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Developing Products For Creatures Of Habit

Written by sheldondesousa · 2 min read >
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Introduction


As humans, we are creatures of habit. Our experiences form mental models that rest within the recesses of our mind and are triggered when we interact with similar circumstances. This relates to how we interact with new products that cater to a need we’ve satisfied with something else. We develop benchmarks and comfort zones that when hardwired become difficult to let go off.

At the same time, product managers are prone to developing their product into the best version it can be. In an effort to keep pace with trends, business needs or data, PMs make modifications to their product, whether feature-related or design based. Unfortunately, executing these changes, as convincing as the arguments may be, does not always guarantee a positive response.

 

Cases in point

Remember the cold reception Tropicana received when it altered it’s package design? Sure, they wanted to breathe new energy into their packaging. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that line of thinking. But, the package refresh led to a drop in sales without the core product ever undergoing a change.

Long time customers had formed some sort of psychological attachment with the original design. Many claimed the design was generic, difficult to tell apart etc. I tend to agree with them. As humans, for instance, we are accustomed to reading text horizontally. The new vertical branding and a lighter weight font made it difficult to make sense of immediately. In addition, the absence of the infamous orange with a straw was a little too much of a departure. When you factor in the other visuals, it was a classic case of ‘too fast too soon’. 

tropicana-package-designs-old-new

 

I was more inclined to accept the u-turn that Tropicana took to mitigate their circumstances, but, I wasn’t entirely convinced when it came to SnapChat. In the digital world SnapChat faced similar consequences when it changed part of its interface to make room for what it perceived as an improvement in user experience. The result – 1.2 million patrons signed an online petition demanding the platform reverse the update. A simple information architecture change led to user outcry. Perhaps the resolution stated below by SnapChat’s CEO was a better route to take before making any major change.

 

 

CEO of SnapChat, Evan Spiegel had this to say…

“We learned that combining watching Stories and communicating with friends into the same place made it harder to optimize for both competing behaviors. We are currently rolling out an update to address this by sorting communication by recency and moving Stories from friends to the right side of the application, while maintaining the structural changes we have made around separating friends from creators and sorting friends Stories by relationships.”

Where did both companies go wrong? Was it a lack of customer research, oversight, a bullish attitude or plain arrogance? 

 

The Takeaway

Again, we are all creatures of habit. We become accustomed to certain practices that later affect us when change occurs, irrespective of severity. Imagine our mobile phones going back to being button-navigated. What if every automobile manufacturer decided to have its own proprietary sequence of foot pedals or gear changes? 

Therefore, certain expectations need to be managed delicately and nurtured towards change. Google does this beautifully when it makes changes to its interfaces. They leave the decision or opportunity to the user to test the newer version and if not satisfied, retain the former. Remember, users have certain comfort zones when it comes to their favorite products.

Some businesses create time-bound changes to allow customers to phase themselves into the inevitable iteration. I’m a big fan of this practice as we simply cannot afford to neglect business interests or the natural evolution of a product. At the same time, our customers interests need to be factored in.

Whether users are differentiated on the basis on frequency of use, feature-preference, purpose, output etc. they always approach products with certain pre-conceived notions, expectations, mental models or habits. Failure to meet these peculiarities leads to poor product acceptance, higher bounce rates, deflection rates, negative reviews and so on. In fact, trouble turns exponential when it solidifies the bond users have with competing products.

Being empathetic to user preferences and concerns is paramount to success. Product managers have to be perceptive to the masses that have come to depend on or appreciate the product they use.

 

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