Product Experience Maturity Index

We no longer build complicated products. We build complex products. Let me explain.

Complicated products are hard to use, they require training and extensive documentation. Today’s products are simple…er. However, we still build complex products. Products that do a lot but are much easier to use.

For example, Uber is not a complicated app but it is definitely a complex app. It’s got to account for so many things before it gets you the cab you requested.

But, have you ever read a document before you booked a cab? Watched a video, perhaps? No? Thought so. Uber doesn’t require ‘exhaustive’ documentation and neither does your SaaS product.

But, Uber is a B2C product!

B2B, B2C, B2F - it’s all the B2H. H as in Human. If you tell me that your software absolutely needs documentation because it’s a “business software”, I will simply walk away.

What your product needs is not documentation, it just needs to be usable.

The Product Experience Maturity Index

product Experience maturity index

When in doubt, break things down into 3 or 5. Always makes you look smart.

Here’s what I consider the five levels of Product Experience

Level 0 - Users need to be trained

This is officially not a level but if you’re here–I hope you aren’t.

What are the signs?

  • Users expect to be trained before they can start getting value from the product
  • Users expect you to record training sessions so that they can share it with other users
  • Users are ready to pay for training

What are the downsides?

  • Users will jump when an easier alternative is presented
  • Users cannot make use of the newer features until they’re trained
  • Nobody will recommend your product because they don’t want to look bad

How do you move to the next level?

  • Build a knowledge base
  • Create video content and a self paced online course
  • Rebuild the product. From scratch.

While this was accepted a few years back, now users expect to sign up for a product and just start using it.

Level 1 - Users need to raise a support ticket

I’m no Gartner but if I had to guess, I would say a lot of SaaS companies are here right now.

What are the signs?

  • Customer support team is always overworked
  • Customer support team is an expert on the product because they’re so used to answering the same questions over and over again
  • Users are unhappy with wait times and late responses

What are the downsides?

  • High dependancy on the support team. If they fail, everything fails.
  • Support team is fatigued if they’re not adequately staffed
  • Users will will jump when an easier alternative is presented

How do you move to the next level?

  • Drive self service, inside the product if possible. Chatbots, sure.
  • Channel feedback from support into product & marketing.
  • Incentivise customer support to reduce the number of tickets every month

Level 2 - Users need to read a solution article/user guide

This is not a bad place to be but this will soon become unacceptable. The reason? When users want help, they want it now. They don’t want to leave the product to go read something elsewhere and then come back. It’s just too much effort

What are the signs?

  • Users are constantly reporting that the articles are outdated
  • Users still raise a support ticket because they don’t understand the article

What are the downsides?

  • The articles, especially screenshots, will never be up to date
  • While serving a global audience, translation will be a huge problem

How do you move to the next level?

  • Incentivise product teams to eliminate need for solution articles i.e solve it within the product
  • Convert those articles into short video clips

Level 3 - Users need to watch a video

Videos are much better than text based articles. Users can follow along with a video without getting lost as they can literally see whats on the screen

What are the signs?

  • Customer support team shares a video link for most support tickets
  • “Need to update videos” is a constant to-do list item but never gets done

What are the downsides?

  • Users will not remember where the video is, they still need to ask support
  • The videos will constantly be outdated with every UI updated
  • Videos take a lot of time to create

How do you move to the next level?

  • Invest in product experience platforms like AppCues or Pendo
  • Incentivise product teams to reduce complexity so users don’t need a video
  • Hire UX writers

Level 4 - Users receive in-app help

This has become very popular in the recent times with tools like AppCues and Pendo leading the way. Without spending developers time, product companies can easily guide their users within the product without them leaving the app

What are the signs?

  • Your customer support team isn’t as busy as they used to be
  • Newer features get discovered and used without user intervention

What are the downsides?

  • You got to pay the product experience platform if you’re using them
  • Someone needs to take ownership of this experience and it usually falls between product and marketing
  • There are possibilities for mistakes to hit production since the deployment process isn’t as tight as code deployment

How do you move to the next level?

  • While building, ask yourself “How can I eliminate the in-app guide?”
  • Usability tests. Loads of it.

Level 5 - Users need no help

This is the holy grail of product experience. At this level, your users don’t have any trouble using the product. For all you know, you could send your customer support team on a vacation and it has zero impact. It’s utopic but not impossible.

What are the signs

  • Support receives zero “How do I–” tickets

There are no downsides.

There is no next level. This is it.

Okay, now whose job is this anyway?

Ah, good question. Traditionally, this responsibility has fallen with technical writers. By definition, writers work closely with marketing but this trend is changing now with companies like Dropbox and Atlassian moving this closer to the product & design organisation

But, there’s still some ambiguity. Let me add to it. What if we invented a new role?

Product Experience Manager, perhaps?

As we move up the product experience maturity index, it’s evident that this role has very little to do with writing. This, clearly, is a product role.

The Product Experience Manager (PEM, why not) should be responsible for the end to end product experience. This starts when a user enters the product from the website till the time that they stop paying the bill. The PEM need to work closely with design, marketing, developers and support.

Wait, that sounds like a product managers responsibility. Well, yes it does but with one major difference. Product managers are responsible for solutions. Product Experience Managers are only responsible for the experience, a horizontal part of the product. The natural evolution for a PEM is to become a PM.

Today, technical writers are evolving into this role without shedding the title. And the title sometimes gets in the way. By creating a new role and cementing the responsibilities, it would enable yesterday’s writers to fully control the experience end to end.

Let me know what you thought of this :) I respond quickly to Twitter DMs - @yenceesanjeev