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March 4, 2020

Pet Age recently spoke with Bryan Garvey, PetSafe associate director of digital products, to find out more about the time and effort that goes into launching new and innovative products in the pet industry.

What’s something that people might find surprising about pet product engineering and design?
It’s not as easy as you’d think! Most of us have pets and have grown up with pets, so it’s natural to think we know what would make great products. But every dog has a unique personality, every cat has an opinion of how things should be, and every owner has a different context for their need. If we want our products to succeed for such a varied group, we can’t rely on our personal opinions and experience alone. This is why our Love Thy Customer program and customer-centric product development is so important.

What’s an example of how you’ve altered a product design due to customer insights?
We’re able to do lots of little changes all of the time as we learn, but one of my favorite larger feature examples is the Feed Now button on the Smart Feed, our internet-connected automatic feeder. Based on customers we’d observed with our non-connected feeder, we had the idea of putting a button in the Smart Feed app that would act as a remote control, letting you feed a snack or a meal whenever you wanted. Interestingly, there was a lot of internal disagreement about this because the product’s main purpose was to set a feeding schedule, and an ad hoc snack had nothing to do with that core purpose.

To settle the debate, we built and tested a prototype with the button as a small feature on the main app screen. People loved it immediately—even people who first scoffed at the idea. A spouse of one of our testers had initially said a remote feeder was ridiculous until she saw it in use and said, “let me try!” As a result, it’s the main part of the app screen now and continues to be a popular feature mentioned in comments and reviews, with people finding benefits and uses we never imagined.

What impact has the Love Thy Customer philosophy had on PetSafe and the products it creates?
PetSafe has always been about caring for pets and fostering connection with their people, but it’s a challenge to keep up with customer attitudes, behaviors, and expectations as they change and evolve at a more and more rapid pace. This can be especially true when you’re working on new technology solutions, as you can easily get too focused on the “how” and not the “why.” Love Thy Customer has given us all a shared goal and vocabulary so that anyone is empowered to ask “Is this best for the customer?” This level of change hasn’t been easy or fast, and we are continuing to learn, but it’s the natural progression of our company mission.

How has PetSafe been able to stay ahead of innovative trends?
We’ve developed a mixed-methods research approach that’s more hands-on and experiential with our customers than traditional trend research. In layman’s terms, instead of asking people what they like in a survey, we meet with them directly, observe and ask questions about how they do things currently, and we show prototypes so we can watch their pets use our products and see the reactions for ourselves. In person, you catch so many small details that can add up to big impact.

This definitely takes more time and effort in the beginning, but it allows us to learn what actually works and to discover needs that people would never think to talk about in a survey. This becomes critical with still-nascent trends like the Internet of Things (IoT) because people can’t articulate what they haven’t experienced yet.

Our approach helps identify needs and, more importantly, the details that ensure an IoT product will fit seamlessly in their lives. People don’t want to interact with our technology; they want to become even better at loving and caring for their pets. What we discover in our research and prototyping contributes to a product experience that makes them feel empowered and closer to their pets, and that is often the difference that puts us ahead of the curve.

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