February 2, 2007, 12:00 AM

Getting in customers` faces

After hitting a snag with a new feature, Facebook gathered a team, including the CEO, and hit the field to see how Facebook members were using the social networking site.

Before Katie Geminder joined social networking giant Facebook as head of product development a year ago, a typical implementation of a new feature went something like this: An employee had an idea, three weeks later it was on the site. But that process did not fully take into account what the customer wanted. And in one case, a new feature created a stir among customers who did not like the feature.

"It`s great to know that millions of users are concerned, but it was a real awakening," Geminder said Feb. 2 in the "Senior Executive Panel and Discussion" session at the Shop.org 2007 FirstLook conference in Orlando.

Geminder worked quickly to address the stir and stressed to her new colleagues that the company must adopt a customer-centric approach to developing business plans and web site features. The social networker gathered a team, which included the CEO, and hit the field to see exactly how Facebook members were using the site. It chose this path as opposed to consumer forums and users groups or similar methods because staff believed it would paint the truest picture of Facebook users.

"Taking staff out into the field showed everyone that many users were using Facebook in far different ways than we thought," Geminder said.

The field trip ultimately taught the team it failed to realize in some cases how users were not getting from point A to point B, and sometimes the team did not even realize there was a problem at all. Taking a customer-centric approach to development, Geminder concluded, is essential to avoid potentially huge problems that can disenchant consumers.


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