A few weeks ago, I listened to an episode of Software Engineering Daily with Corey Quinn. It was about Amazon Web Services (AWS). And, Corey kept using a phrase that I can't get out of my head. He said, Amazon is great about meeting customers where they are. As someone who builds a product that helps other people build products, I have an opportunity to think not only about my customers' needs but also about the needs of my customers' customer; and, I believe Corey has clearly articulated a feeling that I've had in my gut for a long time.
In some ways, every piece of Software represents an idealized view of a given set of workflows. It has "happy paths"; and, if customers would just use it the way it was designed, everything would be perfect. But, of course, the world is messy and people are messy and business is messy; and, no one uses our software exactly how we intended.
As product designers, we always have an option to "educate" our customers; and, to help them become more like the "ideal users" we wish they were. But, this concept of "meeting customers where they are" goes in the other direction. Instead of asking the users to come to us and conform to our view, we can go to them and figure out how we can adapt our software to meet their existing needs.
To be clear, I don't believe that this is an either / or situation. I believe it's both. At the core, we build the "ideal software" - the stuff that's on our road map. Then, we layer on adapters and sprinkle-in opportunities that help map that idealized vision of the world onto the realities of our customer's and their constraints.
At InVision, we have a set of "Principle Cards" (actual physical cards that all employee get). My favorite card by far is six, Customer Empathy (followed closely by eight, Intelligent Urgency). And I try to play this card as often as I possibly can. But, I sometimes find that it's too abstract. Or, that it leaves too much room for interpretation, quibbling, and push-back from management. Which is why I am really excited about the phrase, "meeting customers where they are": it embodies the principle of "customer empathy", but it gives it a strong direction and underscores my outlook on the importance of customer satisfaction.