Why It’s OK to Break Things in Your Product
Here is a scenario most of us are (dreadfully) familiar with: you’re doing your job, going about your day, when — suddenly — something in your product just stops working. Sometimes it’s something small. Other times it’s a core feature. Sometimes you notice it yourself. Other times a customer notices it first.
This scenario is especially familiar to those of us who work at startups, but even large companies aren’t immune. It doesn’t matter if you’re a marketer, sales rep, or engineer — when something’s broken in your product, everyone feels it. And while this may sound like a nightmare, here’s why it’s actually not as bad as it seems.
1. It’s a Sign of Progress
“Growing pains” are to be expected with any type of innovation, but this rings particularly true for tech startups. When you’re building and expanding on something new (or rapidly scaling), a few hiccups along the way are inescapable. If your software never has any bugs, you’re probably not growing as fast as you could be.
Here at Klaviyo, our CEO, Andrew, has a habit of building entirely new features overnight (think: product feeds for custom carts). This is incredible because it allows us to innovate rapidly — but sometimes things don’t always go as smoothly as intended. In our case, that meant product feeds for custom carts were displaying out-of-stock items.
The key measure of a business is how these bugs are handled.
I can say from experience that our small, scrappy team works tirelessly until any bugs are fixed. Our engineers have a pager system and, like ER doctors, do on-call rotations in case anything goes wrong after hours. Andrew has been known to pull all-nighters to fix bugs.
Of course, no one wants to stay up all night fixing code. But this level of dedication is what can set your business apart from others in your industry. And, while stressful, times like these are also a learning experience for everyone involved — whether you’re an engineer or a sales rep, who might have to explain an unforeseen issue to a huge prospect. These moments help you problem-solve and think on your feet.
2. It Humanizes You
When something in your product is broken, you’ll need to address it. You can do this publicly (on Twitter, for example) or privately by communicating with your customers directly (in an email update). While daunting, this is an opportunity to connect with your customers on a personal level. Be prepared to manage responses and explain that you are working on a fix.
Although some customers may be angry or frustrated, it’s always best to be transparent — transparency fosters trust between your brand and your customers. Help Scout has a great post on how to use transparency to manage an internal crisis, which cites a study conducted at Stanford as evidence that customers respond positively to transparency during a time of crisis.Movie A Dog’s Purpose (2017)
Granted, crisis management (like Help Scout’s example of Buffer) is another post for another time — but the reasoning stands. In tech especially, your customers can sometimes forget that there is a team of real people behind your software. Remind them that you’re human and humans are fallible.
It’s also important to be transparent to assure your customers that you’re aware of any issues and working to resolve them. This is where status updates on your blog or social media come into play. We’ve been on the other side of this, too — when a product we’re using breaks, we want to know what’s going on in real-time and appreciate any effort to keep us updated.
3. It Gives You Room to Improve
Like I mentioned above, every bug is a learning opportunity. And I don’t just mean that every bug is an opportunity to improve your product (though that’s true too).
When something goes wrong, you’ll have a chance to learn from how you handled it. Hindsight is 20/20, after all. Learn from what went well and what didn’t, and apply this to your future strategy.
A preventative approach — avoiding creating bugs in the first place — is of course the ideal situation. However, it’s wishful thinking to put off making a game plan. If something does break, you don’t want to be left scrambling and unprepared.
Every single business will experience unexpected bugs or setbacks — for fast growing ones, like startups, this will happen sooner rather than later. The true test is how you handle them. These moments, though stressful while you’re in them, give your brand chance to shine by correcting the issue and genuinely connecting with your customer base.
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