work with the development and UX teams to improve the feature further.


Simulate real usage

Simulating actual usage is a great way to understand how customers interact with the product. Now you can always ask team members to use the product. But since actual user behavior is hard to replicate and internal users may be biased, the data won’t be entirely trustworthy. Also, you need a working product to do this exercise — which requires development effort.

An alternative would be to allow potential customers to test the product in a virtual environment. Using simulating tools, you can build products without having to code. This enables R&D teams to conduct experiments and tests on actual users and uncover key functionality and usability insights. Moreover, a voting system can be attached to the process to get a clear idea of customer sentiments. Having that validation will also help you confidently proceed to the development phase.

Getting user feedback early will surely help the organization deliver a much more optimized product experience. The key will be to ensure that you create a solid tutorial on how to use the simulation so that customers can use it effectively.


Get your R&D team involved in co-creation

Co-creation is a process by which your customers are actively engaged in designing new products and services or improving existing ones. Typically, organizations give their customers access to tech tools to co-create, simply ask for advice from them over email, create discussion forums, or even host brainstorming events.

Furniture giant, IKEA, has a simple form that lets you submit product ideas, production techniques, and even fully ready product designs. By ensuring your R&D team is directly involved in co-creation, you’ll give them a platform to work closely with potential customers and collaborate with them to decide the future course of your product.

The key to higher co-creation participation is to get your incentives right. A recent study suggests that extrinsic motivations positively impact willingness to co-create for high-tech products, but not high-touch ones. You also need to leverage networking and sharing capabilities, reduce the perceived opportunity cost of time, and manage barriers to entry effectively if you want to increase participation. And lastly, clearly lay out patent-related policies early on, so there is no confusion regarding the legalities.


Wrapping up

While products may still fail despite these steps, it will surely help your R&D team significantly reduce uncertainty about how the product will be received by customers and also identify their unmet needs. Gathering these valuable insights about how people use your product will help you build a better one for them.


Author the Writer

Saikiran Chandha is the CEO and founder of SciSpace — the only integrated research platform to discover, write, publish, and disseminate your research paper.

Disclaimer: The author is completely responsible for the content of this article. The opinions expressed are their own and do not represent IEEE’s position nor that of the Computer Society nor its Leadership.