Why you should be using your own products


When I encounter a product that’s hard to use, the same thought always crosses my mind: nobody in the company actually uses it on a regular basis. To be more specific, even if some employees do use their company’s product, these people don’t have any significant influence over product design or subsequent revisions. Obviously, customer feedback and usability testing are important. But the kind of feedback you get from people who have a vested interest in the product’s success and the ability to effect changes in subsequent revisions is pretty powerful.

Here’s a case in point. I have a simple popcorn machine that works pretty well. You pour in the kernels, plug in the power cord, and wait for the popcorn to spill into the bowl. It really couldn’t be any easier to use, and I bet it did great in usability testing and focus groups. But after using it for awhile, I started to get really irritated by one simple omission: there’s no power switch. To turn it off, you have to yank the power cord from the wall. Since the machine gets really hot when you’re using it, this can be a tricky task to accomplish. In other words, it’s only after using the product for a few weeks that you really start to notice this simple but annoying design flaw.

So why don’t I contact the company and give them feedback? Like most product manufacturers, they would probably say that it’s working just like it was designed, so there’s nothing they can do. And since very few people would ever take the time to report such an issue, it would never reach the critical mass needed for the company’s product design team to fix it in the next version. And thus the cycle continues, and no power switch ever makes it into the product. Generally speaking, this scenario can affect anything from kitchen appliances to wool sweaters to web-based applications.

What’s the solution? I propose that you appoint some employees of your company to serve as official product users. Not just for an hour here or a day there in staged testing scenarios, but instead, using it regularly like your customers do. These employees would take the product home or use it at work, making it part of their routine. Then, when they come across issues and suggestions, they log them in a simple printed journal or an online tool. And of course, the company has to actually read and consider these suggestions on an ongoing basis. For the best results, the employees you select should come from different functional areas, ranging from product developers to marketing staff to customer support.

Granted, this approach might seem impossible when you’re talking about highly sophisticated or specialized products. In those cases, a product testing lab could be created so that staff members can at least get a general feeling for how customers use the product. In my popcorn machine example, let’s say that nobody in your company eats popcorn. Perhaps once a week, you could invite people from neighboring offices to stop by for free popcorn. Your employees would use the machine to make the popcorn, and then get feedback on the quality of the resulting product from your guests. Unlike a typical focus group or usability test, this would be repeated on a regular basis so that your employees become frequent users of the product — and start noticing the things that are often missed in one-off testing scenarios.

2 Responses to “Why you should be using your own products”

  1. True, although I don’t recall seeing any weird infomercial-style marketing for the popcorn machine. Maybe I should check on YouTube.

  2. That popcorn machine sounds a lot like “The Cornballer” device on Arrested Development that George Bluth marketed in Mexico.