Can Product Bugs Make your Business Stronger?

As a startup, you fight for every deal you make. You’re working night and day to get the product ready for its first round of customers.

Even before the product is truly ready, you start trying to sell it.

You finally get a bite; someone’s interested in your product!

They put in their credit card, start the free trial, and then the worst case scenario happens — they find a bug. Not just a small preference thing, a monumental bug that is paramount to your service or product.

As a technical founder, you have nightmares of this.

You panic as you read a distraught email from the new prospect. This new customer, that took you weeks or maybe even months to acquire, is on the verge of churning.

As quickly as you can read the email, you begin drafting up a response to signal that you’re on the case, investigating the bug.

Within an hour, you’ve released a fix and inform the new customer.

Lo and behold, they’re pleasantly surprised by the quick turn around and write a raving review about your product and your team.

In bewilderment and with great joy, you wonder, “what just happened?”

We come across this scenario all the time. Our platform isn’t buggy, but on average, we release a new feature every week, so it’s inevitable that some bugs will make it out to the public.

So here are my thoughts on how to handle the situation to turn a doubtful prospect to a championing customer.

1. Be Prompt and Show Gratitude

When someone discovers a bug that pains them enough to email you, they’re likely pretty frustrated at the moment. Letting those thoughts fester by not responding right away can make the situation drastically worse.

Respond swiftly and give a timeline.

If you know what the fix is and how long it will take, let them know when you will release a fix (be generous to ensure you underpromise and overdeliver).

If you need to investigate more, tell them you’re looking into it now and will circle back in x hours when you have an answer.

Show gratitude and don’t be apologetic (in most situations).

Thanking someone for finding a difficult bug makes them feel like they did something powerful, and they did, they helped you improve the product.

On the flip side, being apologetic often backs you into a corner and further validates their suspicions about a faulty product or team. Stop saying sorry.

2. Be Transparent

If you’ve read Geoffrey Moore’s book, Crossing The Chasm, you should be familiar with the distinction between early adopters and early majority.

In the early days of a startup, you’re selling to the early adopters. And you’re often selling equal parts product and vision.

Early adopters understand that they’re taking a risk by trying the latest and greatest product. They’re often okay dealing with some bugs or hiccups in exchange for the grand vision.

However, they’re not okay with bullshit. Generally speaking, they value transparency and want a clear vision into what is going on.

With that being said, be transparent about the issue they’re facing. In other words, own your mistakes.

Don’t try to play it off as user error or browser issues.

The reality is, no matter the size of the company, bugs are inevitable and how you handle the situation is vastly more important.

3. Maintain the Relationship

When you only have a handful of customers, let’s call it 25 loyal customers, the relationship between you and the customer is the most important thing you have.

To build a business that scales, you need advocates that will champion for you and help spread your product like wildfire.

Often the hardest part about building that relationship is bridging the initial gap. Getting the customer to have an open dialog with you can be difficult.

After fixing a bug, it’s crucial that you maintain an open line of communication with that customer. Follow up periodically to see how things are going.

Explicitly ask for feedback or feature requests. And I don’t mean sending out an automated survey. Be personal — call, email, or text them.

Relationships are like plants and they need nurturing. The more effort and time you put into serving a customer and making their experience truly enjoyable, the more they will begin to talk about your product, and you will be amazed by what can follow.