A few weeks ago my good friend Jon Hodgson was visiting me over the weekend (my previous posting Visiting With a Performance Tuning Guru has more details). We spent a good deal of time getting caught up on the details of what we have been working on recently…the kind of catching up that you can only do in person regardless of how often you talk on the phone). We also spent a good deal of reminiscing about the past and how the experiences we had when we worked together at Resonate still affect us today. The keys to technology loyalty and success were one of those experiences.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of working with Jon is familiar with his signature phrase when dealing with technology features: “Someone who was raised by wolves would know better!”. He used to use this phrase a lot while we were at Resonate working on the early versions of Central Dispatch and Commander. We were constantly providing feedback to product management and engineering (sometimes you have to cut to the source to get stuff done) about the little things in the products that annoyed our customers and us [Pre-Sales] Systems Engineers. (The intrinsic link between a stellar systems engineer and customers is something that most companies tend to not understand or at least not give adequate credit to.)
We agreed that those early experiences reinforced by our experiences since are the source of our shared belief that these little usability items are what create and help sustain technology loyalty amongst users. Users can and will usually overlook small usability issues during the early stages of a product. But if those issues don’t get resolved or fixed as the product grows and matures, you eventually end up with death by a thousand paper cuts.
These small items can be as basic as user understandable configuration names instead of techie/programmer like names. Configurations that are intrinsic in nature; help that is there to explain it in detail if it’s not; or small little UI features that save time. One of Jon’s that I really agree with is that a product should be easy to install (and I add easy to configure in our new Web 2.0 world).
For most tools, if a user can’t get your product up and running within 15 minutes you most likely already lost the sale. We are all busy; what should they expect from a product that wastes their time with a bad install? Most of the time users won’t waste more time to find out. This extends into the configuration of service based applications. If I can’t get basic functionality up and configured within 15 minutes, it’s too long. Sure, there can be more advanced features, but keep them hidden until I ready for them.
In today’s social based technology world, this is even more important. There are numerous web based applications that I hear real users willing to sing the praises of because of how easy they are to configure or use. With every product out there having multiple competing products vying for attention (many of them free or open source), customer loyalty and involvement with the product is key.
It still amazes me how few technology companies really understand this.