Your software product is never really “done”.  There will always be changes, improvements, and updates that need to be implemented because developing software is an ongoing process. But while you always have the idea of creating the best possible product for your customer in your mind, sometimes these product improvements fall flat and don’t hit their mark. They are always well-intentioned, but sometimes, you can misjudge what your users want or need. 

We know that you just want to build the best product for your customer, but how are you supposed to improve your product when you don’t always know what your customers want or need the most?  How can you be sure that what you’re building will be as impactful to your customer as possible? How do you make sure you are making the correct product improvements? Let’s break down what a product improvement is (it’s more complex than you think) and review some ways to ensure that your product changes result in overall improvements to your user’s experience.

But first, what are product improvements?

Sounds like a silly question, right? You’d think it’s really anything you add to your product that ultimately improves your product. And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but we actually need to be careful here for two reasons. One, improving your product doesn’t mean you’ve necessarily added something to your product. In fact, sometimes the biggest impact you can have is when you remove something from your product. Second, we should define what an improvement actually is. Is it something that leads to an increase in user satisfaction? Is it an increase in the user engagement, such as amount of times someone logs into your product? Is it an improvement in the outcomes it creates for your users? Or is it something else entirely, like an increase in referrals, conversion rate, or user sentiment? An “improvement” can be some, or all, of these things and is largely dependent on the kind of product you have and ultimate goal of your team. So really, a product improvement can include any change that affects the end user and matches their needs in some capacity.

How to improve the quality of a product

Alright, so we got the definition of a product improvement set. But how do you actually implement an improvement? Essentially, there are three common ways to do this; you can add a brand new feature, you can improve functionality that already exists in your product today, or you can remove a feature that no longer provides value to your users.

Add a new feature

Adding a new feature to your product can be a great improvement for your product, but it can be risky. You spent a bunch of time and resources planning roadmaps, building frameworks, designing the new feature, pushing it out, marketing the improvement everywhere- and then it’s a total dud. Your users don’t find value in it, or it’s too complicated for them to figure out, or it’s not housed in the right area of your product and is hard to find. Best case scenario? It’s just not an improvement for your users. Worst case scenario? It actually has a negative impact on your user’s experience and could potentially cause churn. 

But if you add a feature that aligns with what people need and will actually use, then the new feature can re-engage your users and even attract new users, since you’ll be adding value to your product. By creating a slam-dunk feature, you can address real pain points for your users and improve their overall experience with your product, ensuring that they are a loyal and happy customer.

Improve functionality

While improving an existing functionality may seem less risky than creating something entirely brand new, this can actually be even more risky. If there is an aspect of your product that your users love and your team completely changes the way it works or even looks, you can totally disrupt a user’s experience. We here at Parlor call this expectation debt – your users come to expect your product to work and look a certain way, and  it can ruin their love for your product if your team completely changes that, regardless of if this change would eventually make their overall experience better.

But, if you can take a facet of your product that was underperforming and revamp it, this can be a more cost-effective and typically faster method of adding value to your product than implementing something new.  This could include even just educating a user about an existing functionality in your product that they might not have known about . Not only can you re-engage existing customers this way, but it can be a great way to snag new users by showing that you’ve added value to your product.

Remove a feature

It’s important to note that an improvement to your product is not always additive in nature. The ultimate goal is to curate the best possible experience for your users, and that doesn’t always mean adding or improving features. Sometimes, removing functionality that no longer resonates to your users or is distracting to them can add even more value to their experience than adding something new.

By removing weaker features or functionality, you ensure that the average quality of your product is of a higher level. Plus, it can be incredibly costly to maintain old features – the initial cost to build a new feature only accounts for a third of the long term cost of maintaining those features. By improving your product through removal of old functionality, you’re not only improving the experience for your users but you’re saving your team precious time and money.

5 steps to improve your product with a new feature

1. Identify gaps in your current product

Obviously, to be able to improve a certain feature, you need to find the features that need improvement. There are several different ways you can go about doing this. Brainstorming with your product team, reviewing your usage analytics, gathering feedback from your stakeholders, or comparing your product to your competition are all valid ways, however we think the best way to find gaps in your product is to speak with the people who actually use your product; your users. 

By directly engaging with your users on a regular basis, you will get the most relevant feedback and the best idea of what needs updating within your product, because they’re the ones who would be benefiting from your product improvements. They’ll have the best idea of what actually works and what doesn’t, so they can give you valuable insight into what needs to be improved.

2. Validate your ideas before committing

Validating all the product improvements you’re thinking of working on before committing any time or money to the project is incredibly helpful. Never again will you waste resources building something that might be helpful to your users. 

You can validate your ideas through a couple of different means. For example, sending out a survey to your users to collect feedback about potential product improvements would give you a good grasp on how your users feel. Or you can preview a prototype of this product improvement and ask your users how they feel about the design or the usability of the improvement.

Parlor Preview

3. Teach customers how to use the new feature

You can’t just throw a new feature into the wild and expect people to immediately know how to use it. Giving your users guidance on how to work the new feature is not only extremely helpful for the user, but also is a great way to engage with them and get them properly using the new feature. Through webinars, e-books, videos, or FAQ sheets, you can teach your users how to take full advantage of new features and give them helpful tips and tricks.

If you’ve added value to your product, people need to know about it. Whether you just revamped a few parts of your product or added entirely new features, product improvements can be a chance to make a splash in the market. By communicating through social channels, press releases, or blog posts, you can attract new customers, re-engage existing customers, or even just get your name out there to people who may not have known who you were before. People who may just become customers one day.

4. Build anticipation before launch 

Get people excited about what you built! Before you launch, spread the word that you’ve got some exciting improvements coming around. Not only will this get your existing users excited about testing out new features or functionality within your product, but you can also attract new users if you’ve added something that makes your product applicable to them. Share it on your social media, write a blog post about it, share it as an announcement within your app – market this exciting update everywhere to capture as much attention as possible. 

5. Track engagement and collect ongoing feedback

So you’ve launched your product improvements and you got some good momentum from it. Now what? You can’t just stop there. Collecting feedback is an on-going cycle, and you need to continue listening to what your users are asking for and continue improving your product. Sending out a post-sentiment survey about a new feature or just asking your users if they have explored the updates yet in an in-app notification can be a good starting point in continuing to collect user feedback.

5 steps for product improvement with an existing feature

1. Analyze and identify weak features

You can’t update every single feature in your product every single time you want to make an improvement. When deciding which features to update, you need to find a way to separate the features that users really value from the ones they don’t. The best way to do this is to analyze the data of your product; which features are people using the most? Which features are people using the least? How often are people using each feature? You need to identify who is using which products and take that into account.

While each of these data points can give you key information, you have to take raw data with a grain of salt; if only a handful of people are using a certain functionality, but those handful of people happen to be your highest paying customers, you’re probably not likely to remove or change that feature. An analytics tool can give you that basic data, but it’s up to you and your team to take a deeper dive into the numbers and and gather more information.

2. Understand and identify the important areas of improvement

Once you’ve identified your weaker features, you need to understand why they’re weak; why they aren’t providing as much value as they could. Is this feature causing friction for your users? Is it missing functionality that would make it more useful? Are there just general usability issues? Engaging with your users to find out how they’re currently using this feature and what they would like to see will help you identify the important areas of improvement and can help to point you in the right direction. You can even use this time to bounce potential ideas off of them and see what they think about your solutions.

Once you go about identifying your weak features and finding the appropriate solution, you can then go about executing the product improvement.

feature_fit_index

3. Cut the features that don’t resonate and won’t even if you made an improvement

Sometimes, you’ll come across functionality and features in your product that just don’t hit right with your customers. No matter how much time, money, or resources you pour into it, it just doesn’t resonate with your customers – they don’t find value in it, they don’t care about it, they just don’t use it. At this point, it’s way more effective to cut the feature or functionality loose. 

We get it; it can be painful to let go of an aspect of your product that you put so much effort into and can feel counterintuitive to think about improving your product by taking away functionality. But sometimes the amount of value you gain from removing the facet altogether can outweigh the effort of maintaining it.

4. Analyze and measure the response to your product improvement

Once you’ve actually launched the product improvement, you need to check how it’s doing! Use a mixture of analytics for how the improvement has performed and feedback from the users who have interacted with it to get a good grasp on the success of the improvement. By using a good balance between feature analytics and user feedback, you can make sure you’re getting actionable results that will help you in future developments. 

5. Show customers how to use the improved feature

Make sure you’re engaging your users by giving them everything they need to fully understand how any new or improved feature works. Utilize all kinds of media (photos, videos, e-books, etc.) in order to teach users how to take full advantage of all improvements and give them a step-by-step guide so that they never feel discouraged or confused.

3 product improvement examples you can learn from

Slack

In November 2019, Slack rolled out a new feature that was met with … mixed reviews. Slack added a WYSIWYG text input and people were not happy with it, to say the least. While this is a great example of a well-intentioned product improvement falling flat, Slack responded in the best way possible. As soon as they heard the feedback from their users, they began working hard to fix the issues their users were having. They quickly created an option to hide the WYSIWYG bar if a user wanted to and that seemed to satisfy most people, showing that you can improve a product not just by adding new functionality but by responding to user pushback.

slack WYSIWYG

Snapchat

If you regularly use Snapchat, then you’ll remember the major drama surrounding the redesign of the app back in 2018. Snapchat completely reorganized the design, look, and orientation of their app, and was met with a petition with 1.2 million signatures to change it back. This is another example of a product improvement gone wrong, however the difference between this example and the Slack example is the response to the user dissatisfaction. Snapchat doubled down on their redesign, and didn’t offer an option to revert to the old format, and so users had to just get used to the new layout. While the complaints eventually died down, and Snapchat continues to be one of the most popular social apps, Snapchat could have done a better job of listening to their users and incorporating their feedback.

Parlor

We here at Parlor are not immune to this type of issue. Our product used to have a functionality where you could have different versions of a feature preview and you could send out to users and test them out against each other. However, it was just way too complex, and at the end of the day, no one cared enough to use it; no one was working on multiple versions of the same feature preview at the same time anyway. So we decided to just get rid of the functionality entirely. By removing an aspect of our product, we dramatically simplified and streamlined the feature preview section of our product.

Strive for Continuous Product Improvement

By focusing on collaborating with your users to collect feedback on what to improve, you know you’re going to be making the most impactful changes possible because you’re working with the people who will be impacted the most. At the end of the day, you should always be continually adding or improving features and removing underperforming functionality. The outcome of this balance is a constant improvement of your product, however you decide to define “product improvement”.