This article addresses the benefits of continuous product improvement for boosting sales, enhancing customer engagement and experience, reinforcing brand reputation and creditworthiness, and more. It is based on Evolve‘s many years of experience of building distributed and dedicated client-managed teams for software product development and scale-up.
Product quality describes the ability of a product to meet user expectations. Here are a few questions to consider when evaluating your software product quality:
- Does the product solve the problem? The degree to which it removes the intended problem helps determine its quality.
- Is it easy to use? A quality product doesn’t have to be difficult to use. Customers don’t need to spend too much time figuring out how to use it.
- Is it polished? All colours, sizes, fonts (if applicable) and other UI/UX design elements must be consistent. The product shouldn’t have cheap look-and-feel.
6 Reasons Why Product Quality is Important
Improving the quality of your software product is paramount to the bottom line of your business. Here are six reasons why product quality is important:
- A quality product builds trust with your customers.
- It supports and encourages recommendations and referrals.
- It enables better customer satisfaction.
- People do care about aesthetics.
- A quality product provides a higher return on investment.
- It allows you to grow.
If you have a software product that doesn’t quite resonate with your target audience or fails to provide appropriate ROI, it’s about time to consider improving your product.
What is Product Improvement and Why You Should Care
Product improvement is the process of making significant changes to a product, which helps attract and onboard new customers or increase existing customers’ value.
The two most common methods for improving a product are:
- building new features to the product, and
- enhancing the existing ones.
Improving a product changes one of the following things:
- ease of use,
- bias within your target audience,
- functional performance, etc.
Why Improve Software Products?
One of the worst things that can happen to your product is that it crashes right in the hands of your users. This can have devastating consequences for a company’s image as a whole.
Check out how we helped the UK's innovative startup Offerd attract more new customers by significantly improving their product quality.
The more complex your product is, the higher the likelihood of potential user rejection. Thus, the more reliable product you deliver, the higher the chance your customers will come back. Avoiding failures within the product’s normal operating parameters and the environment is a must in today’s fiercely competitive landscape. Your product cannot afford to fail under typical use cases.
Keep up with the times
Technology allows small and medium-sized businesses to compete with larger players in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. But for many SMB owners, technology has one tremendous downside–the need for constant upgrades.
“When will this round of constant changes end? When can I stop upgrading my systems?” – we at Evolve hear such questions from some of our customers every now and then. The truth is, technology will always need to be updated. Consumer demands for more robust features and changes in government regulations and standards are just some of the reasons why companies will always need to update their software products.
The main thing is not to consider updates as inconveniences, but to understand that you will benefit your business by investing in them.
Today we have faster processors, faster hard drives, and Cloud, which allows for faster workloads processing. Old systems are not as fast as the new ones.
New technologies are enabling businesses to communicate with existing and potential customers in a variety of ways: email, social media, websites and chatbots. More flexible communication means better business potential.
Legacy systems fail to pass current security audits and are more prone to information theft or compromise. New technologies allow for advanced and enhanced software security.
Functions in newer operating systems can be used to improve things that were not possible on older systems. This means that companies using older technologies will not have functionality that would give them a competitive edge.
While upgrading sounds expensive, the truth is that older systems have more problems and therefore cost more in the long run. The cost of bugs and crashes caused by unstable (i.e., unsupported and legacy) systems and software can be much more overwhelming than investing in your product improvement.
When something new appears on the market, existing systems and software may not be compatible with it.
Reduced energy consumption
Electricity is becoming very expensive for businesses in the UK and globally. The good news is that the newest computers and servers generally use less power, which means real savings for your business.
In addition, Cloud migration can affect your energy savings positively and cut your utility bills.
Employees are becoming increasingly frustrated with legacy systems and software — they simply cannot do their jobs as efficiently as they would like. If they are so unhappy that they leave, you can lose important knowledge and expertise or face overheads related to employee replacement.
Just like employees, customers can be unhappy with your legacy technology. This can give your business a reputation of a slow tech adopter. By investing in technology improvement, you will improve the customer experience and prove a reliable and long-term technology partner.
Is your system designed to support a certain number of users? What happens if your business grows and it needs to support several times more users? The right technology solution will support your current needs and ensure business growth in the future.
Finding new customers or launching brand new products can lead to great success. However, offering improved software products to your current customers is the first thing to look out for.
Business Growth Through Customer Feedback
Growth is likely to follow when you come up with value-added improvements. Customers can sometimes tell you – with little prompting – what some of those anticipated improvements are. In most cases, you need to establish the right kinds of discussions with customers and prospects as well as ask the right questions to gain insights into what they need and want.
Whether your business targets other businesses or consumers, these insights can come from casual conversations, one-on-one interviews, or focus group discussions on the category of products or services that interest you.
In all cases, encourage your clients to have an open discussion where:
- They describe how they use your product, highlighting both the good and bad experiences;
- You ask what problems they face in their business / daily life;
- You ask what they believe might be improved.
Then, collect the results and prioritise the improvement opportunities in terms of how significant the growth opportunities might be if you can make them. Gather a group of people, including software developers involved in product development, design, marketing or sales; other company employees who are not involved in product development; and some users outside the company.
Meet in a relaxed atmosphere outside the office and discuss the different ways your company can better meet their needs. Hire a facilitator who can identify ideas and help the group capture and shape them.
Later, ask a software team responsible for developing new products to analyse ideas from the discussions and select one or more ideas that seem promising in terms of attractiveness to customers and filling market gaps. They can move to the first stage of development and feasibility study.
It is useful for each idea to identify the type of target group to which it is intended; what problem it solves for the customers in that particular group; and why it might be more beneficial to the consumer over competing products or alternatives.
Using a customer review survey, you can find out how satisfied your customers are, what you need to do to improve your product and identify those customers who like your product and who may possibly refer new customers to you.
The Net Promoter Score is the ultimate survey to determine how likely it is that your customer will recommend your product to others with a straightforward question. If you decide to conduct a more detailed survey, try to keep it short enough, less than ten questions and no more than 3.5 minutes long.
When buyers think they are getting a top-notch product or product from a trusted brand, they’re ready to dig deeper into their pockets.
“71% of users say they are looking for high quality and trusted brands when shopping,” 2019 Deloitte Holiday Buying Habits Report.
Satisfied customers are the ultimate goal for most brands and retailers. Thus, it’s important to know how closely brand loyalty and product quality are linked, especially for Gen Z shoppers.
“57% of Gen Z shoppers directly associate product quality with brand loyalty. The younger generation is very careful in how they spend,” Yes Marketing Survey 2019.
This will only lead to more revenue for quality-focused brands if they are good enough to keep people coming back. Another BIA Advisory study found that 61% of small and medium-sized businesses receive more than half of their income from returning customers, not new ones.
Therefore, continuous product improvement is what each SMB should be focused on to be able to deliver the right market fit.
Continuous Product Improvement
What are the product quality standards in your industry? How can you surpass them?
Taking the extra step towards continuous improvement will show customers that you are not only trusted but that you are also investing in better products. Consumers appreciate when brands can improve and make products better by making a difference quickly.
You can improve an existing feature in three different ways:
- Make it better by improving quality (deliberate improvements),
- Change it so customers use it more often (frequency improvements), or
- Change it so that more people can use it (acceptance improvements).
Keep in mind that not all of your improvements will be appreciated by end-users. Some (or most) will be resistant to change.
Make deliberate (a.k.a. intentional) improvements when you know exactly why customers use an existing feature and what they value about it. Deliberate improvement aims at improving a feature in a way that current users will appreciate (and you know it for sure!).
When to use: There is a feature that all of your customers use and love, and you see an opportunity to add value by expanding its functionality.
Building an emotional connection across your brand is critical to standing out.
You are making these improvements to entice customers to use this feature more often. Adding more items to the activity stream or additional options to the search tool means people use it more often for a greater variety of tasks each day.
This improvement can turn a weekly function into a daily operation.
When to use: There is a feature that most of your customers don’t use often, and you’re 100% sure they’ll benefit from using it.
Loyal customers are precious. Among the advantages are:
- Free promotion of your business and product;
- Getting referral customers is cheaper than acquiring the new ones;
- Test new products or services.
How to Make Your Product Users to Come Back
- Build internal systems that support frontline employees to deal with virtually any customer service interaction (often allowing employees to make decisions on the spot rather than relaying customer requests and complaints elsewhere).
- Create a mobile app.
In an era when most of the business is done online, the loyalty-building capabilities of a mobile app are virtually limitless. It’s because:
- Customisable apps reduce marketing costs by staying in touch through email, text messages and (optionally) push notifications;
- Apps can be permanently visible (as an icon with a company logo) on the client’s mobile device, thereby increasing brand awareness.
Indeed, small business loyalty apps – among all types of loyalty programs – have the most significant potential to be a key component of your customer return strategy.
Acceptance (a.k.a. implementation) improvements are targeted at customers who are not using the feature. For instance, if you have a calendar feature that only half of your users uses, the customisation improvement aims to beat the rest.
By adding an ICS file import or Google Calendar connection, you don’t improve it for all users, but you make it more likely to be accepted by non-users. When you hear phrases like “I’ll take advantage of this as soon as I can …”, then improving adaptation can help.
When to use: There is an important feature that a significant portion of your users have not yet implemented. You see some apparent integrations or changes that will make it easier for them to transition.
Continuous Improvement Principles
Focus on your business objective
We recommend that you set short-term goals or project objectives.
As each of these short-term goals is achieved and reinforced, internally or externally, participants are motivated to do more. As a result, continuous improvement becomes a self-reinforcing cycle when success breeds success.
Set realistic and achievable goals
When setting goals, you set yourself a target to strive for. The SMART goal is used to help you set goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Thus, a SMART goal includes all of these criteria to help you focus your efforts and increase your chances of achieving it.
Foster incremental changes
For continuous improvement, small incremental changes are made frequently. This has many benefits such as:
- Small changes can have a significant impact on your bottom-line;
- Small changes are generally less expensive and have less implementation risk than large changes.
It is easier for people to adapt to small changes than to large ones.
Small levels of change provide a faster rate of change, so results can outpace technology or other factors that are also changing. Small changes can be made faster than large changes, resulting in faster turnaround.
Addressing the small elements of a complex problem can help you find simple solutions to a larger problem.
Just like compound interest, continuous improvement intensifies over time, yielding more significant long-term benefits.
Small changes require continual assessment, which makes it possible to adjust course as needed.
Keep measuring customer satisfaction
By measuring customer satisfaction often, you can reduce the number of unhappy customers and prevent customer churn. An easy yet effective way to measure customer satisfaction is by using online survey tools like Mailchimp or SurveyMonkey.
Measure Your Continuous Product Improvement Outcomes
If your improvement continues, it will be difficult to measure. However, you can use metadata to determine the rate of change. Measuring continuous improvement is important in long term projects and is a vital project management tool. Knowing how to measure and quantify improvements can help show real achievements and highlight slowing improvements. A slowdown in improvement is often a sign of an impending recession, so accurate numbers can help you avoid or respond to a potential problem.
Find ways to quantify progress
If you are working on a specific project, you can measure the quantifiable aspects. For example, for a money-saving project, plot the “costs reduced from last week” graph.
This will allow you to measure your progress in terms of the rate of change of improvements. If goals are more difficult to quantify, such as customer satisfaction, use any feedback data to build a change graph. Having an easily viewable dataset will significantly simplify the assessment.
Review your data in terms of your original goals
If your pace of improvement is starting to slow down, consider your initial rationale for the project.
This will help you stay focused and not lose sight of the big picture. Slowing down the path of change still means that you are getting better and closer to your ultimate goal. Measuring this in terms of initial intent is vital to avoid making short-term decisions.
In the middle of a project, develop a set of criteria that you can use to measure improvement. While you must remain committed to your original purpose, you should demand higher standards if you are seeking immediate success. If you want to cut 10% of your total budget in six months and 4% in four weeks, try to keep the rate at 1% per week. If you strive for this, you will maintain high standards while still striving for your ultimate goal.
This way, you can use your success to move the project further.
During economic cycles, even successful projects go through periods of recession. Do not worry about it. If necessary, look at your competitors to see if you have a typical failure. Continuous improvement is difficult to sustain over the long term, so for longer projects, try to protect market shrinking by considering contingency plans.
Risks of Product Improvement
Because product improvement requires research, possible changes in production and supply, repackaging and possibly relaunching – there are apparent costs associated with this new product development process. Naturally, the goal will be to increase profitability over time, but keep in mind that there is a significant up-front cost component.
Not all products are eligible for the proposed improvements. Do you remember Microsoft Vista?
Introduced in 2007 as a major overhaul of Windows XP, Windows Vista was everything that its popular predecessor was not — in every wrong way. Rejected by both customers and IT professionals, Vista slowed down PC performance and caused a number of serious problems for users.
As a result, a few months after Vista launched on new laptops, Dell started offering Windows XP again. Windows made a decision to no longer support Vista, driving the final nail into the operating system’s coffin.
Depending on how you improve your product, there is a risk of damaging brand reputation. For example, if a particular product gets improved, and the packaging is labelled “new and improved – better than ever” (or words for that sense), then it is possible that some consumers will feel that the brand as a whole is of low quality.
When improving your technology product, make sure to follow these principal guidelines:
Listen to your customer and data: always collect your customer feedback in formal and informal ways, involve them in product review sessions, conduct focus group research and always base your assumptions on real-life customer insights and existing product data, not on your gut feeling.
Do No Harm: minimise the inconvenience for your customers and make the transition as easy as possible.
Keep it simple: make sure the change is simple and straightforward. Ensure minimum efforts for your clients to use your product.
Provide sufficient notice: Give customers enough time and notifications to adjust their processes and habits for your product update.
Do you think it's about time to improve your existing software product? Drop us a line or call at +44 116 298 7460 to request our portfolio and discuss how we can help!