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Craving the bad news

January 20, 2020

Craving the bad news

Why talking to your customers is your Founder/CEO's 4th most important job!

I make a point of regularly talking to our customers and Craving the bad news - Why talking to your customers is your Founder/CEO's 4th most important job!prospects. I want to know what they think, what they need, what they want from a product like Samepage. I want to learn. They say a CEO has only 3 jobs:

  • Make sure there is money to pay the bills
  • Hire a great team, and
  • Communicate the vision until everyone is thoroughly sick of hearing it! :-)

I would humbly add a fourth job - talk to your customers and crave the bad news.

Crave the bad news? Why?

Aren't startup founders supposed to find product-market fit? Shouldn't you just talk to your successful customers and do more of that? Sure, and those are the fun conversations. I love talking to a customer whose business life has been transformed for the better by Samepage. Who wouldn't?

The other day I was on a call with a good customer. They were having some frustrations and wanted some advice. Of course, I was eager to jump on a call. It turned into one of those humbling, humiliating calls where you see first-hand everything that is wrong and bad about your product. The customer is quite happy with Samepage, and I gave them a lot of tips on how to use us better. Once they start using my advice, they'll love us.

But what I want to share today is the bad news, what I learned, and why it is so important.

Most customers will suffer UX issues in silence until they churn

This particular company runs a high-end auction business - estate sales, rare books, etc. Their problem was about page templates, a seemingly minor feature. The person who set up their account, in the beginning, made a page template for onboarding new clients. Pretty natural, it had some sections for text, a couple of tables for inputting info about the client, etc. They've created hundreds of pages in the time they've used Samepage. Sounds great, what's the problem?

First, they had no idea how to modify the template. There were things on the template they don't use, take up space, and isn't appropriate or necessary any longer. Changing it should be dead simple, right? Well, they couldn't figure out how and hundreds of clients (and pages created) later, they were frustrated. Thankfully, they reached out for help.

In Samepage, you first create a regular page to be the source and then make a template from that source page. In principle, this is a straightforward and flexible system with no complex UI issues. Here's what the menu looks like:

Notice the problem? "Make a template" is grayed out. In this team, I'm not a team owner, so I cannot promote this page to a page template. We don't explain why, there's no help for the user at all, not even a tooltip. What were we thinking?

Now the employee who set this up for our customer made this template in the Everyone team, which is a special team where every member of the organization is automatically in the team. It is a place designed to be where a company makes announcements or posts important news. This customer had several hundred of these pages all in the Everyone team. Well, the Everyone team is special in another way: Only organization Administrators are Team Owners. In this company, there is just one Admin, the owner of the business. So, when the users tried to create new templates, it appeared to be impossible! How frustrating that must be to be teased by that "Make a template" in gray, every day, just out of reach!

In this customer's case, the proper way to structure their content is to create a Samepage Team for each of their clients. This way, it would be possible to invite their clients in as Guests to their particular team and collaborate there together. How do they work today? Emails go back and forth, and someone copies & pastes content onto those pages. What an inefficient mess. No one ever showed them how to do it and when someone did create a new team one time, the template didn't work!

Why is that? Templates are, by default, only available in the team where they were created. This is logical. Most templates will tend to be specific to a particular function. Imagine a PTO request template in an HR Team, for example.

To address this customer's issue, Samepage has Global Templates as well. First, you create a template (if you can), then you promote it to be a global template. Here's what the menu looks like:

I cheated here because you see a tooltip next to Custom templates. It takes you to a helpful article that explains how to create and use templates. That wasn't there the other day. You'll also see how you make a custom template into a global template - you have to find the gear icon next to the name of a custom template. And you have to be an organizational Administrator to perform this action.

Blinded by our assumptions

What seemed simple and easy for us was, for all practical purposes, completely unusable for our customers. There was no way for them ever to discover how or why to create a global template. The "Make global" option is still hidden behind that gear icon. To create a global template even now requires a fairly deep understanding of teams and our permission model (team ownership, organization admins, etc.), with no tools to guide our users.

As I said at the beginning, this is humiliating and painful to watch. You can only imagine how this felt while watching a screen share and directing our customers on how to work around these issues. To their credit, they were incredibly gracious and thankful. We are fortunate to have customers like them!

And it keeps getting worse!

If that was the end of it, I might not have written this article, but wait. There's more!

Because all of the pages created for all of their customers were all located in one team, the Everyone team, of all places, EVERY message on every one of those pages generated a red dot notification to EVERY employee of the company. Can you imagine the cacophony of noise all those poor employees had to deal with? All because someone started with a bad template.

There are even more subtle and embarrassing bits here and there, but I'll spare you the ugly details.

Suffice it to say. I shared all the details with my entire team the next day. Samepage is about making collaboration easier, bringing all of your content, workflows, and conversations together on our uniquely powerful pages, which we call a collaborative canvas. But for this customer, we failed, and luckily they are ok and moving forward with an entirely new data design for their business.

Onboarding & Churn are two sides of the same problem

How many other prospects or partners ran into that grey menu item and quit or churned? We'll never know. Customers rarely tell you why they churned, and you'll rarely get it from a prospect. What you'll hear, if you get an answer, is something generic, like, "Well, it just never caught on with the team."

This is why it is the Founder / CEO's fourth most important job to talk to customers and crave the bad news.

Now we can go about fixing this! Wish us luck!

I hope you enjoyed this article. If you do, you can follow me on LinkedIn. Just mention you saw this article and I'll accept your request! I look forward to sharing more of our Customer Journey failures (and some successes) in the future. In the meantime, I wish you and your team to always be on the Samepage!