November 4, 2016

Crain's If I Knew Then Interviews Andrew Ryan

ATLANTA - November 4, 2016 - Published by Crain's

The Mistake:

We, as engineers, are mindful in a certain way. We process and deal with complex problems in a certain way that, say, an artist, wouldn’t. Their minds just work differently. It’s part of the beauty of humanity, actually—the diversity in the ways in which we tackle problems. But we tend to think about a product in terms of the actual device, the actual code, the software, the thing you hold in your hand. We don’t think about the customer experience.

So, one of the mistakes that I made is thinking about the product I offer as the sum of all the features that it has. So, I do back-end software for associations and nonprofits [and thought,] I need group registration, I need dues deferral, I need billing … instead of thinking from the standpoint of, what do the people in this association do and what do they need to get their jobs done? We build these features as entrepreneurs—and then we leave it to the actual engineers to figure out how to make it do what it needs to do, instead of thinking of what they’re going to do first and then taking it through a path. We miss an opportunity, when we do that, to really delight our customers.

Apple, for instance, has really nailed the customer experience. The entire experience, from the first time you click on their website, to when you plug in the device for the first time and everything in between, even the packaging that the device comes in, is sort of beautiful. It gives a really delightful experience to the customer. That’s something that, as an engineer, I just missed. In retrospect, I had a chance to provide really great value to my customers years earlier than I did because of my failure to realize that.

They don’t tell you ... just how critical managing your own neurosis is to being successful.

The Lesson:

I realized that [customer experience] wasn’t something that I was good at, which is an important thing to realize as an entrepreneur. One of the things they don’t tell you in entrepreneur school is just how critical managing your own neurosis is to being successful. I had to realize that I’m not good at this; I’m not going to get good at this. This is not something I can go read in a book. This is not an equation or a language; it’s a way of thinking. So I need to find people who are good at it and once I find them, they’re going to tell me some things that aren’t going to seem right to me. They’re going to be at odds with everything I know and believe, but I have to shut up and listen, because the entire reason I brought them in is because they know more about this than I do.

The customer experience is a cultural thing. The company has to think about it whenever they do anything, from when marketing puts up a website to when sales thinks about how to talk to a prospect. Remember, your customer experiences you from the first time they click on your website or one of your e-mails all to way to the point to where they’ve been a customer for five years—and everything in between.