Blog Startup Journey

How An Angry Email Pushed Us To Start Publishing More Product Updates

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We’ve started a new approach for announcing small product updates. Here’s why.

Losing a customer hurts.

With a few rare exceptions, it always sucks to see someone lose their trust in you, your team and what you’ve built.

But losing that trust because of something that was entirely preventable?

That feels far, far worse.

Whenever a customer churns from Groove, we send them an email to try and find out why:

A few months ago, we noticed a troubling trend in the responses.

Customers were unhappy that we didn’t seem to be moving the product forward.

One email, in particular⁠—from a long-time customer⁠—really took me by surprise.

The thing is, we were making more progress on the product than we ever had in the past.

Our development team had grown to seven people, and the project management processes we had spent years tinkering with finally had us running at levels of productivity we’d never enjoyed before.

Simply put, our developers were crushing it, from an output standpoint.

But it didn’t matter, because our customers didn’t know that.

They didn’t see the hundreds of bugs we squashed, or the enhancements we pushed, or the huge foundational work we were completing that would let us launch our new mobile web app last month.

All they saw was what we put in front of them.

Which, for a long time, was nothing.

And we realized that we needed to fix that.

In Customer Relationships, Perception is Everything

If a product enhancement is made in secret, and no customers are told about it, does it make an impact?

In many cases⁠—back-end optimizations for speed, for example⁠—you could argue that it doesn’t.

Our customers don’t care how many hours our team spends on development. And your customers don’t care, either.

What they care about is that the product we’re building for them is delivering value, and that we’re making it better.

Of course, we see all of the work that we’re doing “in the shadows” as making our product better.

But how could we possibly expect our customers to see it that way, too?

All they see is what’s in front of them.

If you don’t tell your customers about something, assume that they have no idea it exists.

Now, I’m not talking about big new features or anything like that; of course we announce those.

But I’m talking about the everyday, mundane progress that you make when you work on anything.

We were making that kind of progress every day, but we were doing a terrible job of letting our customers know about the work we did, and more importantly, what that work meant to them.

And so at our last quarterly planning retreat, we decided to change that, and we committed to a consistent schedule of customer-facing product updates.

Our Product Update Rhythm

We started with two assumptions:

  1. If we didn’t share it, it didn’t happen.
  2. Customers won’t get tired of hearing about the updates, as long as we make the benefits to them really clear.

Still, we had lots of questions we needed to answer.

How often is too often to communicate with our customers?

How often isn’t often enough?

What’s the best channel for product updates?

How big does an update need to be in order to qualify for a customer-facing announcement?

In the end, we went with this setup:

Every two weeks, we publish an update on our product blog that compiles all of the product work we accomplished in the previous two weeks.

We notify our customers about these with in-app notifications using Intercom.

And once per month, we send an update via email that rounds up the work we accomplished that month.

Once per month feels right for the emails, as many of our customers are already getting blog updates from us three times per week.

Still, this is very much a work in progress, and we’ll continue to share what we test and learn.

How it’s Going So Far

So far, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Customers have told us that they appreciate the updates...

And, to our surprise, we also got positive feedback on updates that we thought were minor, but that a few customers considered to be game-changing.

We didn’t expect this, and it’s another reason I’d advocate for sharing everything.

How to Apply This to Your Business

If you’re debating whether to tell your customers about the new minor feature you just built, or the bug fix you just made, I hope that this post inspires you to do it.

And to make customer-facing product updates a regular part of your communication habits.

We’re still working hard on learning the best way to do this, and I’d love to hear about your experiences: what approach do you use for product updates?

Leave a comment below and let me know.

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From “aha” to “oh shit”, we’re sharing everything on our journey to $10M in annual revenue. We’re learning a lot and so will you.

2016 Annual Revenue
  • $0
  • $2.5M
  • $5M
  • $7.5M
  • $10M

About the Author

Alex Turnbull is the CEO & Founder of Groove (simple helpdesk software for small businesses) who loves to build startups and surf.

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