Developing a successful product is not simple stuff, even if you have a big team thinking about how to do that, working across months and putting their best into action. You need more than this, or maybe it’s not necessary having a huge team, the only you need is to go outside your engineering office to collect data and other perspectives.

What creates business success? Is it an innovative product like the iPhone, that makes people stand up and take notice?

Is it an infinite supply of passion and energy to push through obstacles?

Well maybe. But those are only part of the equation. After all, there are some cases where world-wide companies develop unpopular products.

Here, I recap the Windows 8 case, a product that even though it was incredibly innovative, was a big fail.

Find below some tips on how to become a more user-centric company.

Innovation isn’t enough

Microsoft’s finest worked tirelessly to develop a cutting-edge OS so packed full of features it was touted to be better than iOS, Chrome, and Android by its engineers. But that turned out to be the problem — Windows 8 was based on what an engineering team thought was great. In an effort to out-maneuver their competitors, engineers created a dazzling OS that would impress their colleagues and maybe their managers. But as far as the real users were concerned, they weren’t impressed at all.

Microsoft built everything they could, instead of building what people really wanted.

Was Windows 8 innovative? Definitely. Were the engineers who created Windows 8 fired up with passion for what there were doing? Certainly. But even with a blue-chip name like Microsoft and all the backing that entails ($1.5 billion on marketing?), Windows 8 was a very big fail. It was quickly replaced just one year later with Windows 8.1 and then two years later relief finally arrived in full measure with Windows 10.

Windows 10 was a radically different product, and at the end of 2018 became the world’s most popular desktop OS in the world. It was the most quickly adopted Windows version ever and it even had the approval of Mac fans.

So, what was different this time around? What did Microsoft engineers do differently during the Windows 10 development process that they had failed to do with Windows 8?

Microsoft’s great pivot to customer-centricity

The first fundamental difference in the development process was that, instead of being developed in total secrecy and isolation like Windows 8, Windows 10 had the full benefit of input from Microsoft’s marketing and business development leaders. They were in on the early stages of development, when product strategy was being hashed out, before one line of code was ever written. Marketing provided a constant stream of customer feedback and also put feelers out in the market, reporting back to the team so they could begin to imagine real users or target customers. That helped them prioritize features.

How did the “great pivot” take place? Microsoft took the following steps to avoid another Windows 8 outcome, which can only be described as an “epic fail”:

  1. They had their marketing department play a central role from the beginning. Engineers sitting around in isolation know what’s impressive and what’s cool, but they don’t necessarily have a grasp on who the real users are. The marketing department can provide the team with insight into who those customers are and what the market is saying. Marketers know how to take that customer data from all the user research that’s done, and convert that data into insight that will inform product strategies. It’s that kind of perspective that was completely lacking during the development of Windows 8.
  2. They got “inside” their customers’ minds to learn about their needs and their pain points. They worked to understand what it’s like to be an end-user who needs Windows to help them get through their day at work. That helps give them vision as to how they can improve the product for users’ future needs, not just their current needs.
  3. Microsoft focused on selling to their target customers, not the entire world. Clear definitions of who the target customer really is can help inform brand strategy, product development, and marketing strategies.

Earth’s most customer-centric company

Jeff Bezos proclaimed that his company Amazon was on a mission to become the world’s most customer-centric company. That was in 1997! By sticking to his guns and always focusing on customer service, Bezos built what we know today as a top online marketplace and only the second U.S. company in history to reach $1 trillion market value.

So what’s Bezos’ formula for customer-centricity? He explains it all in a video which you can watch here. Here are the highlights:

  1. Obsess over your customers.
  2. Invent. “You need to listen to your customers. They won’t tell you everything. You need to invent on their behalf.”
  3. Think long term.

Being successful for the long term means companies have to put their customers first, not their products. Products can evolve, change, and disappear while new ones are created.

But customers – you hope – will stick around for a long, long time. So, what’s important then?

  • Focus on your users, listen and try to understand them. If you can reach this premise, you’ll develop a long-term partnership, earning the privilege of creating products or services for them for decades to come.
  • A “must” practice you should cosnider: try to involve UX and Marketing teams early stages, focus on a little quote of the market. Go beyond your team beliefs, collect data and work in an open door environment.