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Tech for purpose, not for tech’s sake

(Image credit: Image Credit: Bbernard / Shutterstock)

A relentless focus on customer satisfaction is what sets new age tech companies apart. A recent report from global measurement and data analytics firm Nielsen, identifies the increasing need for convenience and simplification in consumers’ lives – and how tech firms need to develop their offerings to meet these demands.

Without truly taking a customer-centric approach, tech companies risk falling out of touch with consumers, becoming irrelevant and in turn losing business.

So, how can technically minded software developers give themselves the headspace to deliver customer-focused creativity?

A human-centric approach

There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to creating a customer-centric product but analysing existing customer behaviour patterns is usually a good place to start.

One of the most important practices any business should consider is    getting physically in-front of customers.  At QuickBooks, this is crucial and dates back to the rudiments of software and tech development in the company, nearly forty years-ago. 

In fact, the first Intuit product - Quicken - was originally developed by founder, Scott Cook, with problem solving at its heart. Having seen his wife struggle with balancing her chequebook at the kitchen table, Cook was inspired to create a solution for her.

Of course, in the early years, online customer feedback did not exist, so teams would visit homes and businesses to see how people used the product – from its unboxing, to installation, data import, and day-to-day usage.

They’d watch for facial expressions, mumbles, groans or confusion – as well as the moments that surprised and delighted early customers.

It was through this customer-facing process that our teams were able to identify the technology pain points and therefore make changes that solved real problems.

Almost, four decades later and Scott Cook’s kitchen table still sits at the heart of our head office and is a daily reminder that our process remains the same; when creating a new technology solution, we prioritise face time with the small business owners to hear what they would find most useful.

For example, every small business we speak to has challenges with cash flow - with around 57 per cent of them having encountered problems and three-quarters experiencing sleepless nights because of it. In fact, over 2.2 million UK employees get paid late due to company cash flow issues.

We recognised that the predictive powers of AI could simplify cash flow forecasting and reduce its burden on small business owners.

Using anonymised data from customers, we created a 90-day planner which automatically updates customers of potentially negative situations and allows them to create predictive scenarios to answer common questions such as, “Is it safe to hire another employee now, given my forecasted cash flow in the coming few months?”

Chasing the solution, not the tech

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been one of the most significant developments in the world of technology and yet, according to Harvard Business Review, around 72 per cent of organisations say their AI initiatives are not meeting their expectations.

The best way to avoid the rabbit hole of innovation for innovation’s sake, is to identify the customer problem first, and then develop a technological solution, rather than vice versa.

Ask yourself, does a new technology development solve a clear customer problem? If it doesn’t, it is unlikely to engage your customers or give you a competitive edge.  

Earlier this year, we conducted research into the pain-points of small businesses and their VAT returns – and found that 56 per cent are more likely to overpay taxes due to filling mistakes than they are to underpay. 

A deep understanding of the frustrations of business owners led to the development of the SmartScan functionality within QuickBooks Online - an example of tech innovation developed to meet and solve a specific customer need.

SmartScan is an advanced solution that automates the most important key VAT checks for customers, identifying duplicate expenses and invoices, inconsistent VAT tax codes, and cross-checking highest value transactions. This makes it simple for users to understand and address any potential errors, increasing their confidence in submitting a correct VAT return.

This is a good example of how putting the customer at the centre of digital innovation can not only create tech products that save time - but also save customers stress and worry –meeting their needs and expectations by solving a key issue.

Innovation need not mean new

Remember, innovation does not just mean new or a world-wide tech breakthrough. Real innovation is about bringing a change to the market that helps drive long-term success for you and your customer.

It’s often the small, smart evolutions – that put the customer at the centre of the innovation process – that create customer loyalty and therefore long-term value for tech companies and their products.

Ben Brown, Head of Engineering, Europe, Intuit QuickBooks