Ten steps to a better launch, more successful product and happier customers

There’s a lot that goes into making and launching a great consumer technology product, far more than just an affordable price tag, an attractive look-and-feel or even a great product.  In fact, it’s the whole experience surrounding that product – from the moment a customer begins the pre-purchase research phase to the unboxing to the support – that leaves a lasting impression on the customer. If it’s a good experience, the products will shine. And if it’s not… well, you know how that plays out.

Consider the example of Acer, whose CEO recently offered a turnaround strategy for the money-losing PC maker that was tied to a simple concept: quit selling cheap and poorly made machines.  On the surface, that sounds like a good first step, but it’s not enough—its only one step.

When it comes to making and selling great products, there are 10 important pieces of the puzzle that come into play. Smart companies will pay attention to each and every one of the phases to ensure that the customer experience is a good one all the way around. Those 10 pieces are:

1. Information gathering: For most products, the Internet is where the research usually begins. Does the site load quickly? Is the site navigation easy to follow? Is the important information about the product – specs, images and pricing – easily accessible? Can the information easily be shared with another person, such as a spouse who might have a say in the purchasing decision? Some sites can get bogged down with splashy graphics that just slow things down at this phase. The rule of thumb: Keep it simple and make the information easy to find and access.

2. Purchase: How is your shopping and checkout experience – either online or in a store? Are there enough in-store cashiers to keep the line of eager buyers moving? Are the display products powered and working so customers can test-drive them? How many hoops does a shopper have to get through before the online sale is finalized? Is there an option to chat online or call a sales agent in case a customer has questions at checkout? Customers don’t want to work hard or go through extra steps to hand over their money.

3. Delivery: If the product is being shipped, how seamless is that process? Does two-day shipping mean two days from the order date or does it mean something else? No one wants to pay for two-day shipping only to receive it five days later because it didn’t ship for three. Can customers track the product? Will it require a signature at the door? How will the delivery person handle a delivery to an apartment complex, where a package can’t necessarily be left at the doorstep? When it comes to delivery policies, consider the scenarios that customers might face and take steps to make sure that it’s as painless as possible.

4. Unboxing: If you’ve ever had to bring out kitchen shears to get into the hard-plastic packaging of a product – risking a gash to your hand or some damage to the product inside – then your first experience with that product is a bad one. Consider how Apple packages its products. Usually, a single seal is broken, the box cover slips right off and the first thing you see is the product itself on display – as if you’ve just discovered a treasure. You don’t get that experience when you fight to open the box and get a first view of cardboard or cables or instruction manuals.

5. Set-up: The PC industry figured this one out years ago when it started color-coding cables and ports and using images with supporting text – instead of the other way around – to help consumers get set-up. The set-up instructions should be clear and easy-to-follow. Don’t assume that the customer knows the difference between USB and HDMI cables.

6. First use: The first use is different from everyday use. Televisions don’t scan for available channels every time they’re turned on and remotes don’t need to be programmed with every use. But that first experience right out of the box is important. You can’t make assumptions about what people will know or won’t know and should offer thorough instructions to make the first impression a good one. Even something basic like a clock radio could use some first-use consideration, such as letting customers know how to set the alarm, how to adjust the length of time for the snooze button and whether the illuminated red light means represents AM or PM.

7. Customer support: There are two times when people call support – during setup and later when things go wrong. In either scenario, frustration levels are already probably high. Are you easing that pain or adding to it? Are customers forced to navigate a lengthy phone tree system only to find out that real people are only available to help during the 8-5 of another time zone? Will support staffers know whether they’re dealing with a first-time user or someone who already knows his way around the product? (Hint: a different phone number for set-up assistance could do wonders here.)

8. Updates: If you roll out software updates for your products, are they easy to find and install or is the process frustrating for customers? Have the updates been tested for bugs and other possible mishaps? Updates are supposed to make the products better, not worse.

9. Disposal: When it comes time to replace an older product with a new one, what is the best way to dispose of the old one? Are there environmental considerations? What about costs? What about the weight and size? Companies have been creative about this in the past. Mattress companies offer free disposal of the old bed when you buy a new one. Many ink and toner cartridge makers now including packaging and labels to easily ship back the old cartridges for recycling or proper disposal. Even car dealers understand that a trade-in eliminates the pain of trying to sell your old car on your own.

10. Replacement/upgrade: It took many years but wireless phone companies now know that customers are going to want their contacts, photos, music and even their personalized settings to be transferred to their replacement phones. Companies want their customers to leave their stores with a ready-to-use replacement product or at least the tools they need to transition to the replacement product with ease. Migration assistants – software tools that help customers decide what data to move to the replacement product – can be helpful, as well.

For consumers to consider a a product to be great, the customer experience – from the moment that someone becomes a potential customer to the moment where they consider being a repeat customer – has to be a good one along every step. Remember: A product can be the coolest, fastest or prettiest – but if the customer is continuously frustrated at different steps, then cool, fast and pretty are easily overshadowed.