“If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me ‘A faster horse’” — Henry Ford
Saying no to your customers is an art. And saying no while giving them what they want, and doing what is right for your product, takes some genius. Consider this, most start-ups jump headlong into the idea of adding a new feature to their product. We see the consequences of this everywhere — mobile phones with bigger screens but compromised battery life, washing machines with a zillion settings where the basic controls for washing lie buried, toasters with prominent LCD displays but questionable toasting abilities.
Conventional wisdom dictates that acceding to all customer requests is the easiest way to keep them happy. But your product is designed to address a specific customer pain point. If you are adding features which don’t contribute to the solution, you are wasting time and resources. Your product is worse and your customers, unhappy.
This is what we stand for
Every customer you acquire will need features not present in your current set of offerings. While this leads to iterations that make your product better, it can also lead to featuritis and overcomplicate the product.
Before embarking on any feature addition or iteration to your product, answer the following existential questions:
- What is the core problem your product seeks to solve?
- What is your overall product philosophy?
- Do you know how your customers use your product?
- What are the most popular features and how can you make them better?
Listen to your customer, give them a short-term alternative but tackle the underlying principle behind the problem long-term.
The devil is in the detail
Broadly there are 3 scenarios where features get added to a product.
1. New feature
New feature requests need to be taken seriously. Begin by asking the most basic question- Does your customer really need this feature? Then examine the other details — the time it will take to implement the feature, the upside (other than making this customer happy) and the maintenance cost involved. If the feature is not core to your product and takes substantial time to build, look for a short term work around for the customer.
If the feature is core to your product, hack it into the system, iron out the features, workflows and bugs. But make sure the hack is easily removable from the system. Show it to your other customers also and see if they are interested. If most of your customers are not interested, slowly remove the feature from the system, but try and retain it for the customer who requested for it.
2. New custom user-flow or end result
If your user is asking for a totally new user-flow or an end result, step back and think. Build a mock, talk to other customers and see if fits the bill for them as well. In most cases it won’t. B2B changes in the workflow mean additional costs for your customer in terms of training, documentation and support.
The way to deal with this is to build out systems that can accept custom flows. We faced a similar situation at Compile a while back. All our customers use CSV exports which are core to the workflow. The caveat is each customer had customized headings, fields and routing parameters attached to the exports. They also had existing systems which required specific fields and titles and asking them to change those would have disrupted the workflow, decreased productivity and skyrocketed costs. We got requests for different types of exports every week. This is how we tackled it.
- First we handled each request on a case by case basis, by handcrafting the exports.
- Next we understood the common parameters involved in all of them.
- Then we decided on a common and generic export as a default for everyone.
- Later we built a plugin system which created customer specific exports from the generic ones.
The end result: Our customers were happy, there was no bad implementation and the flow we have come up with is scalable.
3. Custom integration
This is usually the most time consuming. It involves the customers needing an integration of products and apps with their existing systems. This is core to their workflow but the time to implement at your end can be very high.
Usually a good practice is to wait till you hear more customers asking for integrations, understand the market leaders with whom you need to integrate, and take a hard call on the top 3 vendors. This will occupy 80-85% of the market share for integrations you need to do.
Most start-ups assume their products are closer to perfection when customers don’t want any more features added to them. That’s far from the truth. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery said,
“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
This post first appeared on Compilations.