In this session from Techonomy 2011 in Tuscon., Ariz., Marissa  Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! and former Vice President of Consumer Products at Google, describes an exercise her team participated in to bring Google’s users closer to the product. Programmers and product developers were paired with Google users to inform the Google employees of real user experience. This kind of conversation, says Mayer, is essential to helping improve customer service and product development. Also appearing in this video: Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint Nextel; Kevin Johnson, CEO of Juniper Networks; and Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick.

Mayer: I know we just did an exercise with 400 of our engineers where we put them all in contact with an end user that they didn’t know.  Not someone they’re related to—so we basically had them all do a one to one and a half hour user study.
Kirkpatrick: With an individual user?
Mayer: Individual users, so they all sat down over the past four months.  We did about one hundred people a month.  It was really interesting what happened, because the usability analysts said—well, one thing that happened is they didn’t find very many new things, but they’re tending to listen to them more, because of sort of that impactfulness of actually hearing it first person—
Kirkpatrick: From a real person.
Mayer: From a real person—is really powerful.  To be like, “Wow, they couldn’t find that control.  They couldn’t find that button.  They couldn’t figure out how to do that.”  And then, two, it’s also causing all the usability analysts more subtle suggestions to carry more weight, because now when the engineers and the product managers read the reports they’re like, “Oh, I understand what that means.  I’ve seen something similar happen in the user study.”  So I think that because people are able to be more vocal and they’re able to express themselves more, it’s giving more of an opportunity for product developers to find those insights, which is making everything go faster.  So I don’t think it’s causing various people to be obsoleted.  I do think it’s causing things to move faster.
I also think on the negative side, particularly a brand, when you have people out there who are being negative, it’s much more important to pay attention to that.  I think there are two instances in the past year where I’ve tweeted—once I tweeted out Tony Hsieh, a great column on him for Zappos.  Next thing I knew I had emails from Zappos.  I had free gift certificate coupons.  They just sent me all this stuff, and I was like what is in this for them, and they were like, oh, they have a fan, and being able to really connect with that fan is really important.  I also tweeted once because I was frustrated with Delta Airlines—I probably shouldn’t have—but when I tweeted about it, it was also amazing how fast they were on it.  “What was the problem?”
Kirkpatrick: Yeah, but you are Marissa Mayer after all.
Mayer: No, no, it wasn’t that, because there have been a lot of other people who have had the same experience.  If you tweet and you’re unhappy, chances are that somebody from that organization is going to be quickly in contact with you to find out “Where are you?  What went wrong?  How can we make it better?”  Because they can’t let those types of negative brand perceptions sit.