Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hello from Alyssa

Hello REAL Software world! I'm Alyssa Foley - I’m part of the Customer Service Team and a Jill of All Trades for REAL Software. I'm from Austin and have been with REAL Software since January 2008. If you went to REAL World 2008 you may have seen me working the registration desk or attending sessions. I also attended MacWorld this year with Geoff & David. If you have purchased from REAL Software recently and filled out our order survey, I personally read your answers and sent you a response. We aren't kidding when we say each one of those gets read by an employee! I consider all the comments you pass on to be very important feedback and discuss them often with Geoff, Dana and our Engineers.

When we launched our new website in December, we built-in a number of features that allow you to take care of issues you would normally contact customer service about. Now you can create an account and view your entire order history, all of your license keys as well as a quick link to update or renew those keys. The new site also gives you the ability to download any old versions of REALbasic for which your license keys are eligible. One thing to note, regardless of whether you logged into the old site or not, you will need to do the the login on the left side of the page first of our new site here:

http://www.realsoftware.com/account/login.php

After creating your account, you can login and update your contact information or email address and access the feedback system.

Do you have a question or comment about REAL Software or your latest order? Did you forget your username or lose your license key? You can write me anytime at custserv@realsoftware.com or call me from 8:30 am-5:30 pm CST.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

When they can't articulate, innovate.

In the last post I talked about using NPS (net promoter score) to focus on what your users are telling you they want most. When your users are telling you what they want, encourage them to tell you what problems they need you to solve rather than suggesting solutions. Why is that important? Because unless you understand the problem, you can't provide the best solution. There may be far better solutions to the problem than those the user is suggesting. The user doesn't always know all the different ways you might be able to solve the problem. So I should take this opportunity to ask those of you that use our products to please describe your problems when you report a bug or suggest a feature.

What do you do if the user can't articulate the problem they have? I don't mean they can't find the words to describe it. What if the user is simply living with a problem that they didn't know you or anyone else could solve? Let me take you back to a place a long time ago in a galaxy, far, far away: the 1980s. I was a computer consultant and a big customer of mine had just merged with another large company. One day, while strolling through the sea of cubicles, I noticed a temp worker sitting at a computer doing some data entry. What I found interesting was that the data she was entering was clearly coming from a four inch stack of computer paper. She was entering data into one computer that came from another computer! I asked my contact where the data on the computer printout came from. He pointed to another computer just across the room. Looking at the stack I figured it was going to take at least a week to enter all that data. I asked him if it would be worth $500 if I could get the data into the new computer without any of the mistakes that the diligent, but also human, temp worker was bound to make and get the job done today instead of a week from now. The answer was an enthusiastic yes. We don't think twice about this today but back then it felt more like magic to most people so it never occurred to my customer to even ask me if I could solve that problem. I assume they found something else for the temp worker to do...

When you solve a problem that users can't articulate or perhaps are not even aware they have, that's innovation. While users like it when you solve the problems they tell you about, they REALLY like it when you doing something truly innovative. In order to see these problems, you really have to walk in their shoes. If you can use your own product, like we do at REAL Software, that makes it a whole lot easier. But if you can't, then spend the time with your users to see how they use your software. Ideally, this would be done on-site so you can watch them work. If not, screen sharing over broadband works very well these days. Take extensive notes but resist the temptation to show them how to solve a problem when you notice one because you won't be sitting behind them every moment of every day. If they are doing something the hard way or the long way with your software, then perhaps the better way is not intuitive enough. If there is no better way, then you may have an opportunity to innovate.

Once you've identified a place to innovate, the next step is to come up with your innovation. The solution is not always obvious. Sometimes, it looks like there is no solution. This often happens because we limit ourselves to what is most obvious. Instead, use your imagination. Keep your mind open. Brainstorm about solutions with a co-worker or friend if you can. Many of the most innovative solutions have come from imagination and brainstorming. If anything were possible, what would the solution be? That's a good place to start.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Want to grow your business? Just ask your customers.

Many of you are entrepreneurs. You create software with REALbasic that you sell to others. Chances are, like me, you are trying to grow your business. There are many ways to do this but I'm going to share with you one particular method we're using at REAL Software.

Now it may seem obvious to ask customers what they want and ask them how well you are doing at providing what they want. Just about every company does this at some point. It turns out, however, that how you interpret the answers you get can make all the difference in the world when it comes to growing your business.

Early last year I was reading an article about this in Fortune magazine. Loyalty expert Fred Reichheld spent ten years studying the relationship between how people respond to surveys and their actual behavior - repeat purchasing and referral patterns. He wrote a book about his research findings call The Ultimate Question published by Harvard Business School Press. It was a Wall Street Journal best seller.

Fred says that once per quarter, you should ask your customers two questions:

1) How likely are you to refer us to your friends and colleagues? (0 to 10)
2) Can we follow up with you regarding your answer to question #1. (yes or no)

That's it. That's the entire survey. Now many of you have probably asked these questions before but again, it's all in how you interpret the results. According to Fred, your customers will be in three groups: promoters, passives and detractors. Promoters give you a score of 9 or 10. Passives give you a score of 7 or 8. Detractors are those that give you a score of 6 or less.

Promoters are loyal customers that actively promote you (as their title suggests) to others.

Passives are happy with your product or service, but they are not happy enough to be enthusiastic and loyal. On the other hand, they are not saying anything negative to others about you either, but they are more likely to be open to competitive offers so turning them into promoters is a good thing.

Detractors are not happy and may be saying negative things about your product or service that are damaging your brand and slowing your word-of-mouth growth.

To interpret the results of such a survey in a way that will help you know which actions to take, you calculate your net promoter score. This is calculated by taking the percentage of promoters and subtracting the percentage of detractors. Notice that passives don't count in this case. This means that lowest possible score is -100 (all detractors) and the highest possible score is 100 (all promoters). Next you follow up with all of those that gave you permission to do so.

Promoters will tell you why they love you. This is good information because you may find out that they love you for reasons you were not aware of. Passives and more importantly detractors, will tell you why they are not promoters. What you need to do is involve everyone in your company in solving the problems the detractors have. Solve their problems, and at the very least, they won't be detractors anymore.

If you dedicate yourself to changing detractors into passives or better, promoters, you will find your NPS (Net Promoter Score) increasing. According to Reichheld, the companies with the highest NPS in their industry tend to be the fastest growing. Everyone in your company should know your NPS because everyone affects it.

So what is a good NPS? It really depends on your industry. In 2008, Adobe was the consumer software company with the highest NPS of 46. Apple topped the computer hardware category at 79. Apple has only 2% detractors which is outstanding.

I highly recommend Fred's book, The Ultimate Question. You can also learn a lot from the official web site, netpromoter.com.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

REALbasic Tip

In REALbasic 2008 Release 5 several new warnings were added.
And, a new pragma was added to suppress unused variable warnings.
You use it like
      #pragma Unused VariableName