Fail Fast is Failing Your Customers



Failure is in fashion. Silicon Valley started it a number of years ago, enthusiastically embracing a mantra of “fail fast, fail better” as the quickest route to innovation. Other industries, desperate to remain relevant, began to adopt the philosophy for themselves, and “fail fast” has become the process du jour in cross-channel commerce.

But “fail fast” isn’t a process or a strategy— it’s a meme. By fetishizing failing fast, we’re actually just failing our customers and failing to focus on what really matters: the customer experience. An effective eCommerce strategy requires accelerated feedback rather than failure, and while an off-the-shelf model has yet to materialize, there are a few key principles that hold true.

Prioritize value over volume.

Fail fast prioritizes volume, often at the expense of value. It creates a false urgency to develop a large number of products to see what sticks. This is because technology has made it financially possible to develop new digitals products and services at an unprecedented scale.

“Seeing what sticks” isn’t a strategy; it’s an experimentation process that effectively turns your customers into guinea pigs, and makes them navigate a volume of products and features that provide little value. If you’ve ever looked for an app on the App Store, then you understand the experience. You’re forced to wade through several different reviews and try out several different apps before finding the best one.

We shouldn’t be putting this burden on our customers. A few great ideas may stick, but the holistic customer experience suffers.

Listen to your customers throughout the development process.

You can actually speed up the development process by moving a little more slowly at the beginning and rethinking how and when you involve your customers. Instead of getting feedback at the end, get it at every stage of the development process. And rather than experiment on your customers, treat them like consultants. They’ll take the guesswork out of development by showing you what they want.

Start with customer needs, create the plan and get constant feedback from customers as you build. It’s important to agree on constant communication with customers and developers during milestone periods. That way, you can always work proactively and not reactively.

Create radically simple experiences.  

The one sure way to future-proof your commerce strategy is to ensure that you’re consistently building better experiences for customers. While there is no one-size-fits-all way to do that, you can start with what you know is important to them and prioritize business goals accordingly.

Start by looking at how a new product or service fits into the holistic customer experience. By focusing on customers’ real issues, you can create radically simple experiences that enrich their lives. That dramatically lessens the likelihood of failure from square one.

Move fast, with stable infrastructure.

The ironic thing about the industry’s obsession with failing fast is that Silicon Valley has already begun to distance itself from the mantra. Facebook, one of the biggest fail-fast proponents, has slowed down as it has grown up. At the F8 developer’s conference last April, Mark Zuckerberg jokingly replaced Facebook’s old motto, “Move Fast, Break Things,” with “Move Fast With Stable Infra.”

You can only break things so many times before you break the trust of the developers and users your success depends upon. Facebook’s new mantra is markedly less sexy, but it’s a lot more sensible. Instead of attempting to fail fast, we should be trying to get feedback faster and then use that insight to shape better experiences.

Image credit: CC by Kim

About the author: Jon Reily

Jon Reily is VP, Multi Channel Commerce Strategy at Razorfish.

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