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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Escalation that wasn't

Escalation that wasn't - is a false alarm. Raised by customer and escalated by friend’s next door (customer care) to top executives as business critical bulge. This falls as lighting on engineering, who then keep aside all planned activities to look into this. Although engineering maintains limited buffer for such unplanned activities, and most of the time ensures release on plan but lighting like this leaves certain impact that results in loss of productivity, compromise on quality or if nothing else then at least causes distractions from roadmap. And worst, engineering assessment of escalation is a known limitation or a known issue with version that customer is using, probably an workaround solution is already covered in release documents.

While engineering may struggle to find an answer to such situations, it is up to the Product Manager to minimize such distractions. The mystery of escalations that wasn’t is solved by ensuring proper programs on educating the users (end user, Tier x support, marketing, and customer care) on product usage. So how different it is from regular NPI process. Why and how could this objective be achieved?

Well, the training (as part of NPI or independent process) is largely held either during a product launch, or when a new deal is signed / renewed or on could be on customer request. Most of the times these trainings have contents like videos, audios, large documents etc which probably are never referred again or simply not good enough to highlight Do's and Don'ts or Is, Is Not of the product usage. Emphasis on trivial things gets lost in understanding the solution set.

Educating the users (periodically) has two very important advantages;
  1. It reduces pain points for engineering
  2. It improves the product image

Some of the ways to ensure proper product usage or educating the customer could be;

Insulate Installation:
Make software installation more robust. Let the installer be intelligent enough to check for exact pre-requisites, eg Service Packs, specific driver version etc. and conflicting application, if any.

Product tips on login:
Customer should be advised with tips as and when he/ she logs in to your application. Such tips are optional and can be turned-off by user. So you as a Product Manager need not to worry of customer complaining of annoyance.

Quick reference note / do's and don'ts:
They are available on end user machine and can be popped through your application on a single click. Whenever a user hits an issue / error situation, he gets a pop asking to refer specific section in help file or a release document.

Bench marking:
Eg. The software takes 60 secs to launch when connected to internet and 30 secs when your computer is not attached to a network. Such benchmarking helps setting the right expectation. These are important as they directly impact the user response behavior and product image. They also improve moment of truth for your product / service.

Escalation tools:
Ensure that you have clearly defined escalation path. Escalation is accepted only with some bare minimal information such as OS flavors, Service Packs, logs, registry information etc. Make your tools validate the escalation content first before it goes to top. For eg. Software ver 3.5 is certified only on Windows XP and Mac while software version 4.0 is certified on Windows XP, Vista and Mac. Now if an escalation is raised for 3.5 on Vista the tool manages on its own.

You as product owner can possible think of more and better options to manage such escalations. While whatever may the method be, Product Managers must always remember that your users (customers) can be your best salesman. Educate them and keep them informed on regular updates.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Post Recession: are you ready?

Recession is all set to go. Are you ready to grab the opportunities that may spur the sinking market. The situation is like that in a Formula 1 racing. The safety car comes on after a crash, slows down the pace and now it has switched off the lights. Drivers know that it’s going out at the end of the lap and the drivers are all set to whoosh. That’s what happens in Formula 1 racing, but in business world, the drivers are business leaders who should take position and decide on strategy when the race resumes. So are you really ready to do a Whoosh-Whoosh when market comes up. So how is your organization placed, are your products ready to hit the recovering market or you still hoping to piggy pack on someone else’s growth.

Some of the essentials of resuming from slow down are covered in this article. While you as business leader are best placed to decide strategy for your business, points mentioned below are pillars of success for today.

1. Refresh the brand button
Your presence and a message that you have indeed survived a hurricane must truly be felt and acknowledged by market. It’s important that your brand and product are part of discussions and are being evaluated by buyers. If you are sure that the industry you are in has bottomed out then this is the moment to press refresh button. Remember it’s important that every buyer of who intends to purchase a product / service you offer, evaluate you and realizes that you are still in the game.

2. Price moderate
This is the opportunity to get on your mark and not sprint. Keeping prices very low are generally viewed as stock clearance sale of old fashioned goods or could also be attributed to sale of goods with manufacturing defects or if you are in some kind of service industry then quality of service offered is doubted. Also, you might me heading for an head on collision if you see this as an opportunity to recover your losses in slow down. Remember markets are showing up signs of improvement (bottomed out) and are not in growth stage.While you choose a price for your product / service, market has already decided a price band they are ready to look in for.

3. Ping old friends
Establishing a new trust relation in present market situation is tough. Customers are more than wise to choose an unknown angel. Moreover since the situation is little better than skeptical, people would like to have safe game. The last thing a buyer would like to do today is change their established relation, service or choice of brand. Existing customers and relations are best place for newer opportunities.

4. Focus on complementing rather than competing
Collaboration is the best way to go forward. You can expect more business to come in when your start focusing on complementing. In Stephen Coveys language, you start thinking win-win. Not just the result but think win-win or when you start thinking for collaborating, you start experiencing positive energy and an create a friendly, preferred and trustworthy image of your brand. By doing this you don’t surrender or pull out of completion, but take yourself to a different level of competition.

5. Retain talent
Last but not least. When you start getting orders you need people to fulfill these commitments. You have very little scope of error and this is the time when you must rely on your best and long serving talent to help you complete the task successfully. Value people who have been with you and who knows your business. Have your talent motivated to take this feeble opportunities and convert them in to big wins.

Key economies in ASIA have already started showing the signs of improvement. Japan, South Korea, China, India, Hong Kong, and Singapore have already expressed positive signs. In Europe Germany and France are recovering quick. All eyes are now on US market and rest of the key economies in other regions. The sprint is about to begin, be on your mark and be ready to do a whoosh-whoosh.