Path to Product: 5 Steps to Nailing Customer Problems

With Alex Chriss of Intuit and Connie Guglielmo of CNET


When the head of product development at Intuit, known for Quickbooks, says that you need to “go Fatal Attraction on a customer problem,” then you know the idea of how to address a customer problem has changed.

However, to Intuit, it’s that critical that you become obsessed with what is bothering the customer in order to solve it. At the Startup Grind Global Conference, CNET writer Connie Guglielmo sat down with Alex Chriss of Intuit to talk about the steps the company has taken to solve very specific customer problems in a way that other companies and startups can easily emulate.

Falling in Love With the Solution?

Guglielmo noted from her own experience of reviewing products that many companies fall in love with the solution when they should really be falling in love with the problem. Apparently, Intuit has done that in what others might find a little “stalkerish.”

However, it’s worked and the customers seem more than happy to be stalked. It’s what has led to Intuit’s direct lending product and its new Quicbooks product for the self-employed.

Customer Driven Innovation

According to Chriss, everything Intuit does involves customer driven innovation. To do this, they’ve had to go out and talk to customers and to those potential customers like many self-employed people who don’t use Quickbooks to identify their problems.

Although it taught them some about the key problems, it didn’t cover enough of the issues or it provided data that they couldn’t necessarily use. This was because the problems were presented in a way where Intuit couldn’t solve that issue. They received so many different answers that Intuit knew they had to do something different.

The Self-Employed at Work

 This is when the Fatal Attraction strategy went to work. They literally followed many self-employed people into their homes and observed them at work rather than just working with the answers they had previously received. Suddenly, they started to see the customer problems more clearly.

For the self-employed person who often had no employees and worked as a freelancer, they would continue to keep their personal and business money together in one bank account. That meant they were leaving money on the table when it came to tax deductions and accounting for business expenses. That’s when the answer came to them about the real problems they had to solve for their customers.

Dog Food

For Chriss, he said there are two key things to do when working on that customer problem. The first is that a company must “eat their own dog food.” That means they need to go out and use their product just like the customer.

For Intuit, many team members became self-employed like an Uber driver or joined Task Rabbit to be that customer and understand their problem from their shoes. By becoming part of the economy of self-employed, they discovered and understood the pain points much better.

Customer Care

From there, spend more time on customer care and not being afraid to talk to the customers that call the help line. Also, allow everyone to talk to customers because it can be very empowering to fix customer problems in real time. Chriss noted that developers were able to change code while the customer was on hold, have them refresh the page, and then listen to a delighted customer who was previously a very unhappy customer.

Biggest Problem First

Third, Chriss said that it is critical to focus on the bigger problem first even if there are many other problems you’ve identified that your team is itching to get started on. For Intuit, they need to solve the larger problem of mixing business and personal in one account by creating the self-employment version of Quickbooks. Then, they went onto other things like automating mileage tracking so people would use it.

New Opportunities

Fourth, Chriss said to look for all the places where your products can interact and create new opportunities for solving a customer problem rather than having to start from scratch on a completely new product. Use existing data to compile the insights that show you the customer problem that could be fixed through these product interactions.

Fifth, Chriss noted that this Fatal Attraction perspective is creepy but necessary for really getting to the heart of today’s customer problems. Often, customers don’t know how to describe their problems or provide you with what’s really bugging them.

Instead, you have to stalk them and use that surveillance method to get specific pain points. While it seems weird, he promises that customers will thank you in the end when you solve these problems.