Getting the Best Products to Speak for Themselves

BY JONATHAN KIM ON MARCH 7, 2018

Give Your Product a Voice

In many companies, improving engagement is a reactive process: as a product manager you wake up to a barrage of support requests after launching a new feature, or your in-app analytics reveal that new users are skipping over key functionality and never reaching their “aha!” moment. You shoulder the burden and – personally – work out a fix.

This approach is pretty common in B2B companies: in a world of high-touch sales cycles and complex products, getting hands-on with support requests and product problems used to be an important part of the product manager’s job description. But increasingly, many companies are taking the onus of product engagement away from the product manager and their support staff and giving it to the product itself. These “product-led” companies sell to other businesses but take their cues from companies like Facebook and Snapchat to create sales models, products, and user experiences that drive customers to use the product more.

This process starts with proactive onboarding: instead of waiting for new users to reach out and ask which features they should be using, you can use in-app cues to help them hit their goals before they ever have to ask.

This is hugely important for the first-run experience of any complex product. Product management tool Asana, for example, offers a wealth of functionality, from creating project milestones to building out visual reporting dashboards. But instead of overwhelming first-time users, simple tooltips offer a step-by-step tutorial, letting users learn the tool by getting hands-on with its core features.

Simple tooltips guide new users to Asana’s key features, straight from a user’s first in-app experience.

Even after a great onboarding experience, new users will always run into problems with a product. Instead of being reactive and waiting for the support inbox to fill up, you can take a proactive approach and build a product that is responsive to user problems as and when they emerge.

Another example of giving your product a voice: AdRoll uses a “pause interceptor”: a pop-up modal that triggers whenever a user hits pause on their campaign, offering them a timely opportunity to share their grievance. User responses are sent straight to the AdRoll customer support team, so the team can jump in and solve the users’ problems just minutes after they happen.

Run into a problem with AdRoll and a pop-up modal sends your complaint straight to the customer success team, without the need to file a support ticket.

Product knowledge bases play a similar role, allowing product and customer success teams to get their years of experience — strategies for best-using each feature, advice for integrating with other tools, examples of powerful use cases — out of their heads and into a searchable storehouse of product information.

Use Data to Refine Your Message

Just as you use verbal and non-verbal feedback when speaking to someone in real life, you can use user data to adjust your product’s voice and tone appropriately.

“You have to assimilate huge amounts of information—feedback from clients, quantitative data from your web analytics, research reports, market trends and statistics—you need to know everything about your market and your customer, and then mix all that information with a healthy dose of creativity to define a vision for your product.”
Martin Eriksson, Mind the Product

On the macro level, that starts with systematizing data analysis and creating a framework that anyone can use to identify and act on problems — like Fullstory’sflywheel of continuous improvement:

  • Identify problems using quantitative data, like low conversion rates, high bounce rates or rising churn.
  • Dig deeper with qualitative data, using surveys and phone calls to better understand the root cause.
  • Experiment with potential solutions, making small product changes to improve the customer experience.

In doing so, data analysis becomes a clear, objective process, no longer tied to any one person’s experience or opinion.

Create a clear, defined process for turning data into meaningful product improvements.

On the micro level, that means encouraging individual initiative and making it easy for anyone to uncover data and run experiments. Setting up shared access to data analytics tools can go a long way towards that goal, allowing other members of the product team to get hands-on with the analysis process.

In practice that might mean:

  • Making it easy to dig into in-app behavior with an analytics tool like Amplitude. What are people engaging with? What are they avoiding?
  • Use a data enrichment provider like Clearbit to reveal user information and personalize in-app experiences.

Remember, you don’t speak to your best friend the way you do a stranger on the street. Make sure you’re using all the information and behavioral cues from your users to have your product speak to them in the right way, too.

Make Product Management a Company-wide Pursuit

Many product teams are built from the top-down, designed primarily for the execution of a product manager’s ideas. In doing so, you’ve made yourself a bottleneck—no matter how creative or inspired your team, their ideas still have to be filtered through you, the manager. At best, iteration slows to a crawl. At worst, your team feels impotent.

Instead, you need to build a team of equals, where everyone is empowered to think about, and act on, product improvements. No team should be the sole source of inspiration.

“Great product managers not only tolerate, but actively enjoy the challenge of creating alignment and understanding between different roles and perspectives.”
Matt LeMay

Everyone in your company has a unique insight into the customer experience:

  • Marketing teams shape your customers’ on-site experience and share knowledge through educational resources.
  • Sales teams have a deep understanding of the questions and concerns shared by customers during the sales process.
  • Customer success teams manage the ongoing relationship and address customer problems as-and-when they occur.

Great companies are set up to feed learnings from each of these teams into the product development process, whether that’s in the form of a monthly all-hands meeting or by directly embedding marketing, sales, and support staff into the product management team.

Drift’s David Cancel dramatically shortened the feedback loop between customer support reps and product engineers by adding them to the same team.

These varied perspectives mean that the best onboarding experiences aren’t led solely by the product team: they’re a whole-company initiative, with every team playing an active part in the process.

Hack Conway’s Law

In 1967, computer programmer Melvin Conway said the “organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.”

By building a product with your whole company, your product will give back and support each of your teams, too. Your product might include a viral loop for the marketing team, or continually get feedback about users’ ongoing experiences for the customer success team, or possibly even alert the sales team when users look like they’re at the right moment for an upsell.

In doing so, you’ll build a product that can speak for yourself — or rather — it will speak for itself.

About JONATHAN KIM

Jonathan is the co-founder and CEO of Appcues, the user experience platform of choice for today’s best-in-class software companies. He was previously a software engineer at HubSpot, via the acquisition of Performable. Jonathan’s from a small town in Hawaii, doesn’t know Obama, and has a degree in journalism.

Get the best product content from across the web

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter with a lovingly curated selection of the best product content from all over the web.

15 Shares
Share
Tweet
Share