Focusing on the Services Around Your Products
This episode talks about how to make sure our products, have a level of service and experience that ultimately adds more value to them. My guest today is Tania Sahai. Tania started her career in customer support and training and navigated the software development and product roles. Most of the companies she's worked for were acquired by larger organizations such as PwC, IBM and Gap. She is the founder of her own consulting firm, The Silver Pallete.
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product, customer, teams, service, components, user, software, client, data, roi, features, tania, bucket, important, build, focus, support, request, sales, b2b
Intro (the incomparable Sandra Segrest) 00:03
Welcome to Product Voices, a podcast where we share valuable insights and useful resources. To help us all be great in product management. Visit the show's website to access the resources discussed on the show, find more information on our fabulous guests or to submit your product management question to be answered on our special q&a episodes. That's all at product voices.com. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now, here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of Great Product Management.
Hello, and welcome to Product Voices. So this episode, we're gonna be talking about the service around products. We talk a lot about software as a service, right SaaS and creating products that are more of a service than a physical product. But we don't often focus on what it means to build the service experience around it. And so we're going to be talking specifically about how to make sure our products, whatever types of products, those are having level of service and experience that ultimately adds more value to them. So my guest today is Tania Sahai. Tania started her career in customer support and training and navigated the software development and product roles. Most of the companies she's worked for were acquired by larger organizations such as PwC, IBM and Gap. She is the founder of her own consulting firm, The SilverPallete. Tania, thank you so much for joining me today.
Thank you, JJ. I'm very excited and really looking forward to this conversation.
Yeah, it should be a great, great conversation on a really important topic that I'm excited that we're talking about. Because again, I just don't think it gets the visibility that it that it should. So with that, let's just start with the foundation. What does it mean, when you say focus on the service? What does that mean to you?
You alluded to it in your introduction. But you know, basically, what it means is like when you work on, you know, Software as a Service, what you're doing is you're providing your customers or your clients with a software that solves the need or pain point. But you're also taking on some of those service components. Because, you know, in the world of software, we talk about your hosting you actually, they don't have to worry about a lot of the technical components that go into it. Right. So that's so and in order to simplify, what I'll do is I'll kind of bucketed into three areas, right. So the first is just the overall user management, right? Like the most common is how users log in how they're set up, right. So that company, that client doesn't have to worry about it, because you're taking on that component. So you need to make sure you're creating a service offering around that. The second is, you know, managing all the data components that might go into the software solution. So especially in my background, in b2b, we don't own all the data, right? So you always need to partner with third party, either integrate with the client themselves or partner with third party organizations to get data into the application. For medication management application that I was consulting on and working with, we had to work with the customer's IT department to get the medical records, right that EMR for retail clients that I've worked with in the past, we typically need to partner with the customer to get the POS data, right. So that's that second bucket, the data management component. And last but not least, what I think is the most critical, and I'll bucket it into workflow management is really just the process of how the customer will use the product. And what does that mean for you, right, what components need to be configured or customized within your product offering. And to keep it simple, I'll just take a basic example. Especially in this global arena, you will have customers that are not from just the US you will have global customers, and something as simple as language. They're not all going to be speaking in English or something as simple as the date and time format varies by country. So having that ability to be able to configure and customize that is falls into what I say that purview of service products, right so making sure when you're building your product offering, your portfolio also includes solutions, you know, or product features, or, you know, and processes to support that service aspect around setup, user management, onboarding, which is the data management component and then ongoing support, which kind of is the ongoing workflow and process management component?
Yeah, that all makes a lot of sense and I think it brings up such good points about you know, the the product when we think of a certain product, it is built. To do a certain thing, right for the customer, but there's so many different aspects or services or experiences that either can, you know, add value to the customer, or make it easier for the customer make it more usable for the customer, or can be a hassle or a burden to the customer. And so I think, you know, kind of laying it out in those those buckets or those areas are is really important, because, and you mentioned something that that kind of sparked something in my mind was the customer, the user, they don't really care what goes on behind the scenes, like what we have to do to make the product work to make the product, you know, have a good usability, they just care that it works for them. Right. And so I like how you've looked at how, you know, if we can make it easy for them to manage users, for them to manage data for them to manage their workflow, then it's going to be a good service type product.
Yeah, that's awesome. So you know, I don't think it's a, it's a secret that that products need to have a good user experience around them and to have good services around them. So but it doesn't happen that often, right? We sometimes get so mired as product folks, and in the features and the functionality and the technology and this these kinds of things that we do sometimes ignore the overall experience or the services around it. So why do you think companies, you know, fail to focus on the service aspect?
Yeah, that's a good question. And again, it varies on the stage. But initially, when you're starting out, right, when you're a startup, your focus is definitely on that core product, right? Because you want to, you want to make sure that's the product, that offering is what generates revenue. So, you know, as you mentioned, no one's no one's going to pay for a seamless login process, right? They, they expect it, they want it the client expects is just going to happen, they're not going to pay for it, you can't, but you have to think through it, you know, in your costing, but initially, when you're starting off, you're iterating on your product on your MVP. So you really do focus on that core product. And then as you start scaling and growing, you know, it, it really is a shift in mindset, you know, a lot of companies and as users, you know, we're very, we're very picky with our b2c like our consumer experience. But when we go into the business, well, like, when we go back to work, we're okay. Sometimes we're we are okay with expecting like crappy service, right? Especially in b2b, right? So, and we also sometimes have this mindset that once it's integrated, it's a lot harder, you know, to change or switch switch applications. So, you know, there's not that much, you know, focus on it, because in the end, everything is about what is the ROI, it's going to cost me to really make an amazing, you know, user experience, but in the end, is there really a return on investment? I may, I probably am not going to lose my customer. They may not be, you know, happy with the process. But, you know, to that third point, there are always workarounds. Right. So that's the challenge. There's always manual workarounds, a ways in which you don't need to use software, you know, you don't need to standardize on a process. So you don't need to build out a feature, there are always workarounds to manage those three areas I talked about, right? Whether it's the user, the data or the workflow. But for me, I feel like you know, it is a change in mindset where we really should start prioritizing, and I think we started having this conversation a lot. And it falls into not part of this topic, the whole mental health and employee satisfaction. And I think that you did a podcast on it about employees, right, like tracking, you know, making their lives easier. Because if you're able to really think about these components, and creating a good service, support system and infrastructure for your employees, it will go a long way. But you know, to answer your question, you know, the ROI isn't always there, the focus really is always on the revenue generating core features.
Yeah. And, you know, it's interesting, I think, we get so fixated on that ROI, that we forget that there are these intangibles that ultimately do make a difference, right to that ROI. It's hard to quantify, but it definitely makes a difference. And so what's interesting about I love what you said about there's kind of always manual workarounds. And that customers, you know, users don't always understand that it's a hassle to them, they just do it, they just make it work. And I was actually recently on a voice of customer kind of feedback call with financial software, financial management software company, and I was actually the, the user, the customer. So it was nice to be on the other side of that. And so they were getting, you know, getting feedback from me as a small business. And so it was interesting. I didn't realize how many manual workarounds I have in my financial management of my, my consulting company. And so, you know, and they kept saying you do that manually, you do that manually. Wow. And I was like, wow, I guess I really do have a lot of those workarounds. The point being, as users as customers, we just make things work. Right. And so sometimes there's, you know, it's, it's easy for software providers for customer, excuse me, for product teams to, to build products, like you said, features and functionality focus, and forget about the services because our customers aren't bringing that up. Our customers aren't thinking about the hassles that they're going through, because they don't even quite realize it. So I love your perspective on that. I think it's really important that we, as product teams, yes, of course, it's about the ROI and what we can quantify, but there's all of these intangibles that go to it, as well. So I think that's really important for folks to start thinking about.
So I want to kind of ask you specifically about, you know, how do we, you know, start to think about our customers and, and the different users and the different constituents, if you will, within the customer base? So, are there particular areas or functions or teams within an organization, that customer organization that might require these or benefit from these types of services and tools? And that sort of thing that, you know, kind of wrap around the product? If you will?
Yeah, for sure. You know, I always say that every team within an organization would benefit. And, you know, in my experience as a product person, when I thought of customers, I never restricted it to just our customer, the client, our external customer. In my mind, I always thought we do have internal customers and internal is, you know, functional, organic, functional teams, or, you know, people within the organization that we're touching or using our product. And so, you know, just to, you know, tap into like high level areas, obviously, the first one is operations teams, right? Your your operations teams would definitely need support managing data and information, right, and just how they track it, how to monitor it. So operations and data and data teams are critical, they definitely need to think of ways or how do you how do you know even notify you if they have challenges, right? Like, what is that process? Is there a way to add or automate that within a product. The second is, goes back to just the whole user onboarding. And setup concept is support teams support teams need to have a way, you know, visibility into you know, who the users are, who have access to this product? The third is the sales and customer teams, we don't we always, you know, I find it interesting. You know, we forget that, um, and I believe this was also in a previous podcast that you talked about where we forget that sales and the journey, you know, if product does not start once it's sold, it really is, as part of the sales process, right? It's that initial, you know, it's an initial communication or even marketing, right, it's an ad, maybe someone's off, it's a b2c product, right. And the journey of your product doesn't start with when it's actually sold, it starts prior. And so to be able to enable even your sales teams on ways where they can demo or showcase the value of your product is critical. But once you've sold a product, depending on how your organization is structured, that customer teams, you know, whether they're account managers, or retention teams, or implementation managers, that customer success suite, they also need ways of how they can help their clients and are kept up to date on whether it's the status or managing customer requests. So that's sales and customer success team. And then last, but not least, definitely, you know, executives and leadership, you know, the most common request from them is always around data reporting, analytics analytics is in itself. You know, depending on how large your organization is, you could have an entire product, team focus on analytics, and a lot of that is the service component, right? It's not the actual product, it's how are my customers using this product? What does this mean for me in terms of how I can better service and support them?
Yeah, I love that. So continuing on that same vein, let's dig a little bit deeper. And can you think of or provide, like examples of applications or tools or to some extent product features, but really about the kind of services in addition to the core products that help those types of constituents?
Yeah, so you know, outside of, you know, just analytics reporting data dashboarding, I will structure this and kind of talk through three areas where most organizations can and should, and probably many are thinking through how to better enable their employees, right to provide that, you know, stellar customer experience. So the first is monitoring tools. And I alluded to that a little earlier when I talked about the data and operations teams, but monitoring tools really help operation teams track the status of data feeds. And this is so important, rather than firefight and you know, get, you know, you wake up in the morning, and suddenly you see an email from an angry client who's like, hey, my app isn't working, or this data is in here, I have to process my part of the process, you know, my part of your billing and you didn't send me this data on time, you know, monitoring tools will help that operations team to proactively notify that customer if there's a delay, right? And if you if you want to, and if you can, you can really start thinking through, you know, product features of how to automate and take that a step further, right, send an email directly to the customer. Because what if the person that employee usually monitors is out sick, you know, things happen, right? So the beauty again, with a with building product is it is agile, so you can start breaking out, you know, this functionality into smaller components. And going back to, you know, that question on why not focus on the service aspect, but you can, as you break things out, you're not focusing on investing all your time, on service solutions, you're still focusing on that core product offering, but at the same time, you're chipping away and adding and improving to that service experience. Right. So the core benefit really is that that data person has access knows what's going on can proactively inform or let the customer know without being yelled at. And you know, kind of having like, in many ways, not the best experience or the best start to their day. So that's monitoring, that's just one high level example, there's so many, but I'm going to stick with a few high level ones.
The second goes to your sales or customer success, or your services teams. And that's creating a configuration tool where you build a standard. So so just to you, there's no such thing as a standard product offering. But what you want to do is you want to build a product offering that standard, and all the customization and the configurations you expose, or enable in a front end UI user interface, and allow your sales or service teams, and even your support teams, and even an engineer sometimes to be able to make changes, right. So you know, creating this configuration tool really adds value. And I'll give an example, I used to work for a trade deal management software. And basically for a company that built a trade deal management software. And what the software did is it's the negotiation process between the retailer like in CPG, consumer packaged goods, and the vendor. And it's pretty standard, right? There's you negotiate on terms, you go through an approval process, you finalize the contract, and then you make that contract available to both parties for full transparency. But the differences are, again, in the details, right? In terms of what promotions are being offered, the payment terms, they might vary by customer. But the biggest one, especially in CPG, or grocery is that retailers weekly promotion, no calendar, right where it would follow a Monday to Sunday, in some cases, but in many cases, it's typically a Wednesday to Tuesday, right? So these components need to be configured. And if you don't create a configuration tool, a lot of times a request needed to be sent in. And it will take a lot longer to to make changes and to actually, you know, customize or configure the request, or as part of that initial implementation journey, something that would take maybe two weeks to onboard would end up taking four to eight weeks, because you didn't have this front end UI where you were sure that if you made a change because you actually wrote software and code when you compiled it and I know I'm getting into some of the technical that it would, because you tested it that component now when you compile it, it wasn't going to break something else. Right. That's why changes take time, usually. So So hopefully, you know that you know, even though I kind of went off a little bit on time to that kind of gives you an idea. Just to summarize on you know, creating a configuration tool like a front end easy user interface, to allow other functional teams to make changes and tweak changes.
And then the last one I wanted to touch upon is something for your support team, your support team needs to know and have access. And this has to be and should be outside. And it could be complementary to what they their tools they use, like they probably have a support platform like Zendesk, so they know who's calling what kind of customer, but sometimes they need to have a little more visibility into who your user is, and what kind of access they need or where they are at in their state in their process of onboarding, because nothing is worse. This is a worst user experience you could ever have where someone logs into a system and cannot get it. And it's even worse when they call and your support team has no idea who they are. Right at that point, you have lost them. Right, so, so just thinking about, you know, ways to get an N, in the b2b world, it's very complex, because you're gonna end up having users that have different profiles, and different access to your product. And just a simple example of the client I helped, right. They had the patient that was using the app, but they also needed doctors and counselors that had views into the app, or were read only, then they had an admin, they needed it, who had needed to have access to the data. So when the user calls in, they're like, I'm not seeing what I want the support person, if they if they know what type of user they should be, or, you know, if they have access, you know, to additional visibility, that conversation will go a lot better, even if they can fix the problem at that point in time. One of the things I love about this conversation is that you're bringing up so many great points and insights and tips about how to make it better for the customer. But some of the ways that we do that, and many of the ways that we do that, as we're building the software as a service products is by building things that help our internal teams. And I think that's so important. And it's not that it's not that SaaS companies don't do it. But again, I don't think we put enough visibility on it and enough priority on, you know, building the things into the product that's going to help us as a company services.
So I love this this is so such a great conversation. And so I have one more kind of big question for you before, before we wrap up and, and, you know, kind of ask you for resources that you like, which I always do for with my guests. But we talked we touched on it earlier about how it's sometimes hard to focus on these types of tools, and, you know, service features, if you will.
And you know, it's not always easy to quantify. And so sometimes organizations and leadership's won't, will kind of put the focus on it, or the priority on it. But have you been able to and found examples of when you were able to convince leadership in your organization or organizations that you were working with, through your consulting firm? Have you been able to find ways to help leadership to convince leadership to focus on these quote unquote, non revenue generating components?
Well, the first is, it's always good to have, you know, like I say, your partner in crime, find your champion, you know, whenever you're launching a product, everyone is, where's the claim champion was the product champion. So bringing in someone from, you know, other functional areas, like sales and operations, right. So if they, if you're able to, you can, you know, if you're able to find an alliance, when you and even within your partner, when you go and you talk to the CEO, or you're talking to the CEO, or even the the CTO, or the CEO, the chief product officer, like, Hey, this is really going to impact or make it easier for us, our lives easier, or it may close, it may reduce the time to close a deal. Right? So that ties to the second point is if you can align it to metrics, it really goes a long way in convincing leadership, when I was on many sales calls, in, you know, for that, for the organization that I worked with around the trade deal management, a lot of those clients would be would ask this question, and they're like we have we need to make changes, configuration changes, and are you able to make that within you know, 24 hours, and that was the request. And having that tool, we were able to respond back and say you don't even need 24 hours, the minute you make it, if you're worried you can add an approval process. It is immediate, it is real time. That really helped us close deals, right, but hearing you know, being able to track customer feedback as part of the sales process, and, you know, demonstrating to leadership that you know, adding this will really help us close the deal is definitely a big win, right. So that's one.
The second is, as I alluded to this prior as well as how to bucket some of these components, because you're not always when you when you think of your product cycle, and that's something, you know, that's really important for product managers to prior, you always talk about prioritization. Right? How do you prioritize what features what's important is when I, when I, when I prioritize, right, I always think of ways to build some of these features and components into that release cycle. You know, typically, like, for me, the math is 40% of the time is spent on definitely, you know, revenue generating market driven features and strategies, you know, 30% is spent on customer requests. And sometimes a customer request is exactly this, Hey, I want the ability to manage configurations and get a turnaround time of 24 hours, so great, if not fine.
The remaining 20% is spent on cost to serve, right, that's kind of the word I've used, you know, because a lot of times it is a cost, they think it's a cost, so cost to serve. And then the last 10 is always on this bucket around refactoring. Right technical refactoring, where updates in the operating system will break something in your software. So you definitely have to focus and build on it or create a fix for it. So bucketing and prioritizing it and always just thinking about it as part of your workflow makes it so much more easier, where sometimes you don't even have to go back and convince leadership, you already have it in your workflow. And I think that's like the best way, for product managers who trying to convince you to just start that way, it's like, I'm just going to bucket because you always have to bucket refactoring. So I'm going to bucket this cost to serve, or I'm going to try to tie in a customer request to help build out a cost to serve, cost to serve, I love that term, I think that's a really impactful way to say, look, this is to build this product. And to be successful in the market, we have to have the ability to successfully service our customer support our customers, provide them a great experience and that and that takes time. And that takes, you know, engineering that takes priority.
And I love that I think that's a really, really great way to frame that. And as you said, if you've got that kind of part of the the DNA, the you know, understanding of everything, everyone understands, that's how we work, then you don't have to go back to the well every time with leadership and reconvince them every time. So that's awesome. Really, really great advice there a final question. What resources would you recommend for folks who want to learn more who want to get better at this? Do you have some resources that you've used, that you've created that you love? What would you share with someone?
You know, I smile at this one? Because I was like, what resources? Because, you know, I feel like it's so it's just it's different on what, what works for people. Interestingly enough, what works for me is I just love to learn from others. So I will, you know, like, so I guess I will, I will break it into three criteria. So the first is obviously if there's an if there's a book that you know, catches your eye, and, JJ, I'm putting you on the spot. But I do love your book. It's actually I would say go read it.
No, go read that right. Definitely read. I mean, I think it's like such a good starter for someone and even like, an iteration for someone who has, you know, who's been in the industry and has done it for a while. I like to, you know, I recently read a book about, I left my company to start a book shop, right. And so I feel like you can get product ideas by just learning from other people's real life experiences and the challenges that they went through. So the the second, I think, for me, it's about finding a community. So right now, I have a Reese with locally, right. So right now I love going to this. I'm based in Charlotte. I used to live in San Francisco. And I go to every every second Wednesday of the month, I go to something called Pitch breakfast, where you meet like minded people, and you hear startups pitch their ideas, and I learned so much from there. And as part of that I'm involved in innovate Charlotte, I'm really focused a lot around the startup community because that's where my consulting company, you know, is helping like startups and small business owners. So I found a, you know, community like women in business founder kind, because I'm passionate about, you know, customer and customer implementation. I've also joined a few slack groups where you learn from others wanting comment that I like is pre flight. So I think it just depends on you know, what you want. Where are you at? At what's of interest, what kind of person you are, do you learn from others? Do you learn from just communications? Like, do you like reading, but for me personally, you know, even though I do like to read a lot, and I spend a lot of time in the library, I really like to find, you know, networks and communities that are local, but also even, you know, and, you know, and kind of learn from them and grow from there.
Yeah, I love that advice. That's really perfect. And it's a really good point that not everybody learns the same way or likes to, to use the same resources. So, you know, if reading is your thing, there's, there's stuff out there, but the community is, I think, I think most people can benefit from that. Now, not everybody's comfortable, you know, being around people all the time, or whatever. And everybody's kind of got their own thing. But product management has a complex world that we live in, if you will, and it's sometimes easier to simplify it when we can talk to others about what they've done, and just kind of have that small world community that that we all live and work in. So I love that advice. I think that's really great.
So, Tania Sahai, this has been such an amazing conversation. Thank you so much for joining me for sharing your wisdom. I love your stories. I love your perspective. It really was a great conversation. So thank you again, Tania, for joining us on product voices.
Thank you, JJ. I really appreciated the opportunity.
And thank you all for joining us on Product Voices. Hope to see on the next episode.
Thank you for listening to product voices hosted by JJ Rorie. To find more information on our guests resources discussed during the episode or to submit a question for our q&a episodes, visit the show's website productvoices.com And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform.