3 ways the world has changed

In my previous post, I wrote about how the biggest risk to product development is slow decline in value. Your customers change, competitive offerings change, your product vision changes.

 Also, the world – what people can do and what people expect – changes around us. 

Seven years after I wrote Lean Customer Development, these changes have influenced how I talk with and learn from customers:

  • We’re okay with Zoom now
  • Where you find people has changed (and will continue to change)
  • Expectations of privacy have increased (and will continue to increase)

We’re okay with Zoom now

I recommended against video calls for a long time.  In 2014-ish, I wasn’t a fan of video calls. Too many people found the software confusing and weren’t accustomed to being in a “video-friendly” location when you talked to them. 

Who knew that 6 years after I wrote this book, we’d have a global pandemic and everyone in the world would get used to Zoom? We’ve all mastered, or at least come an uneasy truce with Zoom. We’re all good at looking presentable from the shoulders up.

Cartoon drawing of people on videoconferencing software

It’s a huge boon for customer development and research in general.  In-person conversations and site visits are logistically challenging.  Bringing people to your office or a usability lab is a high time commitment. We’re all far more likely to do the customer development work we need when we can do it via a quick Zoom or Teams or Google Meet link.

Where you find people has changed (and will continue to change)

Social media channels and websites fall in and out of popularity. It doesn’t make sense for me to recommend specific places for finding customers. More than half of the specific sites I mentioned in the book are no longer as effective as they were in 2014.

In my experience, a much bigger percentage of your audience is consuming information online, but there aren’t necessarily more people actively (and visibly) participating.   I’ve also seen a rise in “walled gardens” / private online activity – subscriber-only Substack newsletters, private Facebook groups or invite-only Slack channels.

The evergreen advice I’ll give is this: the best way to find “people really interested in X” is to start with one and ask them, “where can I find more people like you?” 

This may sound like a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem! And also – if you’re thinking about building solutions for a certain type of customer, you’ll need to figure out how to find and befriend a few of them!

Expectations of privacy have increased (and will continue to increase)

Is any part of your business based in Europe? Do you have European customers? Do you ever hope to have European customers?  If so, you should care about GDPR compliance. 

Without getting a lot of legal detail, GDPR compliance requires that any individual customer has “the right to be forgotten”. If anyone requests that your company delete their personal data, you must be able to comply within 28 days or face a hefty fine.  Yes, that includes customer interview notes – not just marketing databases.

Willing to take your chances with the law?  There are other reasons to care about being respectful of your customers’ personally-identifiable information.  

People have the right to decide how open to be, at a given time, and in a given situation.

An interviewee who readily agrees to talk with you, in a one-on-one conversation, may not necessarily want a video clip or interview notes from it showing up in their manager or their grandmother’s inbox.   Revealing their information may do them harm even when it’s not deliberate or malicious on your part.

When my team references customers, or share screenshots or video clips, we do not include personally-identifiable information (PII).   Instead, we quote people as “C.A. from GitHub” or “an engineering manager from Microsoft” or “Hari, a developer in Bangalore” – capturing context that is more generic.  

We work to clean up raw interview notes or transcripts before sharing even within our company. (Most people only read the most compelling bullet point insights or quotes, anyways.)

Zoom allows you to automatically delete recordings every 28 days. I delete raw interview notes monthly (and ought to find an automated solution to this, as well.)  I’m not going to go back and re-watch multiple 30-minute videos. I’m not going to read through multiple pages of notes, so there is no point for them to sit around in my workplace posing a privacy risk.