This week Billtrust launched a major new version of our flagship product CustomerCare. CustomerCare is our online archiving and reporting tool that allows customers to easily view all of their billing activity in realtime. This tool has been a home run for our customers with thousands logging on every day to better serve their end customers. I'd like to say I had this grand vision of building this product from the beginning, but the reality is much different.
One of our first customers back in 2002 asked for copies of their bills burned to a CD for archiving purposes. Seemed like a good idea, they wanted a permanent record just in case they needed to get a copy of a bill. We charged them a little bit for our time and effort, everybody's happy.
I visited this client several months after they went live to check how they were doing. They proudly showed me their "CD Binder" that contained all the CDs we had sent them and told me how much easier things were now that they could grab copies off of the CD once they figured out which CD it was on. I asked how often they did this, and they replied "a couple dozen times per day". This was the light bulb moment for CustomerCare. Never did I imagine that they would be using these CDs regularly. I fell into the trap of giving them what they wanted instead of first asking what problem they were trying to solve.
CustomerCare started out as web version of the CD archive but has grown into all encompassing self service tool with reporting, resending, configuration, marketing and much more.
Figuring out what to put in a new release of a product is a bit of an art. A lot of people design software based on customer requests. This sounds good, who wouldn't want to give the customer what they want. The problem is that you wind up with a lot of "CD Archive" products that may solve the problem, but not in the best way.
We take a different approach. We of course listen to what our customers say. We have a formal Customer Advisory Council that gives us ideas, we periodically survey our entire customer base, and our sales people are always funneling in new requests. This is great stuff but is just one piece to the puzzle.
We break new release capabilities into 4 distinct areas
- Bug Fixes - yes, unfortunately sometimes bugs creep in
- Customer Requests - as described above, some of the best stuff comes from customers
- Continuous Innovations - these are advancements to a specific area of functionality that we have a good feeling customers would like, but they're just not asking for them
- Discontinuous Innovations - These are the most fun. Whole new areas of functionality that solve big business problems, and the customers don't even know they have the problem.