Have you ever watched someone use your product?

Have you ever watched someone use your product? What you observe is rarely what you expected. What you see is not the same as what you heard. Your customers love the silly features and don’t use the cool ones. And in watching, you’ll see uses of your product that you never imagined.

Speaking of cool features, I’m always amazed how few people use Smart Playlists in iTunes. Instead of a literal list of songs, a smart playlist creates a list of songs from the metadata using variables. I have a song list of “25 songs I’ve never heard” which contains 25 songs that have never been played (playcount=0). And “The Beatles” with artist = John or Paul or George or Ringo or The Beatles or Album = ‘Concert for George.’

I found a clever use (or perhaps it’s silly) for the ipod this weekend: an ipod-based phrasebook called iSpeak. It’s a CD of roughly 1500 phrases that you load into your ipod. The phrases are organized into “books” with categories like conversation, travel, food, entertainment, and so on; each book has “chapters” (like introductions, occupations, and weather). Each “song” is a short audio of phrases like “Hola!” “Como estas?” and “Muy bien, gracias.” It’s remarkably easy to navigate to just the phrase you need. You can use iSpeak to learning tool or as a phrase book. Heck, you could just show the ipod to the person you’re talking to and let them read the phrase from the screen. I bought the Spanish and it’s also available for Italian, French, German, and (coming soon) Portuguese, Japanese and Chinese. 

I can’t imagine that anyone at Apple considered the ipod would be used as a language phrasebook (or any of the thousands of other clever uses) but I bet they’re surprised at how few of their customers use Smart playlists.

I had a similar epiphany years ago watching how people used my network management product. The customers thought displaying the network on a geographic map was cool (we, the vendor, thought it rather silly). It was sizzle but they loved it. The core capability of the system was its ability to assign network outages to an operator yet this feature was rarely used.

Next time you’re on the road, schedule a trip to a customer. Ask to see the people who use the product—not just the ones who buy it. Try to keep your mouth closed and your eyes open. And you’ll see what’s hot and what’s not.

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success. 

Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.

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