Customers are engaged throughout the lifecycle of your product. Before you ever release a product they are speculating, spreading rumors, and squeezing information from job openings or press releases.
It’s obvious that when you release they spread first impressions like a convoy of truckers across the series of tubes. As adoption matures they are seeking support, tips, tricks and want to feel general connected to your marketing. Finally, it’s the customers, long after you’ve deserted support for your product, that are holding their own memorial services.
Here, if you will, is that cycle looks like from the customer perspective if you are not engaged with them throughout…
Don’t be Santa Claus. Sure, everyone loves Santa, but you CAN NOT be Santa to your customers because:
- He only shows up once a year… when your product releases.
- You have a wait in a long line to talk to him
- He’s out there for the pictures like some sort of cheap publicity stunt.
- You get to make a few requests, but you don’t know which ones will be met… he likes to surprise you instead.
- Sometimes you get socks & a science kit… you wanted Nintendo. These other things don’t delight.
- To paraphrase a line from Chasing Amy; “He’s a figment of your imagination. “
Simply put… Santa isn’t committed to forming connections that really last with you. So what are the signs that you are playing Santa for your customers?
- Taking the “if you build it they will come” approach. Only Steve jobs can get away with that. Your name isn’t Steve Jobs. It’s a good thing Steve delivers a Super Nintendo, games, & a Gameboy every year.
- Your marketing team sets up a blog to create buzz. In this case Santa probably came early. You get some early victories, but you neglected to realize that every marketing community is ALSO a support community. I don’t care if you set up blogs, forums, youtube videos, or a facebook page… your marketing community is a place people are going to go for support after you release if you don’t take it down. There is no worse marketing you can have than a bunch of unanswered customer questions after release on your own site. At least Santa comes twice a year now.
- Your support team creates support forums to reduce ROI. Great, you’ve got an enlightened support organization. They realized the value of pushing answers online towards building mindshare that someone has the customers back. On it’s own… now Santa shows up twice a year… but he’s staying longer since the support/tips phase is (ideally) the longest phase of your products lifespan. BTW – Tell him you wanted a wiki to push all those answers to while he’s there.
- The product team runs a beta program. Awesome, Santa showed up to listen and hopefully you didn’t have a stand in line too long. He’s still only showing up for 2 out of the 5 phases. Give him some of that coal back while he’s there. You shouldn’t put up with it as a customer on it’s own.
- You just hire Batman. Who doesn’t like Batman? These are people that take customer issues into their own hands and press you towards progress. Comcast has a couple of vigilanties on Twitter. The trick is figuring out what do do when Batman retires. How do you make those efforts sustainable & ensure one person doesn’t become the face of your company?
- You try and hold your own memorial service. You should be so lucky that long after you want to stop supporting your product there are customers still using it. Microsoft has tried this a few times with older versions of Windows. An early memorial without a great “next step” is just going to frustrate some of your most loyal (albeit slow adopting) customers. Repeat after me… “I will not call my customers dinosaurs and try and force their extinction”
Doing some of the above on it’s own is better than doing nothing, but the best approaches are going to consider what’s done for each phase. You need to be talking early & often (even if it’s with only a few people), making customers feel like part of the hype, making sure the 1st impressions are killer, supporting them, and even holding memorials for your own product & communities dedicated to it so they can live on forever.
What does this look more like?
This way your customers have a connection to you at every phase and, conversely, you are learning from them to improve your marketing, products, support, etc because someone can tie all of those things together inside and outside of the firewall.
Your smart. I know what you are thinking. “Hey, all of those things are still imaginary!” Yup, keeping everyone engaged in your product lifecycle involves some special people that are capable of igniting customer imagination even if they are all “humans being” on the inside.