Exposing Company-Customer Tension

Not long ago I wrote about balanced design, design that benefits both the company and the customer. There’s an evident tension between company and customer: companies want to do less, make more money, gather more information, etc. Customers want better products and services, spend less money, retain more privacy, etc. The two parties meet somewhere in-between, hopefully in a solution that balances both sets of wants and needs.

Jess McMullin has introduced the idea of value-centered design (.ppt), where value is generated from “…the intersection of business goals and context, individual goals and context, a product offering, and a delivery channel.” It’s easier said than done, but with all the work already done on business management and on user-centered design, a way of balancing these two goals deserves more attention.

Actually creating balance can take a number of forms, but before this can happen a company needs to acknowledge that the tension exists (many people in corporations have no interaction whatsoever with their customers). So the process of creating balance could start by exposing the tension between company and customer. Imagine you are designing a new product and have a meeting to discuss what form it should take. Imagine inviting these people to the same meeting:

  • The CFO and the product manager
  • Marketing and interface design
  • Sales and information architecture

By simply bringing diverse points of view together we can expose and start to resolve the company-customer tension. The particular people will be different in each organization. For example, in insurance companies it’s the underwriting and sales departments. Underwriting wants customers to fill out long forms (the data from which, btw, can help with product development) and sales wants easier, faster ways for customers to buy policies.

So this tension can be exposed even before the customer has been brought in, simply by putting two people in the same room, describing the potential product, and having them to fight it out. Sometimes convincing people through negotiation can be more powerful than by showing them reams of customer data.