In many ways, us product managers are often drowning in data. Analytics, user feedback, sales figures, engineering complexity. You name it.

In the midst of all this data it can be easy to lose sight of what really matters — customers. There’s no better way to improve customer experience than to put yourself in their shoes. Get back to basics and experience customer pain.

When designing software for the construction industry the first thing I did was put on a high vis jacket. I jumped in the cab with a driver to help out on a day at work.

What better way to experience the pain of the current way of doing things than by getting your hands dirty and experiencing it first hand.

This first hand knowledge and experience of user pain gives you the tools to come up with the best solutions.

You’ll pick up insights that don’t come out in methods. User interviews, analytics or cold data can only take you so far.

I’ve put together a list of a few things I’ve found helpful when getting to grips with customer problems.

Ways to get back to basics.

  • Dogfooding. This one might sound obvious but it’s actually amazing how few people do it. Have you meaningfully used the product you’re working on in a non test scenario? Are you paying for it out of your own pocket? Become a real customer of your own product.
  • Customer Service. Get friendly with your customer support team and volunteer to take on some customer issues a few times a month and handle them personally. Even when I worked in a giant credit company I always made time to sit down with the call centre team and listen in on calls — it’s amazing how much you learn.
  • Volunteer! Get out of your comfort zone and help out in other areas of the business — preferably at the front line with the customer. Whether it’s stacking shelves or accompanying drivers on deliveries you’ll get to the heart the customer experience.

Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, you’ll be amazed about what you can learn about your customers and how you can make your product work better for them.