Monday, December 15, 2008

Customer experiences and social media: Product manager should visit customers every 2 weeks.

Last week, I did two invoiced customer visits. In the past I have done a lot of customer visits as a support expert. During these troubleshoot consults, I had one mission. Solve the issue and make the customer happy. When I arrived at the customer site the atmosphere was already set by the things which had happened in the past. You start the visit with a meeting with the director, ICT manager, accountant and one or more users. They all have a story to tell. You NEED only to listen. When they are finished their story, you need to summarize their story in 2 sentences. If you are able to do that, you have already 50 % of the solution. The customer wants to get the acknowledgement that YOU understand his situation. With an invoiced visit, on request of the customer, the atmosphere is different. It’s more positive. The software is running and they need some specific help or advice. The conversation is much easier, however YOU need to listen and to observe. During your consult you will use your software with the customer. Look critical how these users are using your software. Is this the way you have designed it? If not, do not say: The customer is using it wrong. For what kind of reason, it is not clear for the customer. Find the reason and change the software, so the customer will use it in the right way. Sometimes you are surprised why a user is doing something. Ask him why he is doing this. He will tell you a workaround, which he has accepted in the past. This is a nice opportunity to improve the software. Customer experience will be great, if you can tell your customer one week after your visit, that his ‘accepted workaround’ is fixed in the next release.

As product manager, it will be your lucky day when this customer is using social media to tell this great customer experience to the community. This is a win - win situation. More and more people will use social media. At one day it will happen that you will get positive feedback on your product in a Google search. This is the best advertisement you can get for your product.

Positive experiences told by YOUR happy customer to the community.

As mentioned in one of my previous blogs: What is the URL of your company? The homepage of your company is Google, Yahoo or MSN. As mentioned in You can't stop it anyway, once people become more active in social media, there’s no way how you can control how things go. Who will write, who will find and who will comment on these experiences. This will even more happen with negative experiences.

As a product manager take the opportunity to visit every 2 weeks one customer. Do not only talk, but really do something with your software and the user. You want to see the 'accepted workarounds'. Remember: Think from a user perspective instead from a technical perspective. If you do these kind of visits for free, you have already the first positive customer experience. It will cost some time but you will get paid for it.

Do you agree on this? Please let me know YOUR opinion about this.


clive boulton said...

Good advice, the down turn we’re in probably accelerates the adoption of social media.
Because companies will lay off expensive workers, and later on hire younger less expensive workers. This younger generation grew up with social media. They don’t bottle up, they blog experiences.

Ronald Voets said...

Andre, good posting and to a large part I can subscribe to your opinion...but not all :-)

You mention several times 'the' customer, but for a company producing standard (off the shelf) business software, you can hardly define 'the' customer. Your posting refers to social media and that strengthens my point: unless you're writing customized software, you can't uniquely identity 'the' customer of your software. So what you (or the product manager from your posting) would usually end up with, is to make an arbitrary choice of what he considers 'the average' or 'a representative' customer and ends up visiting 26 customers a year, probably in the same city or country because of cost-prudency. Inside-out thinking...

I do fully agree that a software producer has to take 'the voice of the customer' into very serious consideration and react on that. To my opinion social media can be an excellent way of finding common denominators in the opinion of your customers. Once you have formed yourself a good idea about what goes around in the community that uses your software and you've participated in that community, you can involve them by sharing your ideas and start a discussion. Surely, face-to-face meetings or round-table conversations are an excellent follow-up. So plan some visits in the end. Main goal is not to brainstorm, observe and explore but to validate and deep-dive.