The unsung hero of achieving product-market fit is the space between checking checkboxes.

You’ve done everything right. You’ve prepared. You’ve researched. You’re experimenting. You have something worth buying. You have a business plan and goals.

The steady plod between idea and launch is well documented, and is honestly quite encouraging.

Even the time between launch and that first customer can be great. Unless you’ve made something that no one wants or are presenting in a way that interests no one, you’ll grab that first customer and celebrate with many gifs.

That space between your first handful of customers and that “rapid growth” everyone wants?

Oh, that’s mostly described as hard work.

Just pay your dues. Do things that don’t scale. Be patient. Move fast. Do literally everything at the same time. Don’t do too much. Experiment. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Look to your existing customers for more leads. Look for new leads from social channels.

This is the time where growth gains its momentum, but how in the world you can go about finding the hill to push growth down to gain that momentum is anybody’s guess. It seems to work differently for literally everyone.

Identifying Different Customer Journeys

Let’s take Evermore here, for instance. We’re now in this infamous period of hard work. How do we kickstart growth so fast that my business partner, Kyle, has to start hiring people.

And just so you know it’s not limited to unthoughtful startups, we checked all the startup boxes:

☑ Solving a real, validated problem and providing demonstrative value
☑ One full year of market and customer research before building
☑ Successful testing period
☑ Scalable business structure
☑ Pricing structure from successful business mentors
☑ Favorable, honest product launch coverage
☑ Converting leads to customers successfully
☑ Happy existing customers

All that planning and patience got things much further, faster than expected. It was even a very agile process: I’d never intended to have a business partner, but it was a very organic and obvious choice when the opportunity came.

But, now that we’ve tackled the part where so many businesses fail and have a sustainable way of operating, how can we take this solution to the world? How do we meet people where they are to tell them about Evermore’s value?

After all, we haven’t fallen into the trap of selling a vitamin. Evermore is definitely a pain killer for some. If someone’s wasted a weekend trying to do things they don’t care about with WordPress just to get their website working, they understand the value. If they’ve had a really bad experience with a hosting or theme or plugin company, they understand the value.

Evermore can also be a vaccination for many businesses: prevent ever wasting your weekend, or learning things you don’t want, or being hacked, or debugging a slow website.

There are two very different entry points for businesses that would benefit from Evermore, but that doesn’t mean the product is unfocused. It means we have to account for those entry points.

Finding Pivotal Moments

This is the hard work: how can you be the obvious choice when the decision is made by a potential customer?

In Evermore’s case, how can we be there when someone experiences the pain of lost time or money dealing with a frustrating issue, and speak to that? And, how can we be there when someone wants to make an investment in their business’s website that will last?

Everything gets foggy here. You can start diving into every famous phrase for marketing: thought leadership, inbound marketing, social engagement, content optimization and testing. It all comes from a good place. They are all truly promising methods for being top-of-mind for a potential customer, but every business needs its own custom combination.

Depending on your budget, you may be able to hire researchers. Do so if you can.

Perhaps you have $10,000 to run your first series of advertisements, so you can see what works. Do so if you can.

Regardless of your budget, though, there are two fundamental, scalable approaches to finding your potential customers’ pivotal moments.

Talk to People

Engage in more casual conversation with your customers, potential customers, and people who understand the problem you’re trying to solve.

Yes, you should sell when the time is right, but don’t miss the opportunity to have a discussion all the other times. Kyle and I are constantly talking to people about Evermore so we can learn and understand more about the pain—even though we already know more than almost anyone about the particular problem. Never stop learning.

Never stop having the casual conversations where you can glean insight from all that nonverbal communication and word choice.

Do What Your Customers Do

How do you expect to understand your potential customers’ perspective without actually attempting to see things from that angle?

Do some recon: read the blogs they would read, understand the search terms they use, and go to the events they go to. The more context you can have, the more adequately you can reach people when they need the problem solved that you can help with.

We’re doing all this with Evermore, but it feels like it’s a slow process. It’s probably not. Understanding how to take the power of open source to a market that doesn’t know to care about it is complex, and it should take time.

May this post serve as encouragement to you and myself: the hard work is confusing, but worthwhile.

October 3, 2014 — Leave a comment — In Blog, Business, CX, Entrepreneurship

These are remotes in my household.

Direct TV Remote and Apple TV Remote

One of them has so many choices that I have to look down to find the button I need to make the interaction I want happen.

The other has fewer and, thus, makes it a bit harder to jump to a direct interaction. Yet, because it has less buttons, and those buttons have a simple layout and tactile differences, I’m able to stay engaged with the interface (a TV, in this case). I’m able to complete the task more easily and, usually, faster.

At any rate, the experience of using the Apple TV remote is better. Why?

It’s not better simply because I’m in the interface more, which is an easy assumption to make. If the interface wasn’t relatively well-designed, it wouldn’t be better at all. In fact, it would probably be worse.

It’s better because that combination of control and interface has an effect: it makes me think about my Apple TV less.

Less Snags for Better UX

Great user experiences are often described as simple, easy, or intuitive. They feel effortless.

You can make your interface more modern or improve the layout of your content or simplify your navigation or make everything faster—and all of those are crucial. But, the bedrock of a great experience is the ability to have that experience without thinking about it too much while it’s happening. This is what creates the sensation of effortlessness.

To get there, you have to do two things: intimately understand the user’s task at hand and get yourself out of the way.

Jobs to Be Done

The two remotes I mentioned above are simply tools I employ on my way to completing a task: watching something. I don’t consciously set out to interact with the Apple TV or the screen or the remote as an end unto itself.

To remind ourselves of this, we have to employ tactics to help us take the focus off the tool and, instead, on the job that the tool is needed for. I’ve mentioned job stories before, and the mentality of understanding circumstances and motivation is crucial in delivering a truly great experience.

Consider another way I’ve heard this put:

When someone goes to hang a picture on the wall, they’ve got to use a nail and a hammer. They’ve got no choice but to use those tools. They might purchase the nail with built-in analytics and the hammer with Bluetooth for a variety of reasons, but they’re not really buying the tools—they’re buying a picture hanging on the wall. The things they need to get there should be easy to use and effective.

Just a Tool

One of the hardest parts of the jobs-to-be-done mentality is that we have to emotionally detach from the product or service we’ve built in order to truly understand its utility.

People don’t go to work every day excited to use Excel, though they might be excited about what they do with Excel each day.

By humbling our product back into the role of being hired to get something done, it’s much easier to seek out improvements that are truly beneficial. When you need a new idea or improvement to be at least 9x better for users to accept it willingly, don’t you need all the help you can get?

The excellent byproduct of this mentality is a never-ending backlog of snags—once you gain this perspective, you won’t be able to help but see all the little ways you get in peoples’ way. You thought you were already tough on your product! Just you wait. But that’s exactly the perspective that great designers take.

Where Innovation Happens

Not only do great designers take this perspective, but great companies do. If you think about it, this is where so much “disruption” happens. Innovation peels back the layers of an interaction and streamlines it.

Think of Uber and Lyft: plugging the gaps from problem to pleasant solution.

Or, consider the example Jared Spool often gives: newspapers. Craigslist has all but killed newspaper classifieds. Why?

With a newspaper, you:

  • Buy a newspaper (or have it delivered)
  • Go to the classifieds section
  • Scan
  • Read in detail
  • Call
  • Meet
  • Exchange

But, with Craigslist, you:

  • Visit Craigslist
  • Search
  • Read in detail
  • Call or email
  • Meet
  • Exchange

Steps are either removed or made easier. Airbnb is finding new ways to streamline a particular interaction that Craigslist offers. And so it goes.

Be great. Be simple. Be innovative. Create raving customers by being all about what they’re trying to do.

September 26, 2014 — Leave a comment — In Blog, CX, UX

On a frequent basis, we all try to complete a task online and get horribly frustrated. Forms are unintuitive, important pages are hidden, instructions are wrong—sites can be plain unhelpful.

When you have to force yourself through a task that’s valuable, but you have an unnecessarily difficult time, your bad experience can also give value to the people behind that website or service. As a UX Designer, I can tell you that clear, honest communication about what task was being worked on and why it was considered difficult is extraordinarily helpful and helps me make things better faster.

So, allow me to give you a boilerplate email that you can send that stands the best chance of creating change. Send it through a contact form for the company, or hunt down the best email you can find that might relate.

Not everyone will care, but I can promise you that this tone and level of detail will give your feedback the best chance of being heard and accepted.

Hello!

Please forward this message to your design/UX department responsible for [website/service].

Today, I was using [website/service], and I was trying to [task you were trying to complete]. I had more trouble than I think I should have. I hope this feedback might help you improve!

When I tried to [specific part of task], I was expecting to [define ideal experience for this part], but I ended up having trouble because [describe specific problem you noticed].

[Repeat the sentence above as many times as is needed. Try to be specific, but also try not to list more than 3-5 in this email.]

I [was/was not] able to complete all of what I came to do, but I believe some changes could make [task you were trying to complete] much easier for people like me.

If you have any questions, please feel free to reply to this email. I’m happy to help.

Thank you!

[Your Name]

This is a helpful format for two main reasons.

First, most people responsible for design/UX are interested in the dissonance between what someone expects to be able to do with ease and what they’re actually able to do. This can, oftentimes, be hard to measure without feedback. Structuring your feedback in a way that contrasts your expectations with reality helps a designer understand the situation quickly. It also lets them focus on your desired outcome, which is truly the most important thing to design for.

Second, a clear, but generally nice tone invites conversation. Quick, angry emails about how awful something was might get heard, but will lack the potential for true engagement and empowerment to make things better.

My hope is that having a boilerplate for you to come back to will help you avoid angry emails (or no email at all), so that you can send helpful ones instead. I encourage you to save this as a template in your email program and channel your frustration into feedback the next time your online experience is lacking.

June 6, 2014 — 2 Comments — In Blog, CX, Email, Research, Resources, UX

DeathtoStock_Wired5-w600In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had two distinct experiences with two WordPress related companies’ support systems. Neither one of them actually ended up in my problem being fixed, but the experiences of each were worlds apart.

I hope the contrast between them demonstrates how communication is the key to a great customer experience.

(I’m not naming names for plenty of reasons.)

Company #1

Pricing

The product is free, but additional functionality costs $50-100. I’ve purchased several of these, so I’m a “paying customer”.

Problem

The product is an app, basically, that runs on a server. I’d installed it on a local server (on my actual computer) because that’s an option in the documentation. It’s worked well for me for well over a year now. Then, the main functionality of the app suddenly stopped working. I tried plenty of troubleshooting on my own, but finally filed a ticket when I couldn’t figure it out.

Support

We went through a few troubleshooting steps that didn’t help. That’s to be expected—troubleshooting software bugs is hard.

Then, I didn’t hear back for a couple of days. Once a response came back, they apologized for the “unusual delay in response”, and said it was an issue that needed to be looked at more closely. They asked for my login information. I let them know it was hosted locally, so this wouldn’t help, and they offered some other troubleshooting ideas. I responded quickly to let them know the problem persisted. Still pretty reasonable at this point.

Then, a week went by with no response with me asking for updates every few days. Finally, ten days after the last response, I got another apology for the delay and a request to do a remote viewing session so they could help with my issue.

So, to recap so far: the main functionality of this product has been broken for weeks at this point. Remote sessions are arduous at times, but I needed the problem fixed. That’s when things got a bit sloppier.

Me: “Happy to set up a session if that’s what helps.”
Support: “Sure I am on [the name of some program, I guess?] now whats your credentials?”
Me: “What credentials?”
Support: “Your [they said the same thing again] credentials. Kindly download it from here. ” (They offered a link.)

Um, ok, sure, I’ll download software I’ve never heard of to get this solved. I sent the “credentials”, or what I believed to be such. I got no immediate response, and no specific time request. I asked several hours later if I sent the right thing.

Then, at 3:55am, a response was sent: “Yeah let me know when you are on to fix this :)”. Hmm. Well, probably not around 4am! I offered that I could be available during business hours, Eastern time. No response for three days.

The next response was an attempt to schedule a day and time—progress! I gave a date and time, around 1:30pm one day. No response. Then I got an apology the day after, in which crucial information was finally relayed to me:

That is midnight for us and I am sorry I could not make it yesterday.

This should have been stated up front. It’s crucial to me setting reasonable expectations. I’m a reasonable dude, and have zero issue with support being on the other side of the planet, but that information was nowhere in the process of filing a ticket or engaging with support.

They sent another response about a minute after this with the other crucial piece:

Just to let you know we normally never support local instances since its hard to really get people on the right time zone. I am just trying to help away from our company policies.

Friend, you should have told me that almost three weeks ago when I mentioned it was locally installed! While I appreciate the gesture, policies are in place for a reason. Had I been told it wasn’t supported (even though it’s listed as an option in their own docs), we’d have saved lots of time for both of us. I don’t want an unsupportable installation!

Solution

I just installed it on a remote server. Problem solved.

Seriously.

Company #2

Pricing

I pay annually for a license to use this plugin on multiple sites.

Problem

A client reported that the plugin was causing tons of duplicate posts to be created. The plugin’s developers heard this from plenty of customers and pushed a hotfix. Unfortunately, it didn’t fix my client’s issues, and there were now some other strange behaviors related to the plugin. It became a major annoyance for them as they rely heavily on it—I’d done some custom work integrating this plugin in the past to make their workflows better.

Support

First, I subscribed to their forum when I was having the same problem as lots of other customers. The company updated that forum post, and I received updates by email.

When their hotfix didn’t fix all my issues, I was able to contact them directly. They apologized for the inconvenience and started asking questions. We naturally went back and forth a bit to aid them in troubleshooting, but I never went more than two days without an email of some sort—even if it just said they were still working on it.

We exchanged emails for a couple of weeks. Yes, it was still a major issue, but I was being communicated with, so I knew what was being done at all times. All their questions were on point (i.e. no “have you tried unplugging the router?” stuff). I was looking for solutions as well.

Solution

Eventually, we figured out some of that customization I’d built no longer worked because of a major change to the plugin that I wasn’t aware of. They plainly stated that they would no longer be able to help, since my customization was now clearly the issue.

The Difference

Both companies were perfectly nice, but neither company solved my issue for me. And both of them failed to communicate a key bit of knowledge at some point:

  1. “While you can install our software locally, it’s not recommended, because we can’t support it due to time zone differences.”
  2. “This update to our plugin rearchitects things, so customizations may break.”

Yet, I’m still a raving fan of Company #2. Their communication failure came through not identifying outliers (like myself) when they made big changes, but they totally made up for it with communicative, helpful support. They set my expectations properly at every step along the way. When they bumped up against a company policy, they clearly stated what they could no longer help with and why.

I’d guess I fall pretty favorably on the “calm-and-reasonable scale” when it comes to support, but I’m certain that the principle remains the same for everyone: we’ve already contacted support because of a negative, unexpected experience; we don’t need the support experience to be negative and unexpected, too.

Don’t train your customers wrong. Be clear about your policies, and most of your customers will understand. Be communicative, and set expectations. Follow through. Turn support into a positive experience where everyone learns.

May 16, 2014 — 2 Comments — In Blog, Business, CX