Best-Practices-1200x303

Customer input drives every step of our software development.

I’ve interviewed nine of the people behind Progress’ DevTools/Telerik/Kendo UI products to learn about the philosophies that guide the development of our software.

In Part 1, we looked at understanding the problem you’re trying to solve before you start coding a solution. Today, let’s learn about the value of listening to your customers.

Always Listen to Your Customers

We touched on defining audience as an important first step before you ever get started. That’s really just the tip of the iceberg for us. Customer interaction is a constant in our world.

Keep a Short Distance Between You and Your Customers

To ensure customer input is integrated into our development cycle, support is a direct part of the product teams.

Rossitza-FakalievaRossitza Fakalieva—Director, Software Engineering; Developer Tooling Product Development

We have support engineers as part of the team, and this is very important. The people that actually support the products and work with customers are the same people that are involved in the development process, including bug fixing and new features.

Petya Sotirova—Senior Manager, Technical Support; Developer Tooling Product Development

Petya-SotirovaI think that something that’s really interesting, that I’ve not seen very much out in the industry, is the way we are structured internally. We don’t necessarily have a strict functional separation between people who work on a specific product—more as we are creating those virtual teams of professionals from different backgrounds and functions so that they can, together as a product team, build software that’s supported, create documentation, do all of those things necessary to launch a product and maintain it.

In that aspect, something that might be particularly interesting to our customers and readers is that we do what they call all-hands support, which is basically: Almost everyone who participates in the development process in one way or another also answers customer inquiries. Even engineers who have been with the company for quite some time and have very extensive knowledge in development. And the fact that those people engage with our customers directly almost on a daily basis is surprising on its own.

Todor-MitevTodor Mitev—Software Engineer, Principal; Unite UX

I think that the things which distinguish us are the culture of the people here and that special relationship with the customers. Because our support engineers are part of the team that builds the product, the distance between us and our customers is very, very, very short.


Carl Bergenhem—Product Manager, Principal; Developer Tooling PM & PMK

Carl-BergenhemTry to be as transparent as possible with your users. We try to avoid being ambiguous around when a particular feature might or might not be added. If somebody is looking for a particular feature and they need it in the next couple weeks and you know that’s not possible, letting them know up front as opposed to dragging them along is a big deal.

And communication goes both ways. We want to hear from customers. People don’t necessarily know how their email or how a team’s feedback is directly taken into account. If you look across the board, so much of what we’re doing from release to release directly comes from feedback from folks we’re actively working with.

Whenever we do planning meetings, someone always says, “Hey, I have this customer scenario,” or, “Hey, let’s take a look at this feedback item that we have in the public feedback portal.” And all that kind of stuff gets pulled together as we as we continue to do our planning for each release and trying to project a little bit into the future.

Since we’re a big company, I think customers might think, “Oh, they’re never going to listen.” But we do listen, and it’s something I know that we do across all products.

Of course, we can’t always chase down every single thing. But still having that constant feedback loop, whether it’s through surveys, interviews or whatever it might be, is such a strong thing for any product manager to consider.

Genady Sergeev—Director, Software Engineering; Developer Tooling Product Development

Genady-SergeevDevelopers should take ownership of the complete process of identifying, conceptualizing, delivering and then supporting product features and components. This is how you make them feel accountable for what they’re doing and really try to push the boundaries. You have to be accountable and be the owner.

When this isn’t the case, it’s always your boss who’s accountable, and there are many studies that say this is suboptimal. So even junior developers are expected to own little bits of the product. The more senior you become, the more items you are ultimately accountable for.

One of the things that really helps us get there is that we are accountable for the customer support of the of the products, because it’s very obvious when you do a sloppy job that customers will submit all kinds of problems that will become your problem. So there is this incentive to produce quality work. When you have very real customers submitting support threads that go into your inbox, then you know that you have to be more aware of what’s going on.

Tsvetomir Tsonev—Distinguished Engineer; Web Components & Tools

Tsvetomir-TsonevTypically on a project you would want to get the most important stuff done right away and ship it, and then get to the next project. But with Kendo UI in particular and all of our DevTools products really, we build them and maintain them over a long period of time.

We have a very decently sized customer base, so we can’t afford to cut corners to just get the most important things done and move on. We have a lot of edge cases and we need to be very thorough and make sure the products work in even the most unusual scenarios for our customers. If we don’t do that, it’s a very short feedback loop.

And when we make updates, we have to make sure we aren’t breaking anything, even if it seems like an obscure or minor feature. If you’re not sure if someone is using this feature right now, they probably are, so you shouldn’t break it.

Put Customers First

Have I mentioned we value our customers? Please allow my friends to further drive home the point.

Maria Veledinova—Product Manager; Developer Tooling PM & PMK

Maria-VeledinovaWe put the customer and the customer’s needs first. In order to have the product, you need to understand the need or the problem. What really works and has proven over time to work can be boiled down to this: Spend as much time as possible with our customers. Whether this is in person or virtually, be surrounded by and interacting with customers, listening, understanding, asking questions.

That way you have the ability to go underneath what might seem obvious as their problem or need. To me this is the foundation level that you need to establish in order to have everything else working for you.

Petya Sotirova—Senior Manager, Technical Support; Developer Tooling Product Development

Petya-SotirovaThe Progress way of serving our customers is this: In everything that we do, we try to put the customer first and make sure that we are really serving their needs, listening to their feedback and addressing that as necessary.

We are very, very proud of the fact that we are considered a leader in that aspect in our space, and we are very particular about that reputation, wanting to keep it and to continue serving our customers to the best of our abilities.

Pavlina Hadzhieva—Senior Manager, Software Engineering; Web Components & Tools

Pavlina HadzhievaIt is really important to understand what the customers are looking for. We put their needs first. It’s critical that we listen and hear what our customers are saying, what they want, what they expect.

It’s also essential to take the input of the team that is developing the product, supporting the product and communicating with the customers all the time. These folks know if there is something that is continuously requested and understand the value of investing time and including it in our road map.

Deliver More Than Expected

We want more than satisfied customers. We want thrilled customers.

Carl Bergenhem—Product Manager, Principal; Developer Tooling PM & PMK

There’s this old tagline of Telerik that I feel like has kind of been ingrained in the DNA of how we build software and continues to be something that that we live by: Deliver more than expected.

The idea of building something that people find extremely useful to use, rather than in a generic way. We’re not just doing something for two teams that need XYZ features. We need to think about something that everybody in the same position might need—a data grid or a chart—and how they might then offer something on top of what we built for developers to use internally in their organizations.

So it involves just a ton of listening to customers—we’re hearing from customers, whether talking with them through their trial or after their purchase, or issues they’re dealing with in support tickets. Everything gets funneled into this big pool of, “How do we improve the product?” So much of it comes from actively listening to the customers.

As an example, when you look at each of the frameworks we support—whether it’s Angular, React or Vue, for example—you will likely see common components in the beginning. The data grid is one of our most popular components and we often start there. But if you look at when certain components are released or when certain features get added to some of these bigger components, it’s going to be different between the frameworks. That’s because as we’re evolving the product—we’re listening to the people who are actively using it to make sure that they are as successful as they can be and that the product meets their needs.

So while we have a plan, that plan can very easily be altered based on what we hear from customers. The libraries evolve naturally for each one of the frameworks. That’s the Kendo UI/Telerik/Progress way. We’re trying to deliver more than expected from every aspect of building the product, and one of the biggest areas where it’s really a big differentiator is in the amount of customer involvement in how we build the product.

Pavlina Hadzhieva—Senior Manager, Software Engineering; Web Components & Tools

We always strive to do our best and go the extra mile. And we aim everything we do to be with great quality. This helps us provide excellent customer care.

Another valuable aspect of this is our own people. We welcome all points of view while developing our product in order to make sure that we are delivering the best that is possible. If our team members are happy—if they feel valued and listened to—they will give the product their very best. And when you have a good product, then you have happy customers. It’s all connected.

Wrap-up

Today, we dug in even more to the role customers should play in your process. Listening closely to what your customers have to say is the best way to understand the direction your software should go. Be honest with them, and strive to go above and beyond.

Next time, we'll hear more about how the ways you work within your team are central to the outcome.


Mandy-Mowers
About the Author

Mandy Mowers

Mandy Mowers (rhymes with Powers) is the acquisitions editor for the Telerik blogs, which means she gets to work with writers and developers from around the world to provide content to help other developers and readers learn about relevant topics. Reading, writing and editing are some of her passions. Some of her favorite ways to spend time are playing with her dog and playing video games, though she hasn't figured out how to do both at once.

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