Part of being a technologist is getting to work with cool new products and solutions.  However, for every shiny and blinking device I get my grubby hands on,  there is a bevvy of baggage that accompanies it.   It tends to tarnish the promise of the new gotta-have-it Post tool.  Most of these blemishes can be avoided.  Manufacturers, here’s how.

Presentations

I’m frequently in many, many meetings about new products, features, and road maps from our favorite manufacturers.  An overwhelming percentage of these are plagued by the traditional death by PowerPoint: too small of font, too many words, and slides that are as congested.  Our head spins, we begin to check email, and we politely ask for a copy of the presentation on a USB memory stick…which we never look at.  Want to avoid this?  Read up on Guy Kawasaki and basic 10-20-30 rule.

Boring Presentation

The only thing missing is someone staring at their smart phone.

Unfortunately, a poor presentation typically coincides with a lack of enthusiasm towards the product.  Here’s a tip:  The product that you make a living from is sold by the very people in this meeting.  If you aren’t excited by your product, if you don’t believe in your product, then why on earth would anyone in this boardroom want to push your solution? If you don’t inspire us – get us passionate about your product, how are we going to inspire those we sell too?  We’re not.  This widget came from a notion within the 4 walls of your employer to fill a need in the industry.  Countless hours and dollars have been spent getting this widget ready for market.  Now, your job is to take it to the next phase – get it into the community, and yet you shoot yourselves in the foot by failing to engage the very people who will accomplish that.  It’s like training for a marathon, and getting blind stinking drunk the night before the big day.

Do we need you to pull a Steve Ballmer? No.  But Ben Stein is worse.

Support

Do: Have an online presence to address concerns – daily.  Product problems and complaints are viral.  Don’t kid yourselves that at the first sign of a tech issue, people Google it.  Have a forum.  Have a live chat. This in turn reduces the manpower on the phones: solutions are available virtually.

Do: Be transparent with the end users.  Foster confidence in the brand.  If a customer complains of an issue that has clearly been seen before – fess up.  We’d much rather hear “Yes, we’ve heard reports of this and we are working toward’s a solution” than “No, I’ve never heard of this”, when it’s described many places online.  Again, today’s tech consumer now is much more savvy & informed and has probably researched the problem – and seen others with the issue.

Do: Have enough people to man the phones.

Do: return calls in a timely fashion.  If you make a promise to return a client call – do so.

Your hold time is currently the first half of the 20th century. Please hold.

Your hold time is currently the first half of the 20th century. Please hold.

Do: Cross train your support staff to understand other components in the workflows.  Most likely, your widget with interface with someone else’s widget, and you’ll earn big points with at least some cursory knowledge of where your product lands in the scheme of things.

Do: Have documentation.  Release notes, gotchas, and as obvious as it seems: Manuals – the day the product ships.  In addition, guides: How to do common tasks; a visual FAQ.  If possible, video walk-throughs.

Do: Have some tolerable on hold music.  Muzak, cuts from Shreddin’ Steve from the mail-room’s band, or the same 3 songs on repeat – do not make for a tolerable on hold experience.  To this day, I cannot listen to Talk by ColdPlay or Dani California by Red Hot Chili Peppers because Avid had them on repeat as on hold music.  What about tips and tricks while on hold?  Personalized messages about the company?  A word from the CEO?  If hold times are long: variation is the key.

Do: if you’re a software company, invest in remote access.  Team Viewer, or another web based service that allows you to log in to a users computer.  This would save hours of back and forth emails.

Do: if you’re a hardware company, have advanced replacement.  If the finances do not justify this in all cases – then have a plan in case for mission critical or unruly clients.  Be the superhero to the client.

Odds and Ends

Competitive Analysis: This is more on the sales side, but your product is one of dozens or hundreds that your VAR (Value Added Reseller) is going to sell.  You’re expecting someone outside of your company to single out and memorize your specs, plus decipher your corporate Excel doublespeak?  Years ago, I worked for a VAR  that began selling a storage solution.  The product, by our technical standards, was sub par and by all estimations, a poor product.  But for almost a year, our company sold them hand over fist compared to other solutions.  Why?  The price list and product guide were the easiest to read.  Yes – it was easy for the reps to decide why this product was better than others – they understood it.  Matrices with competitive analysis and comparisons – enables the forward facing part of your sales force to “get” it.

Synchronicity: Each year at IBC or NAB, we’re teased with the promise of new features and widgets guaranteed to make our lives easier.  And every year, these products either ship late, or on-time but in an almost unusable fashion.  The engineering and management timetables need to be in sync.  Feed off the NAB buzz and ship…otherwise you’re losing momentum.

Quality:  Believe it or not, we understand bugs will be there.  Any professional who uses technology to put food on the table realizes no software is perfect.  That’s why allowing for more than a week of beta testing is *probably* a good notion.  Tie this in with the aforementioned synchronicity, and you have a cornerstone of an excellent product launch. In addition, if your Support infrastructure is solid,  this can offset some shortcomings on the initial quality of the product.  We’re a hellova lot more understanding of a software glitch if someone attentively addresses my concerns.

Marketing: get a handle on Marketing people.  If your slogan is “We convert everything and anything”, but have a laundry list of things you don’t convert, you’re lying.  Don’t have the term “3G” in your product name if the product name doesn’t do 3G.  See where I’m going here?

To paraphrase Denis Leary, I can’t believe I have to get angry about this shit. 

What say you?  What do you think manufacturers need to know to have a better relationship with Mr / Ms. Customer?