All too often we see client organizations and other service firms completely obsessed with a solution. Perhaps it’s a fancy Marketing Automation application they’re interested in purchasing, or maybe it’s an Ecommerce platform that comes with all the newest bells and whistles. When presented with the possibilities that these shiny new toys offer, folks often (and understandably) become distracted. It is very easy to become caught up in a solution’s available capabilities and what those capabilities could do for your business while neglecting to consider the impact these changes would have on your day-to-day processes, which is why we leverage product management best practices. At Blue Fish Group we encourage all of our clients to take a step back from the exciting new solution and consider things from the most critical perspective: the user perspective!
Product Management responsibilities are diverse, and in many cases may even vary between organizations, but certain practices are truly at the heart of what it means to be a Product Manager. One of these practices is developing a fundamental understanding of the user perspective. After all, those bells and whistles will never actually deliver any business value if your users don’t adopt the solution. It is important to avoid adding unnecessary overhead and forcing your users to adopt a solution simply because the solution is amazing. We never want to charge in and dictate entirely new and unfamiliar processes for users. Instead, we want to understand the processes that are in place today and create tools that will fit within and improve those processes. Requirements must be examined and refined first and foremost through the lens of the user.
A key point here is that ‘users’ consist of both your customers and your employees. The work that we do with our clients at Blue Fish Group often means introducing intense disruption, and this is something that we are very conscious of and caution our customers on frequently. When new tools are introduced to enable your employees to carry out their processes more efficiently, there is inevitably an initial period in which things become harder for them. Even though their processes are dramatically improved in the long term, the short term may present a learning curve. This is a very important consideration which many companies and service firms overlook. It is absolutely imperative that we account for both customer and employee experiences to ensure successful outcomes for our Marketing Automation and Ecommerce clients.
Recently Blue Fish Group was engaged in a marketing automation effort with one of our online retail clients. The client’s end goal was of course to improve their customers’ experience, and in order to do so the client needed to collect as much customer information as possible. They had a ton of great ideas like highlighting children’s products for customers who have kids and targeted offers based on age and preferences, but they lacked the data to implement their ideas effectively. Eager to put their ideas in action, the client formulated a plan to collect a significant amount of information from customers very quickly in the form of a lengthy survey on their site. The rationale being that customers would be willing to complete the survey because their experiences would improve as a result. We were very pleased to see the client so excited, but we encouraged them to take a few steps back and really consider the plan from a user perspective. Yes, the customer experience will improve in the long run, but what about the experience now? They’ve come to your site to make a purchase, and this survey presents a major disruption to the experience they were expecting. Isn’t is possible that this could have an unintended impact? Instead, we recommended that the client gather personal information about their customers in a less invasive way. Perhaps on the customer’s third or fourth visit to the site you present them with a single question about themselves. We know the customer is a regular visitor to the site, so we know we can ask them another question on their next visit. This approach is very quick and easy for the customer. They are able to proceed with the experience they were expecting, and we gather information about them gradually in a way that is respectful of their time. We often find that this approach yields higher response rates than a lengthy survey like the client was initially planning. Ultimately, customers are likely uninterested in what we’re trying to accomplish by collecting their information, so the less we disrupt their process the better.
In ecommerce, especially B2B, a lot of purchases are still made via fax, phone, and email despite the fact that most ecommerce businesses have introduced online ordering systems. One of our largest ecommerce clients was struggling with this dilemma. Sales reps were fielding purchase orders coming in via fax and email, and then manually entering the orders into their online system. They understood they couldn’t mandate that customers order online as that would disrupt their customers’ experience, but their employees’ experience was painful and highly inefficient. Rather than trying to force their customers to adopt their online ordering solution, we looked for technologies that would fit into and improve the existing processes that both customers and employees were familiar with. Sales reps were already receiving email and fax purchase orders in their inboxes because the company had technology in place that would convert faxes to emails, so we recommended a simple file reader solution. The solution we proposed would open purchase order emails, extract the details, and dynamically insert them into the ordering system. The end result for the client was a solution that caused no disruption to customers’ processes while simultaneously automating a portion of their sales reps’ processes which freed up employee time for more valuable activities. Symbiosis like this would not have been possible if the client had been focused entirely on their solution, nor would it have been possible if the client had not considered the user experiences of both their customers and their employees.
Understanding the different perspectives of all your users is absolutely critical to implementing new solutions successfully. Neglecting to consider the users’ points of view, both customers and employees, can spell disaster for even the most well-planned implementations. If you don’t provide your users with good experiences…you won’t have any users at all.