If a product is truly going to be successful, then the customers have to be a part of the development, contribute to its growth, as well as embrace it’s widespread adoption. Good Product Managers are ferocious in their pursuit of client’s feedback based on their experience. With that said, what defines experience? This is ever changing and now more difficult than ever to differentiate ‘experience’ with ‘perceived experience’.
Experience is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge” or “the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation”. It is the phrase “direct observation” that is at the kernel of ‘experience’.
For example, my recent trip to Disney World made this more poignant than ever. As the light show started at Cinderella’s castle, one can see about 20% of the audience pull out their smartphones, tablets, cameras and video cameras to tape the show they are about to watch. (click on the picture to judge for yourself) Watching this, I ask the very simple on the surface but complex question; if you watch a show or any event through the lenses of another agent, then do you really experience it or simply watch it much like a TV show or movie?
I have seen many Super Bowls on tv, but can I say that I have experienced one? I have flown on the ride, Soarin in Epcot described as “hang-gliding” over landscapes in California while I skim rolling waves, powdery ski slopes, majestic redwood forests, fragrant orange groves and familiar landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, but have I experienced hang-gliding? In both cases, the true experience is an observation of someone else’s encounters coupled with reminders of the true moment that come with commercials during the super bowl or the feet dangling above your head from the riders in “Soarin”. In the same vein, the events videotaped are boxed in by the black frame of the camera.
Quite simply, the lens creates a physical barrier and now the one holding the video equipment might as well be sitting at home watching the fireworks on TV instead of dealing with the chaos of the crowd. I understand that the person is listening to the music, feeling the weather and smelling the popcorn but the focus is changed. The first disconnect starts not with the embracing the moment without distraction, but with the focus of the camera, the lighting, the angle of the picture, etc. The second disconnect is in the lack of interaction with the people in the crowd whether they are family, friends or people that you look to in awe of the spectacle that everyone is watching. The person is concentrated on capturing the right picture rather than sharing the experience with those around him/her.
I was talking with a friend of mine at our kid’s soccer match and he was half-laughing and half-bothered by his mom’s lack of interaction with her grandchildren, but obsessive about using the ipad in photographing everything they do. In one respect, her perspective can be a sweet one trying to capture every little moment, but his (and quite honestly; mine as well) perspective is a detached observer not interested in the moment but more interested in recording the memory. Now, before we enter a psychological hypothesis that I am not qualified to make; it is important to note that there are two distinct perspectives in this example.
The first is in the disconnected experience of the observer which has already been discussed previously. The second is how others perceive the observer. Most often, the perception is a personal one and more likely than not; negative by those involved in the activity. This is often expressed by the workers in describing management as unaware or aloof in the details of how to operate the firm. In my friend’s case, these negative emotions manifest in their family dynamics of frustration and irritation.
Translated in the working world, an easy example is the one when Management is asking for a reporting extension of the product. The report shows that the money invested into the product was of good use because 90% of the user population has the new product/service loaded on their desktop. This demonstrates success. Right? Is this real experience or ‘perceived experience’? The customer can say that they benefit from the product/service because they have it, but do they experience it? They have reports that are accessible, but one can argue that; in reality, they may not provide actionable or usable information since management’s lens is clouded, removed and/or disconnected. This is a simple and somewhat real-world experience, but the point goes back to what does the client want to experience? What eventually happens is the true activity is lost because the individual (or management in this example) did not experience or fully participate in the original event (in this case – the need for reporting).
It is paramount that the IT Product Management understands their clients and ascertaining what are their real experiences, and what are their ‘perceived experiences’. Have you asked the right questions to know what they really want or what they think they want? Have they given you the answer or the question? Most importantly, from which set of eyes are their observations based; the true experience or the lens of an observer?