User Experience

Balancing customer and business needs: Escaping the Product Death Cycle Trap.

Profile photo of Emma Campbell

Emma Maguire (née Campbell)

June 12, 2023

Graphic showing a 3 step product death trap cycle overlaid over an image of a woman writing on whiteboard.

When it comes to user or customer experience, we have to step into the shoes of our audience. We're encouraged to understand their behaviours, motivations and challenges to not only provide a great experience but to produce a product or service that is truly valuable to them. Previously we've written about how to effectively validate ideas with customers, but now it's time to delve deeper and explore the delicate art of balancing customer needs with our business objectives. It's a risky game when the scales tip too far in either direction.

In 2014, author, speaker and innovator David Bland tweeted a diagram commenting: 'This is what I'm calling the Product Death Cycle'. This cycle demonstrates countless businesses' challenges when they let customers design their products or assume they know what users truly want. And it's also known as the Product Death Cycle Trap.  

Let's break down David's diagram so you can find out if you've fallen down the trap and what you can do to pull yourself out.

1. No one uses our product.

When a product fails to gain traction or experiences unanticipated slow growth, it signals a problem. At this stage, the issues may not be apparent, and you'll be asking yourself: why is this happening? Two common approaches emerge: making assumptions about the problem and implementing fixes or asking your customers.

2. Ask customers what features are missing.

Your next step would be to ask customers what would help improve the product or service or to come to them with feature ideas and ask for their opinion. Remember, what customers think they want, won't always be what they need. And it's your job as a business to interpret their underlying needs, wants and motivations and translate them into practical solutions. You can't expect your customers to design their own solutions - that's your role as a business. Remember that users may lack the technical expertise to understand the feasibility of proposed features. Trying to add everything everyone asks for is not practical.

Instead of focusing on what's missing, consider the root causes behind customers' lack of usage. Rely on qualitative and quantitative data to uncover what customers genuinely want and need, rather than directly asking them. Prioritise addressing the underlying problems and the outcomes customers are trying to achieve. This shift allows you to design solutions that fulfil their needs, focusing on outcomes rather than outputs.

3. Build the missing features.

Maybe if we add just one more new feature, people will want to use our product? 

The inclination to add customer-requested features in the hope of increasing product usage can be risky. This approach can lead to challenges such as resource and budget constraints, time-consuming development, and a disjointed user experience. Incorporating features without considering how they will work cohesively may also result in increased customer frustration, diminished loyalty, and difficulties in demonstrating value to potential customers. 

Escaping the trap.

The hardest part about the Product Death Cycle trap is that often, you don't even know you're in it because good intentions drive you. By understanding what it is, you can take a step back and evaluate your current product and processes. You can start breaking free from the cycle by making evidence-backed changes aligned with your desired success metrics. Seeking an external perspective from experience design consultants can also prove invaluable, offering an unbiased view and objective insights.

If you're not sure what customer problems you should be solving, try the '5 Whys' tactic. When a customer has a new feature request, ask them why they need it. Continually ask "why" for each response they provide. This iterative questioning helps uncover the root cause of their problem, potentially leading to alternative solutions that address their needs more effectively than their initial suggestion.

Additional questions you should ask yourself and your team are:

  • Is this need specific to this customer only, or is it a need of many?
  • How does this idea fit the business vision, and how will it help us succeed?

Balancing customer needs with business objectives is pivotal for success.

Falling into the Product Death Cycle Trap can hinder growth, customer satisfaction, and product adoption. By understanding the trap, adopting a problem-first approach, and leveraging data-driven insights, you can create products and services that resonate with your customers while still achieving your business objectives. Remember, escaping the trap requires a combination of introspection, evidence-based decision-making, and sometimes seeking external expertise to guide the way. 

Are you looking for the right experience design company?

At Bo Studio, we're your agritech experience design specialists. If you're ready to work with an experience design studio, or you're already in the midst of a project and want a fresh perspective, don't be shy to get in touch with us for an initial consultation.

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