Dealing with Customer Experience Deterioration in the Face of Success

Your Leadership Team Have the Answers

By: Santosh Sankar

My wife and I have been huge fans of Walmart’s Grocery pickup service for over a year now. Having a kid really shifts the shopping dynamics whereby “click and pick” becomes highly attractive for us as users. Unfortunately over the last 4–6 weeks, we’ve seen massive deterioration in service as the offering gains popularity.

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Firstly, let’s be clear, this is a GREAT problem to have and is common when one achieves product/market fit. This embodies itself in various ways in enterprise supply chain products: intransparent process; mismanaged integrations; increase backlog of “loads” or “picks”; slowdown in key feature development; and a generally slow user experience. Tactically addressing these require on-going awareness of bottlenecks, a prioritized, long-term plan of complementary actions, and an active culture of customer obsession.

I have come to notice that the understanding of bottlenecks usually rests across an organization at seed. The nuggets of insight sit with CEO, VP Engineering, Ops, Customer Success Leads and more. A product manager ultimately ends up owning this type of intelligence as the steward of the product. To this end, I’ve come to find weekly product meetings led by the CEO (obviously exceptions here) that bring together leaders from each function is helpful in this effort. It’s important to have representatives from every group that supports the value proposition to the customer. The group can then “peel back the onion” on areas based on priority and feasibility. Ultimately, the CEO (or product manager) can pass the final determination but this is entirely a data-gathering effort. I like to delve into two areas with such a group.

Review and understand prior gaps/shortfalls when the product experienced growth. This ensures that the product and organization don’t face the same short falls it previously did. For example, if we know that between $10M and $50M in gross revenue, there was a need for another customer success person, make sure that’s fixed. It’s also a natural check/balance that previous solutions to such bottlenecks are effective and not a misguided feature. Equally, it might highlight certain fixes that no longer work or will expire with greater success.

Have an understanding of potential shortfalls across functional areas as the product sees 2x, 5x, and 10x growth. This helps create a plan that supports the progressive growth the team expects for the business. I’ve seen gaps that product could and should be reasonably addressing by their fifth or sixth major release covered by great ops or customer success people. For example, I’ve noticed that functions around invoicing or collections often need substantial tooling, vendor integrations, and headcount additions. Equally, I’ve observed in marketplaces that supply side development often needs a level-up around procurement, compliance, and feature-set build outs to reduce manual workflows.

Keep in mind the drivers of growth -the types of accounts (personas) that can triple or quadruple usage. Larger enterprises tend to come with certain requirements such as visibility, system interoperability, specific exception handling protocol, and more. These are bottlenecks that can turn a great reputation into a lackluster one — it tends to result in slow service; mistakes/errors; lose the benefits of technology.

Delve deeply into statements made here — it will help arm you with a strong understanding when setting priorities, requesting certain features or tooling, and managing customer expectations. I’ve observed supply chain ops teams being the most tolerant for managing stop-gap manual processes and overtime, that can turn into product debt that needs to be addressed. A long-ago fix such as this can also compound and detract from the experience and value proposition. Consider a digital workflow where you keep having to exit to an email to validate outbound scheduling from a warehouse — likely ok for a short period of time but not ok as the status quo. I’ve seen CEO and CTOs also walk away with great empathy for their organization as they sometimes go unaware of the smaller workflows/adjustments that could be easy solves or one day turn into bigger issues.

Experience deterioration is something that can be thoughtfully managed and handled. In the early innings the answers sit among the group whereby a thoughtful and regular check-in can ensure that ever-increasing activity isn’t killing an otherwise great product.

Originally from Issue 58 of the Dynamo Dispatch.