Communicating product changes is an important aspect of the relationship between a customer and the products they use and rely upon. But, it can feel intimidating if you don’t have some best practices in mind. How do you announce new features? How do you manage UI/UX changes? How can you effectively communicate when a product or feature is being sunset?
Customer relationships are built on trust, and the last thing you want to do is break that trust with poor communication (or lack thereof entirely). In this article we’ll look over some best practices for sharing the news of upcoming changes with users.
Why you need to communicate product changes to users
Sure it’s nice to treat your users like you’d want to be treated yourself and give them early notice and an explanation for what’s to come. But, communicating about upcoming product changes isn’t just polite, it also lays the groundwork for a positive reaction, increased adoption, and reduced negativity from users.
Here’s a few things that early communication about product changes can help with.
While there may be plenty of legitimate reasons for users to dislike a particular change, it’s often simply the natural human resistance to change itself that kicks in. We get used to how things work and where things are located. We build routines and certain actions become practically involuntary over time.
But, when a change disrupts the status quo, people can get grumpy. If someone rearranged your computer keyboard every six months because they’ve “optimized” typing, you probably wouldn’t be happy. While you’re hopefully not introducing any product changes that are quite that disruptive, remember that even the little things can jostle users. And failing to communicate about them early on is a great way to breed distrust.
Preparing for arrival
Users running on autopilot may not notice or appreciate new feature releases. Once you’re familiar with a product and have embedded it into your workflow, you’re unlikely to do much unprompted “exploring.”
In these cases, communication about product changes serves two purposes: encouraging discovery and imparting value. You want to get users excited to check things out by explaining what’s in it for them, and then make it easy to find and get started.
Jump starting new feature usage
You aren’t making these changes for fun, you’re expecting them to move the needle on KPIs, spark growth, and increase usage. An effective communication plan can create demand and anticipation before driving users to engage with the new functionality you’ve added.
Creating some buzz will accelerate the feedback process to help you perfect what’s new and begin realizing the benefits of the change that much faster. There’s nothing worse than building a feature that no one uses.
Pre-empting the haters
There will always be some cranky users that are miserable about your upcoming change. And, they won’t hold back from sharing their unhappiness with the world. Preparing for them for what’s coming lets you control the narrative and grease the skids for a more favorable reception.
And, if you’re in a position to preview the changes publicly, it also gives you a chance to course correct if there are some planned changes that go over like a lead balloon with your user base. “We heard you and changed things up” is always a good message, but it’s even better to hear before they ever got their hands on it.
Tools for communicating about product changes with users
Marketers use multiple communication channels for a reason. Everyone has different preferences, so you can’t rely on a single channel and expect to reach everyone in your target audience. The same rule applies when you’re communicating product changes to your current user base.
By utilizing multiple mediums, you can increase your chance of not just reaching every user, but actually getting their attention. Here’s a few channels and tools for communicating with your users about upcoming changes to your product.
In-app messaging tools
Whether it’s a mobile, desktop, or web-based product, there’s nothing as efficient and relevant as alerting users to change while they’re actually using it. There are plenty of options here for communicating with users in your app. These include pop-ups, banners, interstitials, and flags, all of which can signal that something new is coming.
The risk, however, is that because your users are actually using the product when seeing these messages, they might not want to slam on the brakes to read about a new feature at that moment. So, make sure the messages aren’t one-and-done but recur multiple times, ideally placing them at the end of workflows versus the beginning.
Emailing users about new features
We all get a lot of emails, so one more message in your users’ inbox may not get their attention. But the upside is that your users can read it at their leisure and refer to it multiple times. Just be sure it is seen as informational and not promotional.
Multiple emails may also be a good strategy for a major change, with one providing advanced warning, a second announcing the big change when it goes live and a third following up post-launch providing additional tips, tricks, and how-tos.
Creating webinars and demo videos
While you might be a great wordsmith, some people are more visual learners. Offering on-demand video content explaining how a new feature or product works and its value proposition can be a great educational tool for your users.
Webinars can feature demonstrations and offer users a chance to ask questions, which can be particularly useful for more substantial changes, complicated features, or B2B products.
While the likes of Facebook and Google can’t call all of their customers to tell them about an exciting change to their algorithms, many B2B companies have a small enough customer list (or large enough sales and success team) that staff can afford to reach out by phone to chat with customers about upcoming changes.
This personal touch is usually greatly appreciated, plus it provides a good excuse for a general check-in and possible upsell opportunity.
Sharing new product updates on social media
If your product has a big following on social media platforms, noteworthy product changes should definitely be communicated here as well. While breaking bad news on social might generate some less-than-awesome comments, social is an excellent place to build buzz for something new and exciting on the horizon.
Blogging about new features and releases
If your company has a blog, that’s a great place to discuss changes to the product. It provides a long-form forum to get into the reasons why users will love the change, provide some tips on how to take advantage of what’s new, and can link out to other useful content related to the change such as help articles or documentation.
How to announce new features and functionality to users
When it comes to communicating new features and functionality, your main objectives are driving awareness and promoting adoption. That’s why you want to convey both the why and the how.
When announcing something new, it can be tempting to start the story off with capabilities. But before you tap into your inner infomercial host, remember that users don’t really care about what a product can do. They care about what a product can do for them.
So, when crafting messaging for new product features and functionality, always start with value. What’s the user need that you’re addressing? What problem are you solving? What is the benefit that you’ve added to the total package? What can users now do that they couldn’t before?
Only after establishing the significance and purpose of the changes should you get into the specifics. This shows users that you care about them and their needs, not just about adding another bullet point or two to the growing list of features.
After establishing why users should care, you can jump directly to how they can take advantage of these new options. This initial communication should focus on how easy it is to get started with the feature and not dwell on the nuances and step-by-step directions. While that information should also be available at launch, you want to build excitement and demand before drowning users in details.
Tips for announcing new features and functionality:
- Work with marketing early. Marketing will need to understand the features in the development pipeline early on so they can begin crafting the messaging around them and creating any relevant GTM content.
- Enable internal teams. Don’t release a new feature until every customer-facing team is trained on both the new functionality and the messaging behind it. Sales, success, and support need to be aligned on not just what the feature does, but why it matters to users.
- Have help articles already available. If you’re letting users know about an upcoming feature ahead of its release date, don’t be afraid to share help articles about the feature for them to peruse and learn more about what the feature will do.
- Gather testimonials from beta testers. Your beta testers are a great source of material that can help make your new feature announcement more exciting and compelling to your users. Get testimonials from your beta testers to share when you announce new features to provide social proof to users about the impact of trying the new functionality out.
How to approach change management with users
Your objective with change management is to prepare your users for what’s to come, give them an opportunity to share feedback, and answer any questions that may arise about how the changes may impact them down the line.
Communicating changes to existing users can be tricky. Do you walk on eggshells, minimizing and equivocating to avoid rocking the boat? Or, do you come out boldly, confidently touting just how amazing and wonderful the upcoming changes are going to be for everyone?
As is the case with most things in life, the best approach to change management depends on many things. If you’re announcing a change with limited downsides or which requires minimum adjustment on behalf of users, your approach to change management will be very different from that which you’d use for a large change that will take users some time to adjust to.
Here’s a few tips for your change management communication strategy:
- Segment your users and tailor communication. Not every change made to your product will impact every user equally. That’s why segmenting your user base and tailoring your communication to the right audience is a tactic to employ when possible. If your change only affects a portion of customers, there’s no reason to rock the boat with the entire user base.
- Listen up. Regardless of the change and how you choose to communicate it, always include an invitation for feedback.
- Prepare customer-facing teams. Your customer-facing teams (i.e. success, support, and sales) should be looped in regarding any upcoming changes well before any communication regarding those changes goes out. They need to be empowered to help users in this process.
- What next? Don’t just tell users what’s changing. Explain what they’ll need to do to prepare, how the changes will be rolled out, and when they will be rolled out. Set clear expectations for them and be transparent about how they’ll be impacted.
How to announce a product or feature sunset
All good things must end, but it’s the less-than-good things that must end a lot sooner. When it comes to sunsetting a product, the company is often the only one to see any upside. For users, a sunset means that something that was a part of their life or workflow is being yanked away from them through no fault of their own.
By definition, if they’re still users than they’re still using it. They don’t care if they’re one of the final stragglers that haven’t switched to another, more modern solution. And, they definitely won’t care that you’re sunsetting something because it’s no longer profitable or strategically prudent for your company to maintain.
So, your message is likely going to come as a blow to them. Your only objective is to soften it as much as possible, prepare them for the change, and help provide some alternatives for a smoother transition.
Here are some sunsetting tips to try when the time comes to say goodbye:
- Give users fair warning: It’s only fair to give users a lengthy period of time to figure out how to handle a product being sunset. The length of time will of course vary from product to product, but as a general rule you want to allow enough time for them to identify and migrate to a different solution.
- Give them something else to be excited about: Even though a particular feature or product will soon be history, there might be something else to promote in its place. If you can pair the bad news with a new shiny object, it might soften the blow and help you retain the customer.
- An exit ramp: Whatever tasks your product facilitated or benefits it provided will now need to be found elsewhere. Give your users some suggestions of other solutions they could try. An added bonus is negotiating a special offer or pricing for transitioning customers with those other vendors.
- Dealing with data: If your product houses data your users might want to keep or port to another app, make it as easy as possible to do so. And, if you’ve been storing personal information, make it clear what steps will be taken to delete it and keep it from being used for nefarious purposes.
- Say thank you: These customers were loyal to the end, so show some appreciation. Regardless of how successful a feature or product may have been, these users were a big part of it.
Communicate changes with users early
Your users deserve to be informed of any changes to the product they know, love, and rely upon. Communicate early and often to be sure they know what’s coming, what it means for them as users, and how they can best utilize what’s new or different to improve their product experiences.
And, don’t forget to make that communication with your users a two-way street. Make it easy for them to tell you what they like and don’t like, as well as what other changes they’d like to see in the future.