When customers don’t respond to a product, ask why

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


You did the research. You built it. You love it. But they haven’t come. 

We recently released a report entitled “7 Steps to a Successful Media Product Process.” The day before release, a topic came up that I hadn’t covered in the report but is exceptionally relevant: What if you go through all the steps, you research it, you prototype it, you test it, build it ... yet when you finally launch, the numbers aren’t there? People aren’t using it. Or at least not as much as you’d predicted. 

If your audience isn't using your product as you'd expected, start with asking why.
If your audience isn't using your product as you'd expected, start with asking why.

The first question you should ask yourself is: Why? 

Yes, product people should always ask why. Even when we question ourselves. 

Did you tell people about it?

One answer could be that people don’t know about it. Sometimes we think the change or additional feature will be obvious to our users. Product managers live and breathe their products all day, every day. As much as we’d love to think otherwise, our users don’t (unless we screw something up and then they all see it!).

An essential step to launching a new product is telling people about it.

We can underestimate how important that is. Onboarding and product marketing are a valuable parts of our toolkit. So when there is something new, particularly when you are testing it, think about discovery and work closely with UX and product marketing colleagues to make sure you are preparing users to get the most out of a new feature. 

Is the product viable?

As this arose in a recent Product Initiative Advisory Council meeting, another potential answer came up. The conversation stemmed from one organisation finding that during research and feedback sessions, they often had user requests to allow them to save their articles. It seems this is a common request, and users place a high value on this feature. But they rarely actually use it.  

So how do we see through what they say they want vs. what they actually want? If the usage is low — and we’ve seen it across multiple sites and examples for this specific instance — then it’s not worth building. Most people on the call nodded vigorously. However, one voice disagreed. He believes the perceived user value can be worth it. He went as far as to say that the modern user has certain expectations for “basic hygiene” features. And if that perceived value is high enough, we should build it. 

Both of these answers are valid. If we simply looked at the data and didn’t ask why, we could kill something that is valuable. So this is your friendly reminder to always look beyond the data at hand. It may not be the right data. Or you could be asking the wrong question. Any time a perceived problem arises, try not to ask what, but why.  

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About Jodie Hopperton

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