This panel session was held at the Product-Led Summit, London 2019.


Caz Brett, Senior Product Manager, BBC

Renia Rigopoulou, Head of Product Innovation, InstaShop

Ilja Goossens, Director, CleverTap

Yvonne Chow, Senior Manager, Product Marketing and Solutions Marketing, Hootsuite

Q: What does a perfect product experience looks like to you and your customers?

Caz: “Creating a product can be a sh*tty, difficult process. But, if at the end of it, you've got users that say, 'This was life-changing. This makes a real difference to me.' That is a fantastic product experience, because it's worth it."

Renia: “It’s about getting feedback directly from your customers who are loving the product or who might be giving recommendations on how you could improve it. But also you need to consider how to create a productive working environment. How do you make your team and your engineers feel like they love working together? They have to buy into your vision too.”

Ilja: “My ideal product experience needs to evoke some kind of emotion. Experiences are tied to emotions. You should of course avoid the negative ones, but the best product has people experiencing positive emotions.”

Yvonne: “My take on a successful product experience is if your sales team is excited about selling the product as well. Currently, we're going through an exercise where we're trying to excite our sales teams and make them confident about our SaaS product.”

Q: How do you create compelling experiences in different environments, thinking about startup enterprise and different company sizes?

Yvonne: “It's really important to double down on understanding what your competitors do and be able to bring those actionable insights back to the product team. You need to contextualize that information and understand how to either be at market parody or to be better than your competitors. Also, don’t forget about the product NPS. You need to measure what's being built and marketed to your user, and make sure that they're continuously satisfied with the experience.”

Ilja: “If you want to build an experience, it doesn't matter if you're small or big, but it's important how you approach it. For me and the teams at CleverTap, you start role-playing the game with the customer. You take into account what they want. What's the experience that the customer needs?

We work a lot with travel. You can define stages of the traveling process: pre-travel, during the travel, post-travel. What kind of emotions do people go through during these processes?

You get a push notification. Okay, your flight is canceled. Well, that's a bad experience. But you then get a notification from a company that solves this problem and is sending you over a new ticket. This company has taken this potentially disastrous moment and turned it into something good. Instead of trying to build a feature, look at the end goal. Then, track it back through every step you need to take to arrive at that good experience.”

Renia: “I’ve worked in bigger companies like eBay and I'm now working for InstaShop which is now about 100 people. The main difference is the speed at which you can deliver the new features. This isn’t the speed of working. Your engineers are working at the same pace. But, it’s based on how comfortable the company feels to release a new feature. At eBay, we would AB test every single thing- the color of a button or the size of a phrase.  Then it was a huge shock for me moving to Deliveroo where we had a million competitors in 16 markets. We would have to release new features every single day without enough testing. It depends on the type of company and the phase that they are in.”

Caz: “When I started working in Product at the BBC It was 2013. And just to give you an idea of the kind of environment I was operating in, the BBC is a juggernaut. It's enormous. It is linked to hundreds of different small, very bespoke systems. We had an SAP version, which was about maybe eight to 10 years behind the standard, which meant that everything in it was customized and everything was bespoke. The problem was, we needed to work with those systems. We had to go through and try and upgrade those experiences somehow.

I walked into the BBC and me and my boss were tasked with bringing mobile apps to the BBC. We had to try and scale up something that worked for everyone. We needed to create products that were useful for people. Being able to change a password remotely, being able to book leave remotely, or being able to lookup basic details about a person so you can contact them on the move.

We weren’t even necessarily thinking about compelling experiences, we were challenged with trying to get the data out of those old systems and into the products that we were trying to build.

To make experiences better than the existing one, we didn't have to do much. We could have just had a plain text page with the information that they needed and that would have been 100 times better than what they already had. It was not just about making it fancy and competitive, but just trying to get something there in the first place."

Q: How do you build competitive product experiences at scale?

Caz: “It’s about using technology libraries that are modern but also well used. Then you can hire people that understand how to use the technology out of the box. AngularJS was very popular for a while. We're now using React. These are both JavaScript frameworks for anyone who isn't particularly familiar with them. We can easily hire good people, because we're not looking for specific, expensive skills. That makes it a lot easier to find good people who've got the balance of the design UX and technology backgrounds to bring that to the kind of product.”

Renia: “Especially when you're in a small startup that’s growing fast, it’s important to think about where you are heading. What are the company goals?  We didn't expect the growth that we had at Deliveroo. At some point, we couldn't handle the volume of the orders that we would get. Having the right people joining the company at the right time is key, because you make sure you have the tools and infrastructure in place that can manage the growth of the company.”

Ilja: “CleverTap is big in India. The scale is immense there and it becomes a whole different challenge. What we've managed to do as a company is to allow a platform to find the value for each specific user.

Also, don’t underestimate customer support. It's a way of identifying the need of every specific user. Then, make sure you have the tools to be able to engage with your user in the right way. You can add value and people feel personally connected with your product. It's not just a great experience for them, but it's also creating brand value for yourself.”

Yvonne: “As you scale up to enterprise, you'll likely have a professional services team, or a customer support team that has access to admin tooling that will help the end customer. Here at Hootsuite, for example, we've discovered that the admin tools that are used by the services team need a massive upgrade. On the internal customer side on the product experience, make sure that not only are you building the great external-facing product experience, but that you are also giving the internal support teams the tools that they need to facilitate it.”

Ilja: “You have to be ready for scale. If you start adding frameworks like the customer experience Maturity Model, you create a reverse timeline of everything during the consumer growth process, and then you can start identifying the gaps where it might fail. It's about mapping out emotions during every step of the process, then focusing on improving the emotion while using your product.You can be one step ahead of the curve and you will be less likely to run into potential problems if you do scale.”

Q: How do you prioritize features versus reliability?

Renia: “When your company grows really fast, you just write code on top of code on top of code. You end up with a monolithic service. As a PM, you have to make a case to the business that you need to focus on reliability and that it’s something that the engineers are begging for. You have to be their voice and express this to your CEO and your sales team. To grow a company faster, reliability work is important. Delete any code that hasn't been used for years.

Think, how is your team growing? You may have started with one product team, but you’ve now ended up with 15/20 different ones. How do these different product teams work with each other? Do all them have the same information about the new service that they're creating?

Feature work is important for the customers. It's important for the business to grow. But, if you don't have a service that is up and running 24/7, then you don't have a business. Reliability work is important.  As a PM, I'm happy if engineers take 15 to 20% of their time every week to do this type of work.”

Yvonne: “We do need a very performant platform. It’s our responsibility as PMs to understand how long that's going to take. On the marketing side, we need to work to change the narrative and move away from feature launches. Our responsibility is to show the vision and share the value of our entire solution suite. The user experience is the DNA of the entire organization. In most of our organizations, we don't just have sales teams, but services teams and UX design who are responsible for that.

At Hootsuite, we’ve recently hired a new PMM. Her role is to work with product and sales to identify a consistent user experience. I think that's a really interesting tactic.”

Q: How do you influence stakeholders to invest in non-functional features to improve customer experience?

Caz: “Use data if you've got it. Data from your users is going to demonstrate why you should do something. But that's not going to work for everyone. You're going to have to impose tactics. Catch up with people separately to get them to understand where you're coming from.”

Q: Do you think user experience and design should sit within individual product teams or oversee the end to end workflow?

Renia: “Every Product Designer will work very closely with a PM for one specific product. But, we also try to rotate the Product Designers around different product teams so they get an idea about other types of user problems. They also get the chance to work with different engineers and different product managers and get a broader picture of all the applications that we have as a company.

For engineers, another useful tip is getting designers to review each other's work. Sometimes a designer from my product team will ask for feedback from other designers from a different team. They create design documents that they can share.”

Q: How important is it to have a vision for your product?

Caz: “Vision is about adding narrative to your product. It’s about having a story. It’s so important for everyone to get behind it and advocate for your product because they understand the story of what it's trying to do. If you don't have a vision, then you can't get people behind you. It could be Stakeholders. You’ve got to give them a vision to understand what you're trying to do. It could be Developers. Otherwise, they're just going to be coding into nothingness and won't be connected to your product. Having workshops with people to get them behind the vision is key.”

Renia: “Remind people about your vision. You can’t just state it at the beginning of the year and then forget about it. Keep reminding your team about your story, and also be willing to change it if the company strategy changes.”

Yvonne: “We live in an era of user-led growth. We talk about product-led growth, but primarily it’s the user who discovers a piece of software or tool that they love. It’s important that the product vision is shared across the entire organization and that it gets evangelized by the product team so that the customer-facing teams can then share that across to our users.’

Ilja: “The experience is the highest economic value you can create as a company. And that starts with a vision. It’s not just a product, it's not a service. It's what you want the user to experience. Without a vision, you won't build a successful company.”