Something Is NOT Always Better Than Nothing–Lessons From Half Baked Features

As product managers, we are often tempted to get the product out of the door. Thanks to release early mantra,  startups tend to release half baked features. Very often, these feature add value only for specific use-cases and aren’t a core feature by definition. But the excuse to still launch such half-baked feature is that something it is at least better than not having the feature at all.

Following are three kinds of  feature execution that are very annoying to a user and yet it is seen very often on the web.

1. I have it but not now – A common feature that you will notice in this category is “Live chat support”. A feature that is seen ‘offline’ more often than online. A pic of a typical call center girl that you click for support but only to your dismay. Features that are available for only part of a day are a serious NO when you think of a web service. The shop here should remain open 24hrs and remain open with the same service level.

Installing an open source chat app on your website is not what it requires to switch ON the service. Switching ON the service partially only makes the user turn a blind eye to it.

Tell us when was the last time you used a live chat support on a site?

In one online mobile recharge startup, they couldn’t manage a 24hr support team so one small change they did is to not show the chat support link at all when the chat wasn’t online. They did not have enough programming bandwidth to play with the open source code, all they did was replace the ‘chat is offline” pic with a 1 pixel transparent pic. So either it was not there or it was online. A little product-management-trick helped three folds – saved a click for the user, added some extra white space to the site and increased loading speed. Most importantly, it did not create any expectation for the user.

2. I have it but not for this one – The “Menu” field on your restaurant listing site or the “ticket availability” on your movie listing site are some examples of this. Even if you have data for 10% of the listings you want to quickly launch this as a feature and exploit your SEO.

In this case, you may show the info for the ones available but you would do much better not showing the specific data field at all for other records than showing a ‘not available’ message after a click. This takes little effort in terms of programming but helps keep the user for longer time.

Though this applies only when the product manager in you wants to create a long lasting product experience than a short term SEO traffic with high bounce rate.

3. I have it but approximately– This is the worst kind of trap to fall into. On web giving wrong/expired info is a sin. Whether it’s the “live cricket score” that is 10 minutes stale but doesn’t say that or the talk-time credited for a mobile recharge. Having information for the sake of it only diminishes your product value. If the user cannot depend on it, he will never stick to it.

It is either there or not there, partial availability does not bring out a strong predictability to your product. While you are working on the next big release, also look at P2/P3 features and ensure that the product management decisions are ‘same’ across the board.

So what are you changing today? Know of any product that is taking these little decisions seriously?

[Naman is a startup enthusiast and has worked with couple of Indian startups as Product Manager. He is the founder of FindYogi]

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