Launching a new feature is an exciting time at Buffer. It's the culmination of days, weeks and sometimes even months of the work that goes into building something new. There's lots of excitement and a lot to celebrate. It's also a significant time for our Support team. A product launch can generate a lot of conversations with our customers. We want to be ready to handle that ticket volume, quickly answer any questions about any nuance of the new feature, and effectively channel feedback to the product teams that built it.
Launching a new feature can be a step into the unknown — our customers are creative and will use our product in ways we didn't anticipate and ask questions for which we didn't prepare answers. In some edge-case scenarios, they may uncover bugs we didn't know about or have great suggestions for future iterations of the feature that we could add to our product roadmap.
We have refined a process for working on launches, ensuring that the relevant people from the product, support, and marketing teams come together to work on the launch plan. In this post, we'll share a little about what we do in preparation for launches to create the best possible outcome for our customers and our team.
Reviewing new feature functionality
Our Product team frequently shares updates to our product roadmap — the outline and timeline of the features we're planning to build. Transparency is one of our strongest values, and we share this timeline publicly with customers here.
At an early stage, a Product Manager will create a design brief describing the new feature's functionality so that the engineers and designers can start planning their approach to bringing it to life. The Customer Advocacy team will also take a look — as the team that works incredibly closely with customers, we hear from our most vocal users about what features they'd love to see us add or what parts of their current workflow they're looking to improve. We can offer valuable insights and suggestions to help shape the feature.
Working alongside marketing
Once the product manager has put a delivery date in place for a new feature, the Marketing team start putting the wheels in motion for the launch event. We typically want to make a big deal of a launch to ensure that as many existing and potential customers learn about it. The Product Marketing Manager will work with the Product team to choose the launch date, and the Customer Advocacy team will ensure we've got good inbox coverage for the proposed date.
The Product Marketing Manager will start drafting the comms for the launch, including the emails, blog posts and social content. Our Customer Advocacy team also gets to review this, as it helps us to anticipate the customer response. Beyond the new feature's functionality, the marketing communications shares the story of why we've built it and how it benefits customers.
Testing out the feature
The design team will often share a design prototype internally, an interactive preview of how the new feature would look and function. The Customer Advocacy team are usually eager to try it out. This helps us understand how it works and allows us to make suggestions for any tweaks or changes.
A week or two before the launch, the product is usually ready for some testing. Initially, this is internal before we start inviting customers to take a look.Testing helps us ensure that the product is high quality and easy to use before it gets into our customers' hands. It helps uncover any last-minute bugs or issues we can fix before launch. Some members of the Customer Advocacy team will usually be involved in testing. We are our customers' first point of contact when they need help, answering questions and helping troubleshoot problems. So, we must have a good understanding of the product before it launches. That way, we'll be ready to help our customers get the most out of it.
Creating external resources
Within our Customer Advocacy team, we have a customer education team. They'll be involved from an early stage to start creating Buffer’s Help Center articles, preparing customer-facing guides and resources that describe how the feature works to answer common questions. We often share these resources in the emails and blog posts we create when we launch a feature. It will cover more technical detail and the nitty-gritty including any important technical limitations or complex processes. The blog posts and emails often focus more on the high level features and benefits of the new feature.
Updating the internal release guide and training out team
We create an Internal Release Guide for the Customer Advocacy team for each new feature that describes how it works and highlights the good-to-knows, such as plans for future iterations. Depending on how customers use it, some additional functionality might be planned for the future, and we might anticipate questions about this. For example, when we first launched TikTok publishing, we didn't have access to the TikTok API for direct publishing, and we used a workaround to help share scheduled posts to the TikTok app. We knew customers would ask about the possibility of direct publishing, so we anticipated this question in the Internal Release Guide and shared the context around the limitations and the plans for the future.
The Internal Release Guide is a working document, and it includes a space for capturing customer feedback from our email and messaging inboxes and an area for the Customer Advocacy team to ask questions. The Product Manager and Marketing Manager will review the feedback and answer any questions that come up there. A lot of the time, the customer feedback and questions that come up help us develop our help center articles. We may not have anticipated all the frequently asked questions ahead of them actually being frequently asked!
If you’d like to take a peek at the template we use for the Internal Release Guide, you can download a copy in .pdf format here. Feel free to use it and adapt it to your needs - I’d love to hear from you if you do! I’m on Mastodon here: @email@example.com
In addition to the Internal Release Guide, we have internal training sessions for significant or complicated product changes.
Anticipating inbox volume
When we launch a feature, we expect an increase in the volume of questions and tickets on the support channel in response to the marketing communications on email and social. A day or two before the launch, we aim to double down on the inbox to reduce the volume in advance. For a significant feature launch, we’d aim to maximize team coverage. Tuesdays work well for us, with the highest number if team mates available, and we’d avoid any syncs or meetings that would take us away from the inbox on these days.
[Callout: We work a four day work week at Buffer. See how our Customer Advocacy team works just four days a week while keeping up customer support.]
We'll also prepare macros and snippets containing pre-written sentences and phrases to help us quickly respond to anticipated questions. These work well as a way to consistently share the steps needed to navigate particular settings, for example. These all get added to the Internal Release Guide to share within the team.
Creating a dedicated channel for the launch is a great way to keep everyone informed. It helps keep track of what is happening with the launch and makes it easy for the team to access information about it. We have a dedicated Slack channel for launches, and we'll share essential milestones and timings, such as:
- the initial rollout to 5 percent of users (important last check for any unexpected issues!),
- roll out to 100 percent of users,
- the blog post is live,
- launch emails are sent
This screenshot shares just a little sneak peek into our #launches Slack channel:
It's also handy to have one place to direct team members who are looking for information. The Customer Advocacy team will be working in their regular channels and using the Internal Release guide as a resource for asking questions and sharing non-urgent feedback.
When a new product or feature is launched, there's often a lot of excitement, and hopefully many happy customers! The Customer Advocacy team will be working with users who have various questions, and some may have concerns or run into issues, if there are some unexpected bugs or trouble. We do our best to ensure the team is prepared to handle all of these situations, and carefully planning product launches makes a big difference to how things go on the day of the launch and the days soon after. Having a plan, and working closely with the product, engineering, design and marketing team along the whole journey of bringing a product to market, gives our Customer Advocacy team the best chance contributing to a successful launch day. There is always more we can do to prepare for a launch, and we take time to reflect after each one. It’s always a learning experience.
Here’s a run down of our current approach:
- Review the exploration/discovery brief once the product team have mapped out their plans for the new feature. At this stage the Customer Advocacy team can offer valuable insights, as well as potentially put the product manager directly in touch with customers who might have some great perspectives to share
- Review the design prototypes. These often give us our first idea of the look and feel of the new feature and it’s our chance to offer feedback and perspectives to the design team.
- Create an Internal Release Guide, to describe the features, including the ‘good to knows’, and create a space to answer questions and collect feedback.
- When the engineering team is finished, the Customer Advocacy team run thorough testing to make sure everything works as expected
- Prepare the Customer Advocacy team to focus on the inbox, ‘all hands on deck’ style, both ahead of the launch to clear any inbox backlog, and during the launch to maximize response times
- Create an inbox filter so that that members of the product and marketing teams can keep an eye on the responses to the launch emails
- Gather the team in a special launch Slack channel on launch day, to share the excitement and follow along with the rollout and announcements
- Review the feedback and questions that have come up in the Internal Release Guide. This typically helps us evolve the customer facing Help Center resources as well as keeping everyone up to date and informed.
As Buffer has grown, our product and engineering teams have also increased in size. And as our product becomes more powerful, we must work together to roll out a new product or feature successfully. Launching a new product is a lot of work, but it's worth it when you see customers using it and getting value from it. And as a Customer Advocacy team, it's even more gratifying to help them every step of the way.
What does a product launch look like for you? I’d love to hear your stories! You can reach me on Mastodon here: @firstname.lastname@example.org