Product Review – Service Magic rocks

Last week, I had to get a tree cut in the yard and then my garage door broke down with the door bent and the rollers popped out. Not knowing who to call, I checked out ServiceMagic. What an awesome experience that turned out to.

Within minutes, they send me names of three pros rated very high by their customers. I called the pro, got a quote, scheduled the job and got both of these issues taken care of in a hurry. Their customer service is outstanding – they called me to find out how the project was going, they send me thank you notes via email after I had rated the pros – they did not have to do any of this.

This is one of the rare occasions in the recent past where I could say that I have received just an excellent service. We hear all the time about service is being shortchanged by companies due to the current tough economic times, but here is a company that has figured out how to use technology to the hilt to provide such a great service – their website is awesome with easy navigation, customer ratings and reviews of their pros, the results of their 10 point screening etc. They use email communication very well and as a result take many of the pain points involved in finding/hiring a contractor off their customer’s chests. Think about the effort it takes to make sure that the contractors you want to hire have the necessary license, insurance etc. to do the work? All this is done by ServiceMagic for you. Dealing with contractors has never been easy and they seem to have made this easy.

ServiceMagic sets the benchmark against which other service companies should be considered. If you have not used them, I would strongly recommend that you give them a try.

Their success is because they have thought through the entire user experience from the usability of their website through every touch point with the customer either via email or phone. Plus, their service is absolutely free for consumers, they make their money from the pros who get referrals.

Thank you ServiceMagic.

First experience on a US long distance train

I have been living in the US for the last 18 years and I have never traveled on a train over a long distance. This week, I had to travel to New York and decided to take the Acela Express. What a remarkable experience – I don’t think I will ever fly to New York from Boston.

So what constituted to a great product experience:

1) No security lines

2) Cheap parking – $10 a day compared to $22 a day at Logan plus tolls

3) Parking right outside the station – 2 minute walk compared to Logan’s long walks to terminals plus traffic hassles

4) Awesome, wide comfortable reclining seats

5) On time arrival and departure

6) Cheap taxi ride to the hotel (as opposed to expensive ride from La Guardia) – though we were ripped off by a capitalistic van driver.

7) Quiet car where you are refrained from talking and using the cell phone – I tried the next car and was in midst of so many sales guys chattering over the phone – I quickly made my way to the quiet car and had such a great ride.

Total travel time on the train – 3 hours, 25 minutes compares to probably the same on the flight given how early I need to get to the airport, battle security lines, delays etc.

Plus, above all of this, I contributed to reducing the carbon footprint – hey, I drive a hybrid too.

Truly, a great product experience.

Email and 7%

I happened to come across the notes taken during the Effective Networking seminar (run by Diane Darling) that I attended a year back. One of the things that was mentioned was that communication power is based on:

  • 55% body language
  • 38% voice/tone
  • 7% words
This means, whenever you send an email, you have just thrown out 93% of your communication power. If you pick up the phone instead, you get 45% of it back. And what are we so used to doing these days – sending emails. Is the world now full of lousy communicators? BTW, I learnt a lot in the above seminar and would highly recommend it and I have no vested interests in making this recommendation.

Love the customers who hate you

I have been a big proponent of online communities and social media – I have written at least two blog posts on this. So when the latest Business Week arrived with the main section titled “Consumer vigilantes” I could not put it down. The most interesting article among many dealing with social media was titled Love the customers who hate you. This is a must read. The net net of the article is captured in “…… Now don’t get mad at these people. Instead, help them get even with you. These angry customers are doing you a great favor. They care enough about your product or service to tell you exactly what went wrong. Other customers may just desert you and head to the competition. But these are telling you what to fix. Listen to them. Help them. Respond to them. Ask their advice—and they’ll give it to you.” – Enjoy reading.

Passion vs. decibels – How to manage vociferous customers

In my product management career, I have always had some users who were more vociferous than most of the others. Their decibel level when they asked for new enhancements or yelled at you for the bugs in the software was orders of magnitude higher than majority of the users. The vast majority of these users were loud because they cared, they were passionate about your product. Hence, don’t discount these users – listen to them, allow them to vent and take action to fix their problems if appropriate.

However, you as a product manager need to do a fine balancing act you – some of the feature requests from these vociferous users could be for functionality that applies just to them, because of what they use your product for or the unique way in which they do a common task. You have to listen to them, but also be willing to say No with a justifiable reason. All of us ask for more, but not everyone expects to get everything they ask for (if you don’t ask, you don’t get – so there is not much downside to asking). As long as you tell them why you would not do something, they will understand – getting back to them tells them you care.

I remember an instance where I was reading through the enhancement requests we had received when I came across a tirade from a user. It was an email bomb filled with expletives how our product sucked and how he thought we were all a bunch of idiots. I picked up the phone and called the user. I introduced myself and told him that I was calling him about the enhancement request he had send in. First thing he said was a sincere apology for having writing such a tirade (I don’t know if he thought I was going to sue him) and said he was having a bad day and the software was not working the way he wanted to get his job done. I asked him not to be apologetic and asked him to help me understand the deficiency in the software. We spend a good 20 minutes on the phone understanding the issue.

Guess what likely happened after the call – I created a passionate user for our product because I took time to read what he had written (however unpleasant),  call him and discuss the issue to see how we could improve our product so that he can be successful with what he does. Do you think he would have shared this experience with his colleagues or other users in his community? I absolutely think he would have. What happens if he encounters someone else who has a similar gripe – he is going to tell them we care and to talk to us. I created another big proponent who is going to spread the word about our product and about us as a company.

Creating passionate users and listening to them is one of the most important parts of your job as a product manager. After all, the answer is not in the building – it is very important for all of us to get out of our busy schedule of internal meetings and take the time to talk to real users.  After all, they are the ones who buy our product.

Help your customers buy …

I bought a new car last week. I was very clear what I needed – a Toyota Camry Hybrid and knew the exact options I needed. I did all my research on the web in reading user generated reviews, dealer invoice prices and so on. After spending about 3 hours doing all this, I was ready to buy. I wanted the car in a day because my previous car was giving me trouble.

I started making phone calls to Toyota dealers. I told them right upfront:

1) Here is the exact car I need – color, options etc.

2) I don’t have time to haggle

3) I am shopping around calling dealers

4) I am looking to buy tomorrow.

The sales person at the three dealers I called listened and they told me their best price and they had the car – they asked me if I would like to come in to test drive the car – no pressure, here is what you need, here is what we want – none of the traditional pressure tactics that auto dealers are well known for.

I ended up buying the car from Bernardi Toyota because they not only had the lowest  price but they also worked with me respecting my intelligence to come up with a win-win situation regarding my trade in. So what two lessons did I learn as a product manager from this personal experience?

1) Get real users to write reviews about your product. This is much more reliable than what you as a vendor can put out there. I went to the Toyota website only to look at the specs, colors, options etc. I did all my research on sites such as edmunds.com. Organizations always worry about user reviews because they fear bad things will be said about their products and that the competition will get hold off these reviews. Think about it, by promoting candid feedback from your user base, you are actually raising the bar for your competition. Everyone has skeletons in their closets – you are forcing the competition’s hand to do the same. My advice – forget about the competition – be more concerned about what your customers have to say – if they have bad things to say, you should be the first one to know because you are in a position to fix the problem. No matter what you put out, you cannot satisfy everyone – there will be someone who will say something bad about your product. If all you get are bad reviews about your product and you choose to ignore it, you are only buying time before the inevitable happens.

2) Teach your sales people to listen to the customer’s needs and to respect the customer as an intelligent human being. Help the customers buy what they want rather than trying to sell to them. We all love to buy and don’t want to be sold to.

Based on this very positive experience, I recommended Bernardi Toyota to my friend who was also looking to buy a new car and he is buying from them today. “Word of mouth” pays.

Apple customer service complaints!!

My previous post was about the horrible customer experience at the Apple store. I find out that I am not alone – there are more and more stories on the internet how their customer service is bad. Here is a recent post on San Jose Mercury News – very much along the lines of my experience.

Apple’s So-Called Geniuses Can Do Better: In order to fix my daughter’s iPod, a staffer at an Apple store wanted me to request an appointment with one of their ‘geniuses’ — their word, not mine – San Jose Mercury News 10/15/07