At SaaSFest 2017, Pluralsight’s Chief Experience Officer Nate Walkingshaw discussed using corner cases to build better customer experiences. I wasn’t familiar with corner cases as a concept before Nate’s talk, but the way in which he uses them to solve complex product problems resonates strongly with me. If you’re unfamiliar with corner cases, think of them as power users — someone who spends more time using or interacting with your product than almost anyone else.
Nate’s talk was mainly about building better products by focusing on desired outcomes, and one example he used to illustrate his point was a lawnmower. On one of Nate’s daily runs, he crossed paths with two Parks and Recreation employees. The employees were mowing a park in Nate’s neighborhood, and as he ran by the park he found himself stepping on grass clippings that were littered on the sidewalk. Nate stopped and asked the employees why the clippings were strewn across the sidewalk, and he discovered that the bag that was supposed to hold all of the clippings got stuck as the employees went from mowing on a decline to a flat surface. Instead of dealing with the hassle of adjusting the bag every time, the employees simply removed the bag and left the clippings to be cleaned up after the mowing was done.
Source: Nate Walkingshaw — Mowing Your Product Lawn
The two employees that Nate spoke to are corner cases. They use a lawnmower more than almost anyone — not only do they spend more time using the mower, but they undoubtedly cut a larger area of grass than your typical homeowner maintaining his or her lawn. With that being said, mowing inclines, declines, and flat surfaces isn’t exclusive to these Parks and Recreation employees. There are lawns all over the world that have tricky surfaces, and if lawn mower manufacturers had studied the user behavior of these corner cases, they may have recognized the issue with the bag getting stuck and designed a better experience for the majority of their buyers.
You have corner cases in your business, and they can help you build a better experience for the majority of your customers. If you find yourself running up against a difficult product problem, consider reaching out to those users who spend more time interacting with your product than anyone else — they just might hold the key to unlocking your product success.