Informing customers about upcoming changes

If you want to be a bad product manager, surprise users with major changes to your product. Unveiling changes at launch is a great way to build buzz and create excitement around the changes. There’s really no reason to tell people ahead of time — what if something goes wrong and you don’t launch as planned, or your competition sees the changes and is able to make the same changes to their product first? Telling people ahead of time can only cause problems, so just focus on making a big splash at launch and sit back and enjoy the good PR.

If you want to be a good product manager, make sure customers and regular users are well-informed about major changes to your product. You certainly don’t need to notify customers about every minor change — in fact, with online products, it may be a good strategy to make lots of small changes rather than a few big changes — and you don’t need to notify infrequent users, since they won’t notice the changes anyway. For large customers and frequent users, major changes are an opportunity to get customer input and build buzz if you approach them correctly.

In a nutshell, let users preview changes. This can be beneficial for several reasons.

First, it allows you to get more feedback from users on the changes, which you can hopefully use to tweak the changes before the official launch. Even if you’ve received input all along, through concept testing and usability testing and other research activities, you’ll lean even more during this period.

Second, it prepares users for the changes, preventing a difficult backlash. It’s not uncommon for customers to reject changes — even changes that make the product much better — for no reason other than that they are afraid of change. They may be used to the old interface, not matter how confusing it was, or gotten used to the old workflow that the product used, despite the fact that it had several extra steps.

Last, it allows buzz to gather in advance of the launch, created by the users that have previewed the changes. Even if you do a limited beta or small test market trial, if the changes are useful and positive enough, word will spread. Not only will the word spread to current customers but it can be a great way to generate interest among potential new customers.

To be successful, make sure you provide specific details about what is changing and why it’s changing. Any time you have paying customers, you need to be extra diligent to ensure your customers (and sales staff, if applicable) are clear on the changes and why they will benefit them. Managed properly, major changes can be a great opportunity for your product. Managed unsuccessfully, these changes can cause serious long-term damage.