Sunday, 1 May 2011

Product Features are not research materials

Ani [Our Sr. Dev team member] and me had a conversation this weekend over our 129th release. The topic evolved on how we released a small but smart feature that can help our customers do something very easily. However Ani triggered something that I cannot stop myself from writing. "We have so many small and useful features, most of users don't know about" I agreed, I agreed because the type of questions I receive from our Customer Services team reveal that there are a huge bunch of features that our customers(both internal and external) don't even know, don't even see'em.

I think one of the key element to the success of any product is the ability of that product to reveal what a user can do to save time and which features he can use. Most of the times the development team is aware of all those twisty features that the end users are not aware of. If you get set yourself on your product you would realise tons of features un-used just because they are not easily accessible to users and they dont know how to use it.

Take an example of Facebook if your news feed is bombarded by those Daily Horoscope feed items from some of your crazy friends who think that the Horoscope really falls true or who access it as one of their friends clicked it over or they enabled it out of ignorance and do not know it is spamming others you don't have an easy way to know to stop it. You have to take your cursor to a particular position and then click on a X button to avail actions and then perform a block [Freaky isn't it?]

So what do you need to do to make your product feature and feature knowledge RICH?

Here are some thoughts....

1. Make functions available at easily accessible place
If they are not available where your eye or sight can reach, its going to be useless. People cannot use a 500 page help document to find out about a feature they don't know about. Bring it to their sight and let them search for the answer or ask you about it.

2. Product needs to have a glossary so curious users can go and find things by themselves.
I always found a glossary useful. For most of the articles / books I read I prefer running my eye over the glossary once when I am in the middle of reading and once when I am towards end to figure out if there are certain terms and items that I haven't missed out.

3. Conduct frequent webinars from development staff to make people aware of features.
Developers are the key source to knowledge of product. An answer that I can get from YN or YT or Rupali or Vijay are not the answers I can find in help file or product documentation. These can be small tips , tricks and usage stance. Frequent webinars on different features make it easy for users to join out of curiosity and learn about features. Of course this brings your development unit closer to the customer questions and understandings. I am highly impressed with the amount of webinars done by Oracle on their Autovue platform, 3 sessions I attended and I already know that there is a easy way of clustering servers that we are not using at the moment.

4. Wiki features - Make the wiki available at right places
A product wiki is the most cool thing to have. Believe me a lot of problems , questions , calls and significant resource wastage can be avoided if you a product bible that can be filled in the wiki.

5. Provide help tips at all possible places.
Those little bubbles out there, can help increase curiosity levels and in turn product usage.

6. Create a feature feedback module
Do you ask if you find our search better? You may know the answer but you may also know what critical elements are missing in your search that your customers want. When can this help? Well imagine you put all your efforts to build a full new user interface just to learn that your customers are OK with what you have, they just wanted a effective color on the UI.

7. Iteratively initiate surveys that are real time and reaches specific high usage users not administrators only
Most surveys on products are done with administrative users, sometimes end users. It is quite important to involve users who login the most and/or use the feature most to provide feedback . This will definitely help building a good product vision.

8. Maintain feature usage stats, so you know where to put efforts on.
Do you have it? No..... Go do it. if you know your product is a content dump, you may as well improve the storage / retrieval part of it ;)

So over and over I have to say and conclude that no matter what your product is and how hugely successful it is... there are tons of features that the end users are not aware of and it may be hurting your revenues. Go figure out a way to let them know what they have in the right way, and yes... First Train your internal people.