Aswin Sambamurthy, VP – Product & Growth at Netcore Cloud shares his journey in the field of product management. He translates his decade-long experience in building products that customers love into deep insights on how the overall product experience is being reimagined by building habit-forming products that keep users coming back to that product and drives exponential growth for brands across industries.
Q1. What got you into products/product management?
I didn’t really start my career with the intention of becoming a product manager. But I had a difference of opinion when I discovered it at Zynga – a leader in developing mobile games. That’s when I realized how critical Product Management was for any company. Knowing that product managers go through millions of data points to understand what users are doing, and based on that, decide on what features to build next was something that sparked my interest and encouraged me to give it a shot. And that’s when my journey in Product Management kick-started.
Q2. Why the inclination towards behavioral science and user habits in building products?
Psychology is an interesting subject. Many Product Managers end up spending a lot of their time avidly reading about psychology. The primary requirement to build a successful product is to understand users.
Psychology is a natural extension of the concept of product management. And habit-building as a concept is something that was very prominent in Zynga. There are so many habit-building models that brands across the world implement in their product strategies. It’s as simple as this – Every time you get an app notification, you have the urge to click on it and go on to the app, take some action, and get rewarded for taking that action.
Multiple great products out there have been using these models to drive growth.
Using such models keeps you focused on your users and their needs – something which is applicable across whatever you do.
Q3. The word ‘nudge’ builds up a lot of curiosity around it. The first probable question that comes to mind is how does this word trace back to the nudge theory and what really are the implications?
Nudging is all about guiding users when they need help on what they can or should do next. They might be stuck in the onboarding phase, they might not have explored a key feature that would make the whole product click for them. This needed engineering effort, or in-your-face popups before. Now, we help there with our no-code nudging.
Nudging has gained a lot of popularity over the decade. Nudging is effective because humans tend to operate in system 1 thinking – as suggested in the book ‘Thinking fast and slow’ by Daniel Kahneman.
For most of our life, we don’t think about what we do. We operate in an autopilot mode. If there is a door in front of us, we will automatically open it without pondering over which direction to turn the knob in.
Then there’s system 2 thinking where we actually stop and evaluate what we’re doing. Like when you’re surfing an app, checking out products, and adding them to your cart. Now, when you have to checkout you would stop and think after looking at the cart value. You will try and evaluate what you absolutely need and what you don’t.
The more users avoid thinking, the faster they take action. The more they think, the more exhausted they get. As a user, if you’re guided to take actions then you would simply go with that flow.
This is largely how nudges work.
Q4. Every customer-centric company wants to turn its regular users into loyal users and brand advocates. All efforts are towards building what we call habit loops to drive user behavior and keep them coming back to the app. How does product experience play a role here?
There is a whole set of experiences a user goes through while interacting with a brand – that’s the customer experience. Part of it happens within the product and then there are the other sets of interactions that happen outside the product, depending upon the kind of product you have. If you’re an E-commerce app, then the delivery experience is a crucial part. In the case of a B2B platform, it would be the customer support aspect.
Be it in any product – FMCG or a complex tech product:
This is where Netcore’s product experience line comes into the picture – making the user’s experience contextual.
When we talk about habit building, its success depends upon the context of the user at a particular point in time. Let’s say that at a railway station there are 3 options – staircase, elevator, and escalator. Now, the user here could be an old person, a child, or a professional late for work and there could be N number of deciding factors for a decision as simple as that.
There are so many things a user could be doing on an app. If you’re opening Airtel/Paytm there are possibly 30 things you could do. A user opens the app with a specific context – recharge, booking a movie ticket, or maybe just scroll through without actually looking to do something.
For every user, this context is different. However, most of the brands are still stuck at the ‘road sign’ mode – there’s an icon, a word beside it and you leave it to your users what to do next, like the signs we see on the roads. But, road directions have now moved to google maps which offer personalized routes. For most of the users, their journey within consumer apps is still stuck in the old mode.
You certainly can’t expect to blindly change things on the app.
Let’s suppose there’s a user who regularly purchases movie tickets every weekend and has been doing so for the past 4-5 odd weeks. The 6th time the user comes to the app on a weekend, you can safely assume that he’s here for the movie ticket. In the traditional way of doing things, the app would want to simply delete everything and float only the ‘book a show’ or ‘30% off on your next movie booking’. But this actually confuses a user because familiarity within the app is important to users.
Personalizing an app is not a cakewalk. It’s a lot more than just offering a few recommendations. It’s more about personalizing what a user sees on the app. If you know that a user frequently buys movie tickets then ideally you should highlight some offers around that to attract their attention to the offer part and eventually get them to engage in a transaction. You also don’t want your users to stop at this. You want them to explore other features too. So, based on this context, you highlight or guide users to those parts of the app that would be of most interest to them.
Q5. While nudges are a major part of the whole product experience concept, it could be a tricky business because users might look at it as an interruption. So how does one ensure that the overall customer experience remains unhampered and delightful?
This is a common question that exists because of pop-ups and in-app messages that are at times just chunks of information that block a user’s flow on the app and forces them to take some action. They’re likely to take actions depending upon how much they like your app, else, most of the time they end up uninstalling the app.
These interruptions do more harm than good because it pulls people out of the system 1 thinking – where users aren’t actively evaluating their decisions/steps they have to take. Ideally, a user knows the app, knows what to do and where to go. But these pop-ups force them to do something which needs thinking and tends to annoy users, resulting in users leaving the app.
This is exactly where the USP of contextual nudges lies.
Those tiny red circles on Facebook and the blue ones on Twitter that appear when you get notifications are examples of this subtle nudging. A user can choose to completely ignore that and continue doing whatever it is they were doing. At the same time, it also manages to capture the user’s attention towards it. Basically, they’re more like indirect suggestions.
Again, the subtlety and intrusiveness of these nudges would depend upon the user context. Consider the example of a Telecom app. If a user hasn’t recharged his phone even after the due date, the nudges here could be more intrusive as compared to nudging a user who still has 7 days left to recharge.
This way, you get the users to perform key tasks and don’t end up annoying them to the extent where they decide to abandon your app completely.
Q6. Can you highlight some broad use-cases that Netcore Product Experience aims to solve?
Here are a couple of use cases that Netcore Product Experience successfully addresses:
- In most of the apps, even if there are multiple features to engage users, most users would be simply using the same core features over and over again. In doing so, they tend to ignore the other capabilities of the app and don’t even explore them. The product experience platform introduces users to other app features/functionalities and drives adoption for the same.
- It also helps drive conversions. With user analytics, you can understand where your users are getting stuck and how you can guide them at that point. You identify that segment of users who are stuck and further need help finding their way through your product.
- User activation, cross-selling, surfacing user-specific offers, gathering feedback are some of the other use cases that Netcore’s product line helps solve. For instance, if a user spends over 30 seconds on the app screen, you can deploy a survey nudge and maybe ask them where they’re facing problems or how you can further help them. Or after a user completes a purchase you nudge them to rate their experience.
- Another important one is onboarding (and not just in the traditional sense of the word). Onboarding journeys that blindly use coach-marks, tool-tips, and other types of nudges are very much like those traditional road directions that tell you where you can find all the things within the app but at the end of the journey, you retain only 1-2 of those many things. The same is the case with video tutorials. The chances of users retaining the information tends to be low.
Think about this. If you want to go from point A to B and someone directs you like – take the third left you will reach a temple, take the second left after the 3rd signal and you will reach the XYZ location. By the time you start your journey, you won’t actually remember these directions. What you actually need is someone to guide you as and when you’re on the journey. And that’s how we need to look at onboarding too.
With each of these use cases, we are reimagining the existing methods to solve these old problems.
If we take onboarding again –
Surprisingly, most users don’t even get close to experiencing this moment.
For Farmville, this ‘aha’ moment would be when the user is able to harvest a crop and gain money by selling it. Suddenly the user feels that he/she can do so many things in the game. But for this realization to occur, it’s extremely crucial for users to take those initial steps/actions. So you need to guide your users through those early stages, let them finish the key tasks, and then go on to introduce other features.
Another very interesting idea around onboarding came from an Indonesian customer. They chose to not do anything in the onboarding stage. Their app allows users to explore multiple categories inside the app. They waited and they wanted to analyze the categories a user clicks on when they’re not guided. The aim was to understand that out of the 10 or so categories present on their app, find which one a new user is interested in, and know why they installed the app. Once they’re able to identify the specific user’s interests, they can start the onboarding journey focused on that one particular category and help users explore that in-depth, understand the nuances, and ultimately become a regular user of the app. Eventually, as the user moves ahead in the journey, the app would start introducing the other categories, again, in a contextual manner.
Q7. What does Netcore have in its roadmap to cater to future trends in this category?
In the short term, there are more types of nudges lined up for launch. The specific category of nudges being introduced is what we are calling ‘persistent’ nudges which are different from the existing kinds of nudges. If you want your user’s attention focused on a particular feature or icon, you can simply highlight that and grab the user’s attention. The persistent nudges as the name suggests will stick to the screen till the user leaves the page.
For example, in e-commerce apps, under certain categories, there will be a tiny rectangular icon that says new/trending/best selling – those are basically social proofing methods. These are not those transient nudges that appear and disappear. They simply stay on the screen. This category of nudges is being worked upon for the short term.
In the longer run, the vision is to decouple product management from engineering as much as can be. 20 years back in marketing, a marketer would not be able to send out even an email without the help of the engineer. And now, marketers probably aren’t aware of what the engineers are doing. All efforts are into deploying no-code solutions that empower product managers to drive compelling customer experiences.
As a function, product management is heavily dependent upon engineering. The aim is to bring more and more no-code offerings that product managers can use right out of the box and save up on engineering effort and time.