A Brief History of Product Management: Starts With a Spark
Product management was originally seated in marketing but has evolved. It's still misunderstood but it's now getting the recognition it deserves with product people...
You can learn a valuable lesson about product training from an anecdote about toilet paper.
The CMO of a well-known restaurant chain (you’ve eaten there) has a philosophy that he regularly reinforces across the entire organization: We will create the best possible experience for every customer touchpoint with our company. No exceptions. No shortcuts.
One day, in a senior-management meeting, the vice president of purchasing enthusiastically boasted to the room that he’d contracted with a new toilet-paper supplier. By switching from the restaurant’s standard two-ply paper to single-ply rolls, the purchasing VP explained, he would be saving the company hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
The CMO locked eyes with the triumphant purchasing VP and said, “That’s a pretty sensitive customer touchpoint you’re messing with.”
“Oh,” the purchasing VP responded. “You’re right. I’ll switch back.”
That CMO understands that a company’s marketing team has a much broader responsibility than simply designing a great website and making sure the sales collateral looks professional. Marketing, as the CMO says, involves every touchpoint a customer has with your company—from the moment they walk into your store, or download your software, or open the packaging of your product, or finish up in your restaurant’s bathroom and… well, you know.
You can apply a similar philosophy to your role as a product manager: You need to make sure not only that your product itself is outstanding, but that the entire user experience your company builds around the product is outstanding as well.
Product training is a great example.
As a product manager, it can be easy to get lost in the details of your product’s features, look and feel, bug fixes, and other components within the product itself.
“Product training is part of the product because it is part of the user experience—and you can’t separate the two.”
But just as you need to keep your focus on the larger strategic picture when building your product roadmap, you also need to step back from focusing only on the product’s functionality and consider your user’s experience in its totality—which might include support, onboarding, and product training.
The ideal product, of course, is one that is so intuitive and user-friendly that it doesn’t require any help. It’s a product your user will be able to start using immediately without any questions or sticking points. This is a major part of a product manager’s goal with UX and UI: to develop a product that is entirely self-explanatory.
Of course, we don’t live in ideal-land; we live in the real world. Out here, you need to assume your users will have questions about how to use your products, will hit sticking points, and will need help. This is particularly true if you sell a complex offering. Product managers for medical devices don’t expect their products to be self-explanatory for first-time users. Nor should the PM whose company sells enterprise SaaS products.
So in thinking through the user experience, you’ll need to run through a series of “What if?” scenarios.
This is why you create Help documentation: a searchable index of FAQs, for example, or a user manual, or short video tutorials.
This is also why if you sell software, you will want to build a user-friendly onboarding process right into your product—perhaps using a plug-and-play solution like AppCues. The right onboarding walkthroughs and tips can answer a new user’s questions before he even has to ask them—and create a much better customer experience.
This is where you have to start thinking beyond the confines of your product itself, to the broader user experience of interacting with your company.
When a customer can’t find what he needs in your Help section or your tutorials, can he contact support? How? Will you have a chat box to reach a live support rep? A toll-free phone number? An email address? All of these? How well are your support reps trained? How quickly will they respond to a user’s request? Will you guarantee that response time?
Although they aren’t built into the product in the strict sense, these support services are nonetheless part of the user experience—and you should therefore work with your support team to make sure you’re satisfied with the answers to the questions above.
Customer support should be on your radar as a strategic element of the product.
If you sell a complex product—machinery for a chemical factory, an enterprise software package—your customers will likely want or need product training.
Whether your company has an in-house training department or contracts your product training out to a third party, you will need to get plugged into that process to make sure its quality and reliability meet your strategic objectives for the product’s success.
You will want, for example, to review the training materials and ideally even sit through an actual training session—so you can gauge whether or not the trainers are covering the right information for new users and accurately articulating the product’s value proposition.
And if your company has no infrastructure to provide formal customer training—ouch!—you’ll want to start advocating for it across your company.
From an organizational perspective, product training might be the responsibility of another team.
But, just like that restaurant customer reaching over and discovering to her horror that the bathroom has flimsy single-ply toilet paper, product training will be a key part of your user’s experience with your product. And that makes it your responsibility too.