The words that helped The Weather Company improve customer experience

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Feedback is a Gift CIO

The language you use can make all the difference in how your team approaches projects. When it comes to application development at The Weather Company, we've found that a simple language shift can improve the customer experience. Let me explain.

At The Weather Company, we have a unique process in place that encourages our teams to constantly get feedback from customers. It’s an agile process that empowers everyone to better understand and actively investigate pain points, as well as discover if solutions are valuable, usable, and feasible. This involves talking directly with customers on a regular, ongoing basis.  

We give our teams the tools to do this effectively. For instance, they have access to testing sites where they can bring in panels and individual users to come look at our products. They’re also encouraged to go out to a Starbucks to put a product or a new feature in customers’ hands, just to observe how they react to it.  

Speak in verbs

We haven’t perfected this by any means, but the process works best when the leadership team talks in verbs instead of nouns. Why? Because nouns are easy to check off on a to-do list, but they don’t necessary drive results. Verbs are actionable – they solve problems. We've also discovered that a focus on verbs naturally leads to a focus on the customer experience.

At The Weather Company, we have a unique process in place that encourages our teams to constantly get feedback from customers.
Let's narrow that down. As a leader, it’s easy to say, “Hey, go build Feature A. Go implement this new thing.” We understand intuitively that the hope is this new thing is going to drive the result we want. But as someone working on the team, if my leadership is saying all they care about is Feature A, then as long as I get Feature A out on time, I’m good.  
The reality is, Feature A is a theory: it might improve customer experience, but it might not. And when you speak in nouns, a lot of times what happens is developers, designers, and product managers focus on the thing rather than the result it's intending to drive. We all fall in love with an idea. Worse yet, way too early in the process, our engineers turn their brains from problem-solving to production. “Feature A, Feature A, Feature A. When is Feature A going live? How’s Feature A coming along?” Sound familiar?
So we've shifted our language to focus on the verbs. Instead of “finish Feature A,” it’s “How will Feature A engage the customer?” We ask, “Will the fix reduce crash rates? What will create a higher star rating for our applications? What will drive return visits? How does this algorithm help our customers?” Those things are harder to put into feature terms or a roadmap, but they give the team a lot of latitude in how they solve the problems.  

Focus on the customer

By tracking the outcome that we’re ultimately interested in and keeping the conversation focused on those micro-goals, it ultimately drives the behavior toward getting direct feedback from customers. In fact, often the only way to increase our odds of getting it right is by actually going out and talking to consumers.

There is a gravitational pull to latch onto a feature, and at some point in the process, you will shift your focus to the feature or product that will help you reach your outcome. But the process of speaking in verbs at the outset of a project supports a methodology of testing, changing and pivoting, then testing, changing and pivoting, and so on. It shifts the conversation so that everyone on the team is actively and creatively seeking out solutions to problems. And ultimately, the customers will win – and happy customers fuel healthy businesses. 

Chris Huff is the Vice President of mobile and consumer application development at The Weather Channel.

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