Surveymonkey messaging …..

I was checking out Surveymonkey to see if they have made any improvements since I last used it. Among the three survey tools (Zoomerang, Surveymonkey and Key Survey) I have used so far, Surveymonkey is the best hands down.

So what impressed me about Surveymonkey this time? Check out their top 10 reasons why you should choose the Monkey – do you see even one mention of a buzzword like enterprise, scalable, flexible, architecture, configurable etc. – NO, they speak like real people do – in simple sentences people can understand. Why? – because they have nothing to hide – they have a great product and they lay it out clearly in their messaging – how customers can buy without any commitments, how you can easily cancel, how well you will be supported, how they want to hear your ideas etc.

Surveymonkey, kudos to whoever wrote this masterpiece – give a pat on his/her back on my behalf. Other companies, take note and do the same. Your customers will love you because they will now understand you.

How useful are the error messages?

Have you got error messages when using applications that have made you wonder whether a real person wrote these messages? It has happened to me numerous times. The best error message I have ever seen is when Pro/PDM, a CAD data management product from PTC once crashed with the error message – “Gastronomic error occurred, exiting” – I am not making this up – this was in 1996.

Though software development has made great strides since then, the usefulness of error messages have not changed that much. I was visiting one of the websites today (I cannot reveal the site name), when this information message caught my attention.


I was quite happy to notice that they wanted to improve my shopping experience, but look at the message. I am left to figure out when the site would be down. What would it have taken to say the exact date and time when the site would be down – nothing. But I speculate that some web developer discovered a cute little function that could update the number of hours and minutes to shutdown real time and he/she would have said”Wow, cool”. If the person who put this message together had stopped to think for one second whether the message provided the useful information he/she wanted to convey (the information that his/her customers could process), he/she very likely would have changed the message.

Think about all the information you put out there for your users and think about how much of it would make sense to them. Your users don’t have your product as the center of their universe, they are using it as a tool to get their real job done. Do all the messages that your product puts out help them get their job done? – that is the only benchmark that matters.

It is up to us as Product Managers to emphasize to our documentation/development teams that error/informational messages put out by the product has a significant enough influence on usability and user perception of your product that enough attention should be put in writing user friendly messages (and not one that makes great sense to developers alone).

Hear the “user vocabulary” – Voice of the Customer Tip #5

How many times have you read marketing brochures, datasheets etc. shook your head and really wondered what the product that is being described is meant to do? Marketing collateral is full of “flexible, scalable, reliable, robust, next generation, empowering, state of the art, ….” – you get the idea. I have always wondered if the folks who write such stuff understand it themselves let alone their customers.

One of the key things to do while listening to customers is making note of words, phrases they use – the vocabulary they use to describe things. If you don’t understand these terms, ask them to explain. Once you start seeing a trend of what words are commonly used, incorporate these terms in your product UI, documentation, in your presentations, in your marketing materials and so on. Communicating to your customers using terms they are familiar with helps you to immediately connect with them. Companies that do this will be able to differentiate themselves (agreed that this is not going to compensate for an inferior product). It is amazing to me how the vast majority of these companies don’t do this. Communicating benefits of your products to your audience is going to be so much simpler if you pay attention to the user vocabulary. It is such common sense to me to do this, but hey who is it that said that common sense is not that common.

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