It’s easy for product teams to claim they’re customer-focused, but doing the grind to get to know your user takes time, flexibility, and creativity. It can be a daunting task and one that needs to have its own set of processes and procedures in order to be effective. If done right, though, the insights gathered can provide a wealth of knowledge to make a product more attractive to the customer. As a result, users engage and profits tick north. H&R Block Product VP Vanessa Jupe joins Products That Count to share the importance of building teams focused on the customer and the realities that come with it.

On getting the people right

It all comes down to building the right team. Getting that part right from the start is imperative to follow through on any strategy, be it data or customer-focused. When the team is onboard, passionate, and has access to the tools they need, there’s no telling the magic that can happen. Throughout her presentation, Vanessa continually impresses upon attendees the importance of getting the team right.

As a product person, the whole goal is to put yourself in the shoes of your user. To really spend time to deeply understand who your user is. So it’s great to say that empathy is important, but it also has really good business outcomes when you spend the time to understand the user.”

“Getting the team right has to be the first thing that you focus on. Then, give the team the tools they need to have access to users. They have to be able to do the research and iterate quickly. Those are really critical. Essentially, if you get the right people and you give them the right environment, you’re going to have a lot of great engagement and better ideas than if you follow more of a traditional command and control structure.”

“The number one thing is you have to hire people that are passionate. They have to be excited about the customer and willing to learn and grow and evolve. And it’s important to have people that are willing to push back on you as well. Then, once you have the right people on board, you can start focusing more on data and operations. It all ties back to understanding what your customers need.”

On ways to implement a customer-focused approach

Theory is all well and good, but what really goes into developing a mindset focused around the user? It can be tempting to start and end with data, but at the end of the day, a product is being built for the customer and to solve their problems. Truly, therein lies the core of product management. According to Vanessa, that’s exactly why the customer needs to be involved in every step of the lifecycle. She shares the different practices that she employs within her own teams to ensure the customer stays front and center.

“Competitive analysis is super important, but it’s not where we should be getting out ideas. Really, every time we’re going to build something, we need to start with the user.”

“Our team had bi-weekly research share outs. Really, we did an absurd amount of research, from interviews and user testing to A/B testing and conjoint. It was a challenge, but the results were there. Also, we increased the research budget in our department to 4x. So, if you’re wanting to be more customer-focused and customer-driven, make sure to allocate your resources properly.”

“As you’re thinking about how you want your team to work, get your process going. Implement a process for how you gather ideas and how you validate them. And before you move to production, make sure you have your metrics right. The point is to ensure you have customer checkpoints involved every step of the way.”

“We implemented something called Client Day, and we dedicate an entire day to research. Since we’re focused on complex clients, we always start with a question. Then we do interviews and usability testing, even some co-design sessions. Basically, we spend an entire day with a specific client segment and attempt to solve a problem and understand the user better.”

About the speaker
Vanessa Jupe H&R Block, Vice President, Digital Products & Services Member

Vanessa Jupe serves as Vice President of Digital Products and Services for H&R Block and is responsible for evolving the product line and improving customer success and affinity. Vanessa has spent 17+ years working in the world of internet technology, beginning as a web developer and organically evolving into a product management leader. She has worked for USAA and DIRECTV where she led teams responsible for launching new digital products to market, increasing customer sentiment, and substantially increasing profitability. She previously taught product management for General Assembly and currently serves on their Product Management Standards Board. Vanessa is passionate about human-centered design, research, and being data driven. She holds her BBA in Information Systems from the University of the Incarnate Word and Master's of Science in Technology Commercialization from UT Austin McCombs School of Business.