June 28, 2013

How much do users REALLY want to know about your product?

BY Shirley Robinson IN Sales and Marketing 0 Comment

A little learning is a dangerous thing;

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:

There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,

And drinking largely sobers us again.

-Alexander Pope, beginning of part 2 of “An Essay on Criticism”

Pope’s observation about a little learning being “a dangerous thing” could be the motto of the Internet in general, what with our rapid access to mountains of tidbits on every imaginable subject. Today, though, we’re going to talk about something a bit more specific, something that’s a constant issue for software companies, among others: what’s the “right” amount of information to share with customers about product developments?

In democratic cultures, people feel obligated to pass judgment–to voice their vote–even if they aren’t always sure what it all means. And that great knowledge leveler, the Internet, makes people feel empowered to make decisions they would have previously relied on experts for. And democracy and the Internet are great things! One of their greatest benefits is the level of accountability they create in companies.

However, all this actionable information can cause a lot of anxiety (see Barry Schwartz on “the paradox of choice”, which could also be thought of as “the paradox of more information”). It’s also a behavioral development that, when you’re providing such information, you have to be prepared to react to and design around. Plus, different products will have different audiences, so one size is not likely to fit all. But for each situation, there is bound to be a good balance between “Why are you telling me all this?” and “Why does this look so different all of a sudden?”.

How much is too much?

What customers can teach you through their behavior

The standard framework for technological change management has been the installed software model, where changes are saved up over time and then released together as a new version. But when it comes to a SaaS product like ours, there’s a constant trickle of tweaks and improvements, some minor and some major.

When we designed our public changelog, we wanted to be concise, but provide enough detail that an average user could understand what kind of change has been implemented, and how it might affect him/her. We also created a process to inform users individually their ideas led directly to a change. All in all, we were pretty proud of ourselves and imagined that people were eating it up.

But guess what: we discovered that, although the changelog in our version 2 beta is enabled by default on the dashboard, most users disable it. All that carefully phrased information we thought was so interesting and vital turns out to be little more than a distraction to most users. This is true even though they’re all beta users, who as a rule are particularly tech-savvy and proactive. So what does this mean? Likely it means that most people value a pleasant, consistent experience that doesn’t make them sweat the small stuff. On the other hand, being open is extremely important to us, so we think a within-system changelog updated regularly is worth having, even if it goes largely unseen.

What do you think? What do you find is the best way to communicate ongoing technical updates (or ongoing product information in general) to customers?

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