December 5, 2016

Product Launches: Expect the Best But Prepare for the Worst

When a startup launches a new product, optimism rules the day. Everyone expects the product is welcomed with open arms,  positive experiences and enthusiastic media coverage.
But what if the launch stumbles? What if the product fails to meet expectations? What if some customers struggle to install or use the product? What if it pales compared with existing products?
The reality is that pleasing every customer is impossible.


Some products are flawed or broken. Some customers have unrealistic expectations. Some customers need hand-holding to figure things out.
It means startups need contingency plans to prepare for the worst, while still hoping and expecting for the best.
They need to explore the different scenarios to create a well-articulated plan to deal with problems. By being ready, startups can move quickly and, hopefully, turn unhappy customers into happy or quasi-happy customers.
I’m walking through this situation with a client launching a hardware product early next year. For months, the company has been focused on getting the product manufactured to meet a growing number of pre-sale orders.
But with the launch just over the horizon, I started to ask questions about how to deal with potential problems. What happens, for example, if 5% of the hardware units don’t work? What is the fallout if some customers struggle to install the hardware, even though it is a simple process?
The more questions  I asked, the more my client understood it needs an action plan to satisfy all the angles. As a result, we’re creating several flow charts to cover potential scenarios.
Here’s a rough flowchart that addresses three different types of customers:
Unhappy customers who receive a product that doesn’t work because it has a problem or the customer struggles to make the product work. When a product is defective, the options include: repair, exchange or refund. This approach is grounded by empathetic customer service that has everything to do with the customer always being right, even when they’re wrong.
When a company is empathetic, an unhappy customer can, in time, become less unhappy or even happy. You are telling a customer their problems are recognized and you will work to address the situation. It is an effective way to defuse situations that could easily be exacerbated if you’re not proactive, engaged and willing to listen to a customer’s issue.
Mostly happy customers are having a good but not optimal experience with a product. They are using the product but can’t access all the features or have difficulty getting started. You want to make them happy customers by offering responsive customer service. It is about explaining the features and how the product works using customer service, videos and content that educates.
This approach tells the customer their business is valued and you want to ensure the product is meeting their expectations and needs. In relative terms, it should be easy to quickly win over mostly happy customers with a little TLC.
Super-happy customers who love your product because they are reaping all the benefits. These customers are so happy they can do a variety of positive things: purchase more products, take a cut of the action by selling it on your behalf or by becoming advocates and influencers.
It is important to recognize the value of these customers by providing concierge-like service. They’re already happy but some of them can become powerful brand evangelists with a little extra attention. It is things such as discounts or sending unexpected gifts to your top customers to thank them for their business. Freshbooks, for example, sent Triscuits to a customer living in Fiji.


Once the different kinds of customers are identified, the next steps are mapping out how to communicate with them. Even with a well-articulated contingency plan, it is impossible to please every customer. No matter how much help is offered, some customers will be unhappy. Even if they express their displeasure on social media, a company can be confident it tried to do the right things.
Bottom line: Planning for product launches is absolutely necessary. Nothing can be left to chance. A company has to cover all the angles so they are armed and ready for success, stumbles and failures.

I’ve worked with dozens of startups and fast-growing companies looking to accelerate their marketing. My services are driven by frameworks and processes to create messaging, strategic plans and content. If you want marketing that makes a difference, let’s talk. If you are looking for hand-picked startup content, subscribe to my weekly newsletter.

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