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Sunday, March 29, 2015

My time to rhyme #1 - She makes my head swirl

My time to rhyme is a deviation from the regular focus of this blog, because, sticklers though Product Managers are to constantly ship art, taking time out for unrelated creative pursuits will freshen the mind for brighter ideas back in their home territory.

When I was a little kid gazing up at the stars
I never realised the changes my life would parse
In taking me from that kid to a hopeless romantic.
I’ve fallen for a pretty girl that makes me frantic
With just a few words and her sweet, silent gaze
That makes my head swirl and leaves me in a daze.

While she likes war movies, I like my chick-flicks,
Which have more kisses than swords, guns or sticks.
While she doesn’t read fiction, I quite often pick one
That takes long to read but is nevertheless good fun.
But she gets what I say and smiles with such grace
That it makes my head swirl and leaves me in a daze.

No book is ever written, nor a movie ever made,
About two people whose compatibility doesn’t fade,
‘Cause it’s worthy and special only when it takes
More than just shared interests to seal two lovers’ fates.
I know we’re there when she causes my heart to race
And makes my head swirl and leaves me in a daze.

I feel like talking to her even when I’ve nothing to say,
‘Cause just knowing she’s there really makes my day.
I end up picturing her when I hear a song on the radio,
And we’re looking up at the stars, lying out on the patio,
Probably drinking French wine and munching on Lays,
That makes my head swirl and leaves me in a daze.

Its cute the way she ticks off all the alphabets,
While solving my anagrams, piling up reward debts.
That makes me think I might like her every antic,
She’s the pretty girl I’ve fallen for that makes me frantic
With just a few words and her sweet, silent gaze
That makes my head swirl and leaves me in a daze.

Assisted decision making

Scott Adams (the man behind the Dilbert comics) has a blog where he posts some wacky ideas, some of which are about the future of technology and humans. Today, I read this one titled 'The Era of Humans - Ending Soon'.

He goes on to argue how decisions are made by weighing imagined pay-offs for different decisions and the one with the highest imagined pay-off is the decision made. Many gadgets and apps (fitness trackers, for example) are already helping us with these decisions by helping compute imagined pay-offs in a better way.

My biggest gripe with all these gadgets and apps in providing assistance to my decision-making is that the algorithms are centrally applied and are based on my (and those like me) previous behaviour. In most things (books, movies, music, sports, friends, dates, clothes, etc, etc), I don't think monitoring previous behaviour (of me and others like me) is enough to introduce me to new things I might appreciate.

For every set of users, there are leaders (early adopters) who like to actively try on new things and followers (laggards) who rely on trends and the 'in-things' to decide what they use and buy. All the technology is focused on the followers and there is nobody offering anything to the leaders.

Since the assisted decision making happens based on algorithms taking in several parameters, I would love to have a place where I can define these algorithms with parameters coming in from various apps that I use. A lot of apps allow this today, but only within their own ecosystem (like Facebook allowing to customise your newsfeed), but nobody provides a cross-platform solution.

If I'm still sounding vague, let me give you an example. Instead of relying on 8tracks or Spotify or Youtube for discovering new music, I should be able to get a list of 10 songs computed in the following manner every Sunday. 40% weightage if the song is in Billboard top 20, 30% weightage if any of the twenty friends I have selected have shared/liked it on any of their social networks, 30% weightage if it was released in the last one month.

I should be allowed any number of parameters measured by any of the existing apps and use the social graph of any of my connections across the app/web ecosystem.

The audience for such a tool might be low (likely only the early adopters) as most people won't want to define this (because that would then move them from laggards to early adopters). But I think it's worth the effort to prevent everyone from being a follower.

The one-update-cycle rule

The Play Store has over 1.3 million apps available, and a lot more being made available day after day. I just took a count and I have exactly 20 apps on my phone that I use regularly (at least once a week). ButI keep installing new apps just to check out what's new and out there that I might end up liking and find useful.

This kept increasing the number of apps installed on my phone and started making my experience of using the phone bad. The golden standard of design is to have visible and available only those things that are useful and necessary.

This was when I formulated the one-update-cycle rule to remove the clutter. It's a fairly simple rule. I turned off auto-update for my installed apps. So, Play Store would push a notification whenever there was an update available for any of my installed apps. I use that notification as a trigger to either update or uninstall the app. If I hadn't used the app since I installed it/previously updated it, I would uninstall it. And if I had used it, I would update it.

While most people may not follow a defined algorithm like I do, I believe the algorithm mimics the behaviour observed for most people, irrespective of what their triggers are to uninstall an app.

Average uninstall-rate for well-managed apps with a decent number of downloads (>50k) is in the range 30-40%. This means that for every 5 people that install your app, two of them end up uninstalling them in under a month. What if these are the two additional users that all your marketing campaigns are bringing in? Scary, right?

Which is why I feel the number of app downloads is just an ego-metric. But coming back to my algorithm, you might wonder what happens to those apps that don't push updates frequently (at least once a month). I feel these apps are doomed to fail anyway as any bunch of developers that don't see their work being shipped will eventually feel demotivated and find greener pastures.

Is your app providing enough value at frequent intervals to make the user want to keep it on her phone?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Average Customer Experience

This has been my second experience handling an early stage product and the advantage (or the disadvantage, whichever way you look at it) in handling early stage products is that as a Product Manager, you get the opportunity to really soil your hands with everything from sales to customer support.

While a lot of companies prefer to hand a script to their customer service executives and measure their performance based on adherence to the script, very few give them the freedom and the opportunity to react as human beings.

Yes, taking this approach is well tested and guarantees predictable results and measurable metrics that can be assigned to a manager whose job it will be to improve performance on those metrics. But in all this, the opportunity to connect with the customer is lost.

When you're the first person customers reach with their problems, and if you happen to be a Product Manager, you have a great opportunity to gain first-hand feedback that is really felt by the users. And the knowledge of how the product is about to shape up in the coming weeks and months will guide how each customer query is treated. And I can guarantee that there will not be a script to follow while answering customer complaints.

This results in some customers not having a great experience and some others having a great experience, but that will be a judgment call to say not all customers are equal and important, that what the customers did to get themselves in the position they are in is an important factor to decide which are the better customers.

If all customer executives could take a similar approach, the results may not be easily predictable and metrics measurable, but the good customers, who genuinely need help and who will be delighted by a good experience will end up having a good experience at the expense of those who don't deserve (or even expect) such an experience.

Don't seek to be average to everyone.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The user has no choice

Everywhere you look, you will find products designed in ways that allow the manufacturers of the product to push their agenda on the user at the expense of a delightful experience for the user. I use several such products myself and think how the respective design teams ever approved such horrendous user experiences.

To give you some examples, the push messages on your DTH connection by Tata Sky or Airtel where the annoying yellow mail icon refuses to go away from the screen unless you go read the message promoting some new package or reminding you to pay your next bill. The pop-up notifications from Telecom providers that highlight your remaining currency or data balance every time you finish a call or connect to the wifi.

These are designed with the assumption that the user has no choice today. Which may be true. But look what happened to auto rickshaws and taxi drivers who treated their customers as though they had no choice (when they really didn't). They gave rise to companies like Ola and Uber whose primary value proposition is to make the user experience delightful (or at least show a marked improvement on the default experience before).

The user may not have a choice today. But the way to build a loyal user base is by delighting them. Not by annoying them just because they do not have a better alternative today. That will not always be the case. Just like anyone who regularly uses Ola or Uber now cannot imagine going back to hailing an auto on the road, annoyed users will jump on to (and hold on tight) the first option they come across with a better experience.

The user does have a choice. And as a product designer, you have a choice too.