Intuit CFO Neil Williams believes the best way to build a product customers want to use is to observe them in their natural habitat.
Intuit is responsible for QuickBooks, TurboTax, and Mint, financial tools that allow more than 20 million customers to track their expenses, handle payroll, and pay their personal and business taxes.
Since Intuit’s founding days the company has used a program called “follow me home” to observe customers in their homes, offices, and other locations to determine exactly how they use the company’s products.
“Whether we are watching someone at their kitchen table doing their tax return, or watching someone do payroll or taxes in their office, follow me home is a critical way we learn about how our platforms are used,” Williams tells Business Insider.
The company chose to use the “follow me home” approach because customers are less likely to provide valid observations when they are working in a lab. The company also believes that customers often fail to recognise or report many issues they have with software when asked to recall their experience in an interview or survey.
“By observing someone in their natural habitat we can determine how often they get interrupted when they are trying to do taxes, payroll, or perform some other task,” Williams says. “Many people are probably not even mindful of how many interruptions they get or how many things distract them as they work on finances.”
While watching customers in their workspaces, Intuit can determine if clients tend to leave their computer for short periods of time and then expect to return with the same task ready to be completed.
The company is also able to determine if a customer wants to start entering data on one device and then switch to another device to complete or work on that same task.
“That process of observing the customers provides us with deep customer immersion and has helped us focus on the things customers really like and appreciate, and not burden them with things you can do but nobody cares about,” Williams says.
He admits that his company doesn’t always get things right, but does attempt to “discern what people want to do and find processes they will do frequently.”
Even after an Intuit “follow me home,” the company continues to stay in contact with its customers, running every product change by its core users.
Williams acknowledges that the follow me home approach “sounds a bit creepy,” but he says it has allowed Intuit to create intuitive software products that meet the needs of real people.
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