By Fraser Deans
The web app your customers are using today is not the product they will be using in six months time. Product teams are accustomed to rapid product development: deploying several times a day, constantly pushing out improvements. Likewise consumers are familiar with rapidly changing software and often expect it. But in this world of rapid releases are we at risk of leaving the customer behind? Are we in danger of doing a Microsoft, where only a tiny percentage of users ever discover even a small fraction of the features?
Clear effective communication about changes to your software is more important than ever: ensuring users are informed about what has changed, why it’s better for them and how they can make the most of it. Taking a proactive approach to customer education has a number of downstream benefits too. Customer support will not have to deal with wasted queries like “is it possible to do X?”. Customer success will not have to explain new features they wish to use in a success plan.
Sending out an email after a major product update to your users has become common place. Usually they contain some sales spiel and screenshots of your new fancy UI. Hell, you might even have budget to create some videos for the update.
But with continuous development we need tools and services that constantly aid with customer education. In our experience it is the features you don’t expect that put the biggest smile on our customers faces – the ones you don’t usually have a big song and dance about.
So if you’re only sending out emails about your BIG product updates but it’s your small product updates that you aren’t telling your customers about that will make them delighted, you’re missing delighting a huge chunk of your customers and risking business.
And when you’re risking business, that’s when customer education becomes so much more important. Let’s take the world of SaaS (software-as-a-service). SaaS business generally work on a monthly or annual subscription basis. If you aren’t delighting your customers they make think twice about renewing the next time renewal comes up.
It’s crucial that your customers are able to extract the value from your services to achieve success. If they don’t know about the new relevant feature you launched how will they use it.
There are a number of techniques for educating your customers after product updates. Emails are most common. They are low-cost and easy to send out to many people. Often companies will use email to send out more resources to explain the updates which include screenshots, PDFs or even videos. Videos are effective at explaining new product updates, however when we’re talking about regularly (potentially weekly) communications to your customers, regularly producing high quality videos can be time consuming and expensive. Thats where other showing vs telling techniques come into their own.
Animated GIFs have seen a comeback in the last few years. MailChimp used them very effectively to communicate their product updates. Tools like Gyazo make it very quick and easy to capture a simple UI interaction in a GIF which you can then distribute however you wish.
Another problem with email is their ephemeral nature. They’ll exist in your inbox for a short time before being deleted and new customers won’t learn about useful product updates. What’s needed are resources with greater permanence. Blogs or knowledge bases work well for this: self-service resources that can be indexed by search engines (SEO), searched and viewed when your customers need them.
Interactive how-to guides are a very effective way to educate your customers about major and minor product updates. Services such as Nickelled make building interactive how-to guides amazingly simple for anyone on your team: customer success agents, product managers, marketers. And they last as long as you need.
Both animated GIFs and standalone interactive how-to guides can be distributed in any way you wish: copied into an email, posted in a forum, added to a live chat conversation. Their flexibility is what makes them powerful.
In addition, some interactive how-to guide services also let you run guides inside your web application. This means you can show your customers new product features when they login, right in the context of the application: education on rails.
So, are you still sending emails to educate users after major product updates?
Hopefully. Consider educating your customers about the smaller features that don’t fall into major product updates too. Start utilising more engaging customer education tools that show your customers how to make to the most from new minor features.