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The Dogfood Diet: Three Easy Steps to a Leaner Customer Experience

Published June 20, 2013

A few weeks back, CBS wrapped up another season of the show Undercover Boss. If you’re not familiar, the premise is that CEOs and other leaders of large corporations—e.g., 7-Eleven, Subway, and DirecTV—go undercover at their own company and see get a glimpse of what it’s like among the rank-and-file.

Looking at their business through the eyes of employees whose job titles are several tiers down the org chart, these executives typically see and experience things they never considered. They learn powerful lessons and often come away with a new appreciation for their employees, as well as ideas for change.

They may not know it, but what these executives are doing is a pretty common practice in the world of software development: they’re “eating their own dogfood.”

Where Dogfooding and Customer Experience Collide.

Dogfooding_AlpoIn the software business, dogfooding refers to having your developers actually use the software they’ve developed to get a first-hand, user-centric look at how well it’s functioning (or, sometimes, not functioning) relative to its intended purpose.

As you can imagine, it can be a pretty eye-opening experience. Even leveraging persona and use cases to guide the development process, there’s nothing like hands-on experience to drive insights. User experience issues and incorrect assumptions start sticking out like sore thumbs.

Here is where dogfooding and customer experience collide. This sort of outside-in activity is also incredibly important for companies that want to understand and deliver better customer experiences. Because most companies deliver poor customer experiences due to the fact that they don’t really understand what their customers go through to get what they need from the companies that serve them.

Why? Lots of reasons. Maybe they think they know what their customers want, need, and experience; but in reality, they don’t have a clue. Or perhaps they’re relying on incorrect assumptions. Whatever the issue, a helping of dogfood is a great way to get to the answers.

What Dogfooding Is and Isn’t When It Comes to Customer Experience

On the surface, you might think dogfooding your customer experience means using your product or service just as your customers do. Yes, that’s the general idea. If you read no further, remember that. But there’s more to it. And while it’s not always simple, dogfooding your customer experience can be straightforward. Here are three steps any firm can take to do so:

1) Go For A Walk. Each of your customers embarks on a journey when they choose to interact with your firm. To understand these journeys, you need to recreate and walk through them yourself.

Answer the question: What do different customer segments experience when they interact with us? What touchpoints do they encounter and how well do they work? Or not?

Set a series of common customer goals and try to accomplish them. Search for the information you’d need to compare options or make a purchase. Place a customer service call or attempt a warranty repair. Take notes along the way—what do you wish was different?

2) Dig For Info. Even companies who regularly listen to their customers can misfire without the benefits of dogfooding. (And if you’re not listening, start now.)

Survey data or not, if your team doesn’t have the kind of first-hand knowledge they’d get from embarking on a customer journey themselves—or at least looking at customer info through the lens of the journey—they can easily misread responses or overlook root causes.

Put another way, what looks like the “obvious problem” is often just a symptom. Don't stop digging until you find the root causes of a bad experience. Maybe it really is obvious. But more often, it’s things like inefficient, outdated, or disconnected processes, systems, data sources, and the like.

3) Take Action. This seems self-evident. Yet many companies gather lots of data on their customers and don’t leverage that data to improve the customer experience.

Just like dogfood, customer insights don't do any good just sitting on a shelf or in a PDF report on a server somewhere. They need to be used to develop strategies; design new and better experiences; and add, remove, or improve individual touchpoints and the systems that deliver them.

These actions can be incremental. Small improvements are still improvements. Simply eliminating a barrier to purchase can boost acquisition and removing a dissatisfier can boost loyalty. After all, not every company is ready to take the steps required to actually transform customer experience (though I’d strongly argue they need to be).

The Case for Going Undercover

We’re living in a world where social influence has made the customer experience more transparent than ever before, while at the same creating a huge stage from which to shout dissatisfaction. We all know there’s nowhere for companies to hide from the results of delivering bad customer experience.

But, at the same time, there are way too many places for management to hide from its causes. When less than 40 percent of large company executives regularly interact with customers, it’s no surprise when management hasn't a clue.

If you want to improve customer experience, you and your executives need to get out there and experience it. No excuses, no assumptions. If your firm hasn't enjoyed the benefits of dogfooding, it’s time for that to change.

All you have to do is be willing to do more than just listen to your customers. You need to actually see what the journey is like through their eyes. Identify any problems and find out what the root causes are. Then fix them.

It’s a pretty straightforward diet; after all, you can eat anything you want. A leaner, better customer experience may just be a few (use)cases of dogfood away.

Alpo, anyone?

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