Monthly Archives: April 2013

Why a (Moving) Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

If you get the same question from your users more than 10 times then you should have written a canned answer for it. If you get questions about your canned answer then you should have made a video for it. There’s no excuse not to. The barriers that used to be put in front of the video creator have largely been removed but I’ll address the three key objections that people put in front of themselves to prevent them from ever making videos.

The Software to create Videos is Expensive

Some is, some isn’t. Some is free. I’ve made extensive use of the completely free and incredibly useful Wink (http://www.debugmode.com/wink/). This program will allow you to capture your activity as you use your software product or webpage and capture your mouse movements. You can then insert popup messages, timed events, user triggered events, and custom slides into your recorded activity. The results can be output into a Flash (http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/) that pretty much any web browser can display.

I Don’t Have the Voice for a Video

Then don’t do voice with your videos. Communicate what you need to via popup text windows. If you’re building a demonstration video that doesn’t need user interaction you should be careful with the pacing to ensure your viewers can read all your text before your text disappears.

Making Software Demonstration Videos is Hard

I’ve made several dozen and while I wouldn’t call making software demonstration videos hard I would call it laborious and fiddly. Learning your video production software is going to be tricky but the actual production is going to take real time. You’ll be running the video over and over to test timings, adjusting graphics to make them pixel perfect so that you don’t get things jumping around in your video, and you’ll struggle initially to develop the overall concept for each video. But, it goes get easier with time. I usually budget 2-3 hours of real time to produce each minute of my video demonstrations.

Why Videos are Better

People don’t read emails. And my experience is that the more you write in an email, the less they read. If you’re trying to explain something complex a blog article or canned email is better than nothing, but a video is better. Case in point, for years I struggled with software users who couldn’t register their software. I fine-tuned my email response explaining how to do it, I fine-tuned the blog post that was full of screenshots explaining how to do it, and I fine tuned the actual registration process within the software itself. And still I got 3-4 emails a day from users who just didn’t get it. Then I built a software demonstration video of the registration process and linked to new purchasers to that. These days I probably get one email every two weeks about software registration. Videos just explain things better than an email or a blog post could ever hope to.
There’s another big benefit to using software demonstration videos on your website. In this new age of Search Engine Optimization videos lead to more engaged website visitors. Videos capture visitors for longer than blog articles because you can’t skim read a video. More engaged customers are viewed favourably by search engines and videos may have a positive impact on your search engine rankings.

Other Tips

  • Don’t forget to upload your videos to YouTube. Having a YouTube channel with all of your software video resources is a useful social channel that can be developed with very little effort.
  • Brand your videos and if possible embed URL’s to your websites in them. You never know where your content is going to be shared.
  • Don’t forget to include promotional opening and closing slides to your videos. Sell your product, your brand, and your websites.
  • Include links to your other videos and gain more traction with your visitors.

Google Nexus 4

A couple of months back my HTC Wildfire S started complaining about there not being enough memory to download and install Android and other bloatware updates. It was getting to the point where the thing wouldn’t start up properly or wouldn’t close down without me manually clearing out all of the borked updates. I’d uninstalled all the apps from it, moved as many of them as I could to the SD Card but the phone has pretty much obsoleted itself. I started looking around at new phones without much enthusiasm and had pretty quickly settled on an iPhone 4 or a Samsung Galaxy S2. These met my two main criteria, firstly, enough memory to stop the sort of crap the HTC phone had afflicted me with, and secondly not too expensive. I just couldn’t see any earthly reason why I’d spend $500+ on a phone. I mean, come on, it’s just a freaking phone!

I drifted along aimlessly for weeks with my HTC keeping it going because I really didn’t want a new phone. The Samsung and the iPhone didn’t excite me and it’s completely usual for me to procrastinate endlessly over purchases that don’t excite me. Unless a gadget is terminally ill or the replacement is alluring in some way then I’ll just stick with the status quo. Then I read a review of the Google Nexus 4, the phone made by LG for Google to run their Android 4.2 operating system. An OS that wasn’t burdened down by crappy OEM apps that you couldn’t install, wouldn’t ever use, and that just got bigger and bigger over time as they endlessly updated themselves. Bliss! Android as Google intended it. I had to have this Google Nexus 4, surely all my phone woes would be solved by this one, single phone, one phone to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them. Errr *cough*, sorry Lord of the Rings flashbacks there.

So I ordered one through the Google Play store. Total cost was AU$419 delivered for the 16GB Nexus 4. It arrived about 3 weeks later and it’s been a very happy relationship so far. So much so that I really have nothing bad to say about the phone. The screen is a nice size but not so huge that I feel like I’ve got a book in my pocket when I’m carrying it around. The camera is nice and takes goodish pictures that work well on social media sites. The performance is snappy, with no noticeable lag or delays running games or apps. For the first time I find myself just playing with a phone rather than using it as, well, a phone. The Nexus is a fun device to fiddle with, download apps to, and customise to suit your whim of the moment. My only warning is that the phone doesn’t contain an external mini SD slot so if you’re someone who must have thousands of songs to listen to then you might be out of luck. I don’t really listen to music so it’s no biggie to me.

Highly recommended.

DatePickers on Excel MultiPage Controls

I’ve known this for a little while but I thought it worth posting here. You cannot get or assign the value of a DatePicker control on a MultiPage control if you’re on a different page of the MultiPage control. So if you’ve got a 5 page MultiPage control and the DatePicker Control is on page 1 of the MultiPage then this won’t work (and will indeed give an error):

  Me.MultiPage1.Value=4
'dtPicker is on MultiPage1 page 1, 
  Me.dtPicker.value=Now

And this wont work either:

  Dim datTmp as Date
  Me.MultiPage1.Value=4
'dtPicker is on MultiPage1 page 1, 
  datTmp=Me.dtPicker.value
 'this just sets datTmp to todays date and ignores the actual dtPicker value

So if you want to set or get the value of a DatePicker on a MultiPage control you need to be careful which page of the MultiPage is selected. You need to do something like this.

 'save the page we are on now
  iCurrentPage = Me.MultiPage1.Value
  
  'change to the page the DatePicker is on and set the value
  Me.MultiPage1.Value = 4
  Me.dtPicker.Value = Now
  'go back to the original page
  Me.MultiPage1.Value = iCurrentPage

The Customer is Always Right (Sometimes)

The old adage is that the customer is always right. This isn’t true, not by a long shot. You need to know right now that your software users will be, on the whole, selfish and only interested in scratching their own itch. They don’t care if your software product is designed specifically for them and unsaleable to anyone else. They don’t care if their email is the only one you answer today. And they don’t care if you go broke, just as long as you keep giving them the service they demand. I’m telling you now, if you do assume the customer is always right you are heading into dangerous waters and there be dragons in those waters.

Don’t Change Your Software Based on What Customers Want Until…

Here’s a curly one. I am saying to you now, do not change your software product based on what your customers ask for. Up until a point. And that point is where you have been asked for the same thing, so many times by so many customers that it is the first thing you think about when you sit down to do some development work. Stay true to the vision of your product UNTIL the consensus from your user base is such that it can no longer be ignored.

I apply this rule almost fanatically these days. You see, when I got started in the software selling business I thought that I had to be all things to all men. As a consequence my first product grew new features like crazy and I had a bunch of happy customers who had customized software for basically chicken feed. And the end result of this after a couple of years was a product that tried to be all things to all men and ended up being ideally suited to no-one. I don’t even want to talk about what a nightmare that code-base ended up being to support. Continually being reactive to my customer demands caused me to lose track of my initial vision for the product lead to complexity that even I, as the author of the software failed to really comprehend.

The Squeaky Wheel Shouldn’t Get the Grease

Prepare yourself for something. If you’re going solo and planning on providing technical support you’re going to get rude customers. Not just rude paying customers but people who think they deserve to get your hard work for free and others who feel the need to critique your work in rather abrupt language. Don’t get upset by this. Don’t get reactive to it. And certainly, never, ever, make a special effort to appease such characters.

It’ll be hard because when you get a rude email because you’ll see red and want to bang out a reply defending your products (which are your babies after all), and perhaps you’ll want to engage them in debate. Don’t. You can never win. If a rude customer asks for a refund, give them one and reply with the same canned response you would use if a polite customer asked for one. If a rude customer flies off the handle at the way your software does something, respond politely using the same words you would to a civil customer. And if a customer sends an email that just makes you plain angry get up, and walk away. Email is great like that, you can just get up and do something else.
If you take these simple steps I can assure you that in most cases the customer will calm themselves down. We can never know what is going on in a person’s head when they send out poison via email and it’s remarkable how many of them realise what asses they’ve been when their emails are replied to a civil, polite and professional fashion.

Don’t Be Scared to Fire Your Users

Some users are just high maintenance. They take up your time with technical support during your software trial period, they clearly do not read the help file, or your blog, or your myriad of other technical resources. What’s even more frustrating is that they don’t even seem to read the emails you so carefully craft in response to their questions. Treat each of these high maintenance users like gold because if you can, finally, get them to understand your software they’ll become loyal devotees. I’ve had users like these that have maintained a dialog with me for years, which sounds like hard work but each year they happily pay their annual support fees. Which makes me happy too.

Sometimes though, the high maintenance users cannot be saved. You need to recognise these users during your software trial period and fire them before they can spend money on your software. If you can’t save them during the trial period you’re almost certainly not going to save them afterward and once money has changed hands these high maintenance users can get nasty. I used to close sales with all high maintenance users but too many times this lead to disputes and eventual refunds. So these days I quietly fire the users before they purchase and most of the time they don’t even realise I’ve done it. I do it by sending them this email:

Dear Joe Smith,
Before you purchase XXXXX I strongly recommend that you run the product for the full 30 day trial period. Furthermore to make sure that XXXX is a great match for your company I’ve decided to extend the trial period by a further 60 days! Just register the software with the registration codes below and you’ll be able to use XXXX for free for 90 days!
///registration codes here////

This has worked beautifully many times. The user hands over no money and when they give up trying to use your product (which they usually will) you’ll never hear from them again. A potential side benefit to this approach is that your user may actually get a eureka moment during their extended trial period, figure it all out, and buy the software. It’s a win-win situation whatever happens.