How to Get Your Team to Fall in Love With the Problem You’re Solving

We all talk about dogfooding our product and there are a lot of buzzwords companies use about being “customer-centric”. But how many of your employees have actually walked a mile in the customer’s shoes? Here's how our employee challenge changed everything.

By
Mark McDermott
on
Dec 12, 2019
Category:
Startup

People might have a play around with the system, but to really know a product, you need to fall in love with not just the product, but the problem that the product is trying to solve. This doesn’t happen by trialling the product, or even by sitting on your customer support desk for a week.

In the first few months of onboarding, all employees need to really feel the pain of the customer so that they can understand why that problem needs solving. When they fall in love with the problem, they then understand why your product exists, and how to make it better.

Putting the employee in front of the customer

The first time I installed ScreenCloud for a customer it was an accident. Up until that point, we’d been obsessed with ensuring that our digital signage software wouldn’t run like an agency model. Customers would self-serve and we’d rely on automation, product videos and knowledge bases that would help troubleshoot any issues. That’s kind of the point of low-level SaaS right? At $20 per month, it’s not cost-effective to help every customer with install issues.

But then we sent out our launch email to our beta list.

We waited.

And we waited some more.

And we realised that the users on our beta list just weren’t interested in trying out the product. As a result, we weren’t gaining the crucial intel you need from beta to be able to refine your product ready for a full launch.

So I did what all SaaS companies tell you not to do: instead of asking customers to self-install I sent out emails to anyone I knew, or that were located close to us, and asked if I could come and install ScreenCloud for them.

Standing on a table, holding up a screen

Soon I found myself spending days in shops, restaurants, bars or at events, setting up ScreenCloud for individual customers. As I discussed here, a high-touch approach i.e. one CEO spending a full day installing software for a $20 per month customer, will never scale. But in the early days? It was invaluable.

Despite having been building ScreenCloud for well over a year, this was the moment I really started to learn about the real world problems our customers face on a daily basis.

Like how hard it is as a retailer to create good digital signage content when you don’t have any marketing resource, or how the WiFi in hotels and restaurants, is really, really bad. Until you’re standing on a table in your customer’s restaurant for eight hours, trying desperately to get the screen to work, while on the phone to your CTO in Bangkok (true story, shoutout to Mamuska!), I really don’t think you can appreciate how your software needs to work.

Ah, the memories behind this screen...

Installing ScreenCloud for customers gave me the richest experience and I knew it was something our current and future employees would benefit from too.

Developing our employee challenge

Now, when a new employee starts at ScreenCloud they’re put on the trajectory of the “ScreenCloud Employee Challenge”.

Here’s what the challenge involves:

  • Find a local business that could use digital signage. This could be a restaurant, a hotel, a family business, an office — basically any use case you like.
  • The customer gets offered a year’s free ScreenCloud account, a free Amazon Fire TV Stick to plug into any existing TV screen they already have and your full support to get them set up.
  • You’re in charge of managing the full process of helping that customer use ScreenCloud; from setting up the hardware, to installing the software, choosing content and troubleshooting any issues.
  • You should then present back to the team what you’ve learned from the experience at the midway point and at the end, plus any customer pain points.
  • The customer gets to keep the ScreenCloud account for a year, for free. Then at a discounted rate if they wish to carry on.

Mark from our Apps team goes back to school for his employee challenge — and gets an A+!

The benefit for the employee is that they get the rich learning experience, across every element of ScreenCloud. The customer has it pretty good too, they get something for free that might potentially help their business’s marketing and if at the end of the year they want to turn off the screen and never use it again, that’s fine too.

“I am just over the halfway point with my employee challenge, and while it has definitely thrown up a surprise or two it meant I got instant customer feedback from an app that I helped develop — when would you usually get to hear that? Since then I’ve been able to bounce ideas with the designers in our team and it’s even given me an idea for a side project. I wanted to build on my front end development skills and now I have a customer use case that I can use to do that. Worst case I learn some new skills and best case there is something that might be viable as an app for our App Store further down the line.” — Rob Newman, Senior Software Engineer

As of now, ten employees have completed the challenge, and another eight are about halfway through. That means we have eighteen presentations available to new starters, or existing team members, that tell real-life customer stories.

That may sound like way too many to sift through, but even as the CEO these presentations have provided me with valuable learnings.

I thought I knew everything there was to know about ScreenCloud but in just two years the product’s moved on. The customers have changed, they’ve become more experienced and their challenges are different. It also lets our employees feel responsible for not just their part of the product, but the product as a whole, which reduces silos.

“We need to nourish our product with the customer at the forefront and at the heart of everything we do. The challenge helps us approach our roles with this in mind. I’m on the Apps Team so it could have been very easy for me to join the company and only focus on apps, but with the challenge, I had to learn everything about it — the player itself, our roadmap, cost plans etc. Without the challenge, how would you get your entire team involved with every aspect of your product?” — Bronagh McCoy, Senior Front End Engineer

At the same time, even existing employees who have completed the challenge feel much more connected to what we’re doing here.

“I’ve been writing content for ScreenCloud for three years, but there were things I didn’t know about ScreenCloud’s product until I did the employee challenge. Now I can troubleshoot issues like the best of them, and it’s made me feel more connected to our company mission because I know the individuals, like the people working in the NFP I supported, who get better funding from their sponsors, because they were able to share their messages on digital screens.” — Beth Gladstone, Head of Content
Beth in Marketing’s employee challenge with a NFP in London.

It’s even sparking new ideas, of apps and features we can develop, that one day that employee might actually build.

“Our team works with many different schools and universities in the education sector; implementing the challenge at my own university was a fun and insightful experience. You may think you know what a client is looking for with digital signage, but you begin to learn how tailored and personalized each client envisions using ScreenCloud. This type of engagement puts you in a unique position to come up with approaches for how to execute using the product and how to channel your creative side for tackling challenges. We all get to put our thinking caps on and step into the role of a digital signage educator.” — Santino Scibelli, Customer Support Representative

Some not-so-positives

There have been some difficulties making this happen. Some employees feel pressure and anxiety trying to find a company to work with. This is usually just an initial reaction to the challenge and once they’ve had a few days to talk to friends and family they usually come up with an idea. For those that struggle to find a suitable company we reach out to our network and bring up some options to help. This is probably the trickiest part and I think we can do more in the future to help smooth out this part of the process.

In addition, some challenges don’t go that well. One example was an employee who thought he had the challenge all agreed, only for a change in management to put a delay on the implementation. That said, the best learnings come from difficulties and I found the employee’s video discussing multiple stakeholder decision making to be super insightful. It is not often you hear developers going deep on triaging customer sales discussions. But a challenge that doesn’t go smoothly needs to be handled sensitively — especially with new employees.

Why everyone needs an employee challenge

Overall, the negatives are vastly outweighed by the positives. We’re a global business so we’ll never be able to meet all of our customers. If you think of the airline analogy, most modern day pilots are separated from passengers for safety reasons and so they often report forgetting that there are real people behind the door. They begin thinking of the passengers as cargo. Out of sight, out of mind.

When you’re building a product you can’t afford for only around 10% of your staff members to have actually used it in real life. You can’t leave your customers behind a locked door, or in a sales CRM as the case may be, and hope that you can still stay in touch with their businesses and challenges.

Until you’re standing on the table wondering why the screen is still blank, you don’t know your product, or the problem you’re solving at all. If you don’t know the problem, how can you fall in love so much that you want to solve it?

If ScreenCloud sounds like your kind of company, we’re fast-growing and always interested to hear from people who get it. Feel free to check out our open positions here: https://screen.cloud/careers

Mark McDermott

Co-founder of Digital Products Studio, Codegent & CEO of ScreenCloud. I write about the goings on of life & work.