The unfolding story of how the New York Times’ negative review of the Tesla Model S may have actually been faked is a cautionary tale for software vendors. Basically, there is enough instrumentation and feedback built into the Tesla S that Elon Musk was able to “shred” the review, as Dan Frommer writes. The graphical plot of exactly what was happening with annotations is particularly damning:
It’ll be fascinating to see how the NYT responds. Hard to imagine how they do anything but investigate Broder and ultimately move him along elsewhere. To do much else would imply very little journalistic integrity.
My question for you is that since you’re reading this blog and are likely somehow involved in high tech hardware or software at some level, how does your product compare in terms of how well it can monitor what your users are doing with your product?
I’m fascinated with the idea of closing the feedback loop for the good of customers. Yes, it’s great Musk can catch the NYT in a bogus review, and perhaps you will catch a reviewer too, but the potential for improving your customer’s experience is of much greater value to your product. This may seem like a Big-Company-Only idea, but I’m pursuing it with a vengeance for my SaaS bootstrap company (CNCCookbook) because I need precise feedback that pinpoints where I can do the most good for my users with the scarce resources I have available. I can tell you from experience that the tools are available and straightforward. You can have the data for very little effort invested.
The next thing I am after is to automate responses to that data. I’ve been reading the blog of a company called Totango with some interest. They essentially want to provide SaaS automation for a Customer Success team. Various folks have written about the importance of Customer Success and I’m also a big believer. My thoughts at this point are to start out relatively simple. I want to understand the early lifecycle of my products and be able to trigger automated actions based on that cycle. For example:
Step 1: Installation
Monitor the first time the customer has successfully logged into the product. Offer increasing amounts of help via emails once a day until they achieve this milestone. The emails can start with self-service help resourcs of various kinds and eventually escalate to offering a call or help webinar. The goal is to get the customer properly installed.
Step 2: Configuration
This seems like part of installing, but in fact there is significant post installation configuration needed for CNC Manufacturing software. Same sort of thing: provide daily emails with increasing levels of help until the system determines that the user has properly configured the system. Also, this is an opportunity to collect information. We provide canned configuration for the most common cases and finding out what the next tranche of cases to target should be is very helpful.
Step 3: The Path to Power Usage
It’d be great if everyone who signed up for our 30 day free trial actually got to see and understand all of the features that set our product apart. I’ve seen some other products like Dropbox (Full disclosure: they give me another 250MB of storage if you use that link and then sign up. If you’d rather I didn’t get the extra storage, use this link instead. If you sign up, they’ll give you a link where you can get 250MB free too.) walk customers through a usage maturity exercise. They’ve somewhat gamified it by giving out some of their “currency” in the form of extra storage if you complete the tasks. My goals here would be to get everyone to see as many of our unique functions as possible during the 30 day trial.
Step 4: The Holy Grail: Referrals
If all this goes well, the customer gets through the Trial, understands the unique capabilities of our products, and likes the product well enough to buy it, then the final stage in this incarnation is to ask them to refer others they know who might like the product.
That’s a pretty simple roadmap for how to create some closed-loop feedback of telemetry and drip email that improves your customer’s experience. So I’ll ask again:
Is your company setup to monitor your users as successfully as Tesla monitors its drivers? Why not? I’ve used a lot of software where it is pretty clear they’re not monitoring much at all. I’ve even talked to some of them to encourage change, and they seem receptive.
If you have a story about what sort of work along these lines you’re doing, please share it in the comments below. I’m very curious. I think we have the potential to personalize the experience for our customers like never before.