I was talking with a friend recently about how things were going in quarantine. Things were overwhelming, to say the least. There was getting the kids setup with online schooling. Adjusting to a new normal with work. Stocking up on food and other items. Navigating the world with in a 6 foot bubble. The things that she loved doing had to be put to the side. It was enough to make even the most patient person cranky and she was over it. I heard frustration and annoyance and I also heard change saturation.
What’s change saturation?
Change saturation is the point at which the amount of change exceeds the capacity for change. At an organizational level this can result in errors or disengaged staff as they attempt to keep up with the pace of changes. At an individual level, it can present as frustration and fatigue. Everyone’s- and every organization’s – capacity for change is different. But they all have their limits.
We as Product professionals design and build products and services that help our customers. We often use that term “delight our customers” (I hate that term) but the cost of those new products and services is that our customers must change to adopt them. Too many new things and adoption goes down and frustration goes up. This is a recipe for deployment delays or product failures.
How can Product Managers help overwhelmed customers?
Here are some keys to identifying change saturation and how your role is best positioned to lend a hand.
Be aware of all the changes your customers are going through.
This is just sound product planning advice. Many times there are process, training, and even resource changes that are happening at the same time as your product changes. These together can make the impact of your change overwhelming. Make sure you stay looped into what’s happening with your customers so you can be attuned to potential change saturation.
Use your active listening skills
You’re on the front lines with customers. You hear and see what’s happening. Ask customers and their staff how they are doing. Listen to what they say so that you can be aware of the subtle (or not so subtle) signs that indicate that they may feel disengaged, overwhelmed or anxious about what’s happening . (For more on active listening check out my post on The Difference Between Hearing and Listening)
Use your emotional intelligence
Change is hard. Show your customers empathy. Remember to be sensitive to the fact that they are trying to do their “day job” while attempting to keep up with all the changes. Find ways to show that you hear them and feel for them. And above all else, be genuine in your concern.
Activate your servant leader role
A servant leader “shares power, puts the needs of the employees first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.” People in Product roles are servant leaders by definition or by association. Model this behavior by leaving your agenda at the door (is it really necessary to meet your dates if your customer isn’t ready to use what you’re building?) so that you can be there for the customer. Empower and uplift the team by finding ways to serve them. Actions, rather your words, matter in this role.
And, finally, be their advocate
If “delighting customers” is a Product responsibility then so is tending to their displeasure. Think of the impact of change on your customer journey map and then think big picture. What’s the collective impact of all the change on your journey map? If (or when) you encounter that point of saturation, make sure to bring this to your project allies to get some help.
In conclusion, product team members are on the front lines of what’s happening with their customers. Use your relationship with them to identify early signs of change saturation and advocate for their needs. This will help you build products – and customer relationships – that last.