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To Improve Your Customer Experience, Start by Working Backwards . . . or with Snow White

As the benchmarks of customer-centric companies, Amazon and Airbnb each take a unique approach to developing their products. Amazon’s approach begins with working backwards, while Airbnb maps out every step through an approach called “Snow White.”

The Power of the Internal Press Release

Ian McAllister, Director of Amazon Day and former Director of Amazon Smile, explains: “working backwards begins by “[trying] to work backwards from the customer, rather than starting with an idea for a product and trying to bolt customers onto it.”

The process, which at first may sound simple, requires an Amazon product manager to write an internal press release announcing the new product. As explained here, “Internal press releases are centered around the customer problem, how current solutions (internal or external) fail, and how the new product will blow away existing solutions. If the benefits listed don’t sound very interesting or exciting to customers, then perhaps they’re not (and shouldn’t be built).” This requires the manager to continue to iterate the customer benefits in the press release until the product is improved, which is a lot faster and far less expensive than building the product first and then trying to improve it.

“working backwards begins by “[trying] to work backwards from the customer, rather than starting with an idea for a product and trying to bolt customers onto it.”

Snow White and the Customer Experience

When first growing their brand and to create more of an opportunity to put more homes on the Airbnb platform, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky found guidance and inspiration about how they should launch their products and their mobile experience from a Walt Disney biography.

Creating Snow White required Walt Disney to re-envision his success with shorter cartoons and how he would have to take a completely different approach to producing a feature-length film as a complete story. To achieve this, he began by storyboarding each scene and, to help all of those involved in the production, with a clear vision of this new direction.

“As opposed to working out of a spreadsheet or a Google Doc, this is us creating characters and starting to understand the personality of these characters. It’s just like watching a movie, honestly. You’re sitting in this room watching each of these frames, talking about what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling.” 

Building Moments into Stories

Recognizing how the storyboarding process would allow Airbnb to view the experience through the eyes of the host and the guest, the Airbnb team (marketing, advertising and customer service) collectively were able to uncover and ask more questions about the mindset of each audience in a succinct “moment of truth,” validating an insight or, in this case, the importance of the company’s mobile presence.

Airbnb Co-founder and Chief of Product, Joe Gebbia, said this about the process that led to the company’s mobile focus: “As opposed to working out of a spreadsheet or a Google Doc, this is us creating characters and starting to understand the personality of these characters. It’s just like watching a movie, honestly. You’re sitting in this room watching each of these frames, talking about what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling.”

With either approach, whether it’s visually documenting frame-by-frame the steps and emotions of your customer’s journey with your brand or product, or by documenting an internal press release announcing the new product’s feature and benefits, by walking in the footsteps of your customer, you’ll be able to uncover unforeseen insights and ways to improve or address gaps in customer service.

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