Stop Saying “Sorry, We Don’t Support That”

canoe redux
shoothead / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

On learning his prospective buyer wants to slice one in half and mount it on a wall, John Cusack’s character in the film Must Love Dogs sternly informs him the hand-crafted wooden canoes are “not for sale in that way at this time.”

Having so much passion for your product you’re unwilling to sell it to someone unless they plan to use it the way you dreamt is a romantic notion befitting a Hollywood movie. It doesn’t stack up in reality though.

LET IT GO

Increasingly, people want to do stuff with your products you never intended, planned for nor perhaps ever even dreamt of. We live in a world where the pace of innovation is continually accelerating. Release cycles are rapid. Buyers are more tech savvy than ever before and younger generations are growing up with a life-hacking mentality.

Most modern entrepreneurs know this and embrace it. In his book The Great Fragmentation, Steve Sammartino refers to this as the “malleable marketplace”: This idea that companies release a product to market then listen to customers to discover further ideas and innovations to add to the next release. In The Lean Startup Eric Ries calls it the “minimum viable product”. Whatever the name, it’s the concept of embracing your market place and offering resources to customers to provide ideas and input to your product or service.

Some companies are taking it further than offering resources to provide just ideas and input. Take Hendo Hoverboards – they offer their core technology by way of a whitebox developer kit to encourage their fan base to actually build new prototype solutions. That’s right: not just provide feedback but come up with new ideas and scenarios using parts of their physical product. I bet nobody at Hendo has ever uttered the same words as Cusack’s wishful character!

“SORRY, WE DON’T SUPPORT THAT” IS HURTING YOU

If you’re an established and mature business don’t think it’s all too hard to start changing the way you go to market and engage with customers. Improvements in enabling customers to use products in new ways could quickly be established by challenging a foundational element within your support organisation: the bounds of what is and isn’t supported.

“Sorry, but we don’t support that” is a phrase becoming redundant, growth-limiting and just downright boring. For years, companies have focussed on shoehorning customers in to a narrow band of supported scenarios. Making customers use a product only the way you think it should be used is ignoring the opportunity which exists if you were to enable it to be used in the new way. Anytime a customer wants to use your product in a new or different way is an exciting moment. It show’s they actually value the product and have passion for it.

“Sorry, but we don’t support that” is a phrase becoming redundant, growth-limiting and just downright boring.

Here’s a new way to think about your support organisation or processes: Invest in resources which can enable customers to get your product to work the way they want. Hire helpdesk staff whose job isn’t to squeeze customers in to supported scenarios, inevitably squeezing out their enthusiasm and passion along the way, but rather to understand how to make the new things happen. Develop content covering how to ‘hack’ your product to do cool new things. Genuinely put the help back in to your helpdesk.

GOOD ENOUGH OFTEN IS…GOOD ENOUGH

Of course you need to wade through the waters of unchartered usage scenarios carefully and ensure the customer experience is still smooth sailing. Here’s the thing: The idea of “life-hacking” – finding novel or ingenious ways to get more out of everyday life – is becoming a mainstream phenomenon along with the acceptance sometimes things just work “good enough” for now (here’s a great article I read in Wired magazine a number of years back which I never forget – The Good Enough Revolution). So an honest and tempered response of “sure, we can get that working but here are the current limitations we know of and you may discover some we don’t know of” and then helping the customer get their thing working is likely to be a win-win. It’s certainly still better than “we don’t support that”. If making it happen is impossible then “that’s a great idea but unfortunately our product can’t do that right now, we’ll look in to it” is still a better response than the default by-the-book alternative.

Embracing what customers are trying to do with your product and enabling those “good enough” experiences can really convert your customer base in to a powerful user community. You can use this to steer the future direction of your products, improving the experiences from good-enough to excellent for a community that’s already validated the relevance of what you’re bringing to market.

Or you could just tell customers it’s not for sale in that way at this time…or ever. END SCENE – FADE TO BLACK

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