Do your customers know?


How often have your customers asked you for functionality that you already have in your product – functionality you have had in the product for a year or two? I have had this happen often enough in my career. There are two causes for thiseducation

1) You forgot to tell the customer

2) Your product is too big that new features are no longer discoverable

I want to spend more time on 1) than 2) because it is the easier problem to solve and I think in my experience more prevalent. You as a product manager identified the customer problems to solve, worked with engineering to come up with the most innovative and easy way to solve the problems, your team is delighted, but all of this equates to naught, if you do not take the initiative to let the world know that you have solved the problem. Often times, organizations get caught up in drumming about this new feature/product with prospective customers (thanks to the zealous salesmen who are looking for the first available opportunity to demo the new wares to prospects), that often educating the existing customers is forgotten.

This is more of an internal organization problem than an external one. It can be easily solved by first educating your internal stakeholders (training, sales, marketing etc.) on the benefits of the new widget, what problems it solves and for which customer profiles. If you do this internal stakeholder education well and carve out the go to market launch plan, then this becomes an easier and accomplishable task. And trust me, only if you do this well, can your external customers know about what you have done for them.

On problem 2) – this one is a harder problem to solve especially for feature rich products such as MS Excel, Oracle etc. Simplification is not as easy to do as it may seem. I don’t know the answer to this problem, in my past experience, we tried many solutions to solve this problem, but nothing I would say worked tremendously well. It was a tough nut to crack.

Thoughts? Comments based on your experience?

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Image: Courtesy of Connecticut State Board of Education

4 thoughts on “Do your customers know?

  1. 2 more (from http://www.cindyalvarez.com/decisionmaking/approach-customer-suggested-features-with-caution)

    3) They just can’t find it (interaction design/information architecture is so disorganized that it’s impossible to find the feature, happens even in “small” products)

    4) It’s not actually that interesting/useful, so they don’t remember that they’ve already tried it out.

    I disagree with the advice to jump straight into customer education, though – this is an opportunity to LEARN. I’d start by asking two questions:
    – If you had this feature, what would it allow you to do?
    – If this feature existed, where in the product would you expect it to exist?

    You may learn that a feature you THOUGHT you had is actually just a shadow of what your customer is asking for.

  2. In general, a feature only exists to address a need, use case or problem.

    Users don’t NEED to know about features, they NEED to know how to solve problems. i.e. which “features” will help them address the problem.

    A goal oriented approach to UI design, education, documentation etc. is a significant step in solving this problem.

    As software evolves over many releases, new functionality gets buried in the UI, in a tab, or subordinate dialog box or somewhere else that is not easy to find or intuitive to use.

    That will never change until a radically new way to present UIs is created. Until then, showing how people can solve their problems, vs. which features do what is one of the best approaches to take.

  3. Well written by Gopal. As Gopal left the room for comment on the second problem ( “Your product is too big that new features are no longer discoverable”), I would like to impart my experience.

    If your product is too big and complex, you need to break it down into sub products and then start working with each sub product as a product.

    At the same time one should not forget that the sub product is actually not the product and hence always loosely couple it so that there will be ease in integrating the sub products to form the parent product without any deviation from the product goal.

    This will make requirement management a easy thing for the product management. All stake holders will be able to understand what product because now they will be able to see the bigger picture of the product.

    Human understand abstraction better than details.

    I would appreciate if someone come here and further comment on it as I have broken the ice.

    Also visit http://www.saikatsinha.wordpress.com for more on Product Management.

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