Guest Post: Web Product Management 101 for “Offline” Managers

NOTE: The following is a guest post from Thomas Fuchs-Martin. If you feel inspired to write a guest post of your own, click here to find out how to submit it to us.


You are an experienced software product manager and you are thinking about developing your first web product?

Great! This blog post is written especially for you!

Be aware: The fact that you are about to manage a web site really changes a lot in your product strategy and the management processes that you know from “offline” products. I have prepared a crash course for you – defining terms and phrases that you will need to understand as part of your web product management role:

CPC, PPC etc.
Due to the fact that there are many different kinds of business models that exist in the web world, a lot of abbreviations have become very common (I am not really sure if that is a good thing…), particularly when it comes to advertising!

Most common is PPC (Pay per Click) which describes a model where the advertiser is charged only when a user clicks on their ad. Google Adwords is the most well known example of this. The payment amount or CPC (Cost per Click) defines the price paid by the advertiser for each click.

Even if your business model will not be advertising-based, the day will come that you either want to advertise your product on other sites or that you want to implement some advertising model on your site. You will need to understand the common models to avoid (expensive) mistakes.

Emergency Deployment
A website has to be up and running all the time, and there can be numerous backend servers and database needed to do this. You’ll need to schedule regular maintenance time to handle patches and upgrades. But, if you encounter a large bug on your production site or the site is not working at all, you might need to interrupt the usual release cycle and schedule an emergency deploy to fix urgent problems. In the worst case you will have to adjust the timings of your product plan because of these events.

In “offline” product management you basically have to think about how to create a great user experience. In web product management you have to think about search engines, too. Unfortunately users and crawler bots don´t always have the same needs which makes SEO (search engine optimization) quite interesting. SEO is the process of improving traffic to your site from search engines.

Important: Do not get the idea that you can completely outsource this! The majority of modern internet business models are based on good SEO, and your product planning will be affected by SEO requirements right from the start!

Private Beta / Public Beta
That is possibly one of the biggest luxuries that you will have as a web product manager. You can launch your product while it is still in beta-state. You just put a “beta” label beside your logo and a feedback-button somewhere prominently on your page and see what happens – this is called “public beta”. If that is too crazy for you then you can password-protect your site and only share it with selected users – that is a “private beta”.

Very important: Get the idea out of your head that your product needs to be perfect before you can launch it! There are many minimalistic and half-backed products out there that are pretty successful. Early release beats perfectionism and the minimum viable product beats the over-featured product. Remember the early days of Twitter?

Well this has nothing to do with food! In the web a cookie is just a piece of data that will be saved at the client computer. A bunch of very common features rely on cookies such as online-shopping or login-sessions etc.  It’s important for you to know that features that rely on cookies can be very painful to test because the features can behave differently depending on the client´s configuration of browsers etc.

“See you at 2 am!”
Well, in theory you can release a new version of your web product at any time you want. But maybe you don´t want to risk downtime during the peak periods of the website. So for bigger releases and maintenance operations, the early morning might be the only time-frame of the day with low traffic …and you and your team are working hard while everybody else is sleeping! If your website has a huge amount of traffic you might even consider to launch at the weekends, because usually the traffic is lower during those times.

Browser Issues
Creating a useful user interface for websites is a hard job. In the offline world you “only” have to think about which operating system and screen resolutions your target customers have. In the web you also have to worry about different browser versions, browser security & privacy settings, pop-up blockers etc. It is almost impossible to create a complex website that will work with all browsers.

My recommendation: Focus on the most popular browsers and be minimalistic with the product features. The best way to figure out which browser your web product needs to support is to take a look in your web analytics. The diversity of browsers can vary significantly depending on the target group or target-country of your website. At minimum, your site should support Firefox, Internet Explorer (even the old IE 6 is still a common browser) and Chrome.

Web Analytics
You will have lots of information about the users of your product – for free! Google Analytics is the most common free web analytics tool that will provide interesting information about your users. For example: number of visits, pageviews, average time on page, country, browser version, screen resolution, bounce rate, top landing pages and much more. Get familiar with these analytics tools and identify the strong and weak points of your product!

Website Speed
Even in the age of high-speed internet connections you need to have a fast website! Not only do users like fast websites, search engines love them as well! Listen to what Matt Cutts from Google says about this:

I hope this crash course will be helpful for you to kick-start your web product manager career!

Thomas Fuchs-Martin is web product manager & SEO at the Spanish internet start-up – More articles about web product management can be found at his blog:

Survey: The Good, Bad and Ugly of Your Job


Here’s a short survey to help understand what is good, bad and ugly about Product Management and Product Marketing.

Click this link and fill out the survey.

It should only take about 5 minutes.

I’ll summarize and share the results next week once enough survey responses are received. And don’t worry, the survey is completely anonymous.

NOTE: While my focus is on Product Management and Marketing, if you are a reader of this blog, feel free to fill out the survey as well. I’d love to hear about your role.


FutureShop – A woeful tale of customer (dis)service

Back in December, I wrote about a terrible experience trying to buy a washer and dryer on sale on the FutureShop website.

Although the purchase experience was bad, the company did deliver the two units to my house 6 days later, as promised. When the delivery men brought the units into my house, I thought my troubles were over. Little did I know….

The following is an extreme summary of the events that occurred AFTER the units were delivered to my house. I sent a 5 page letter detailing the entire fiasco to FutureShop including all the badge numbers of the people I spoke with, in hopes that they would do something about the problem. To this date, there are still some issues outstanding.

Keep in mind, all I wanted was an exchange on the washer that I had purchased. Nothing else.

Dec. 30, 2009 – Washer and dryer units delivered to my house. Units sat in my foyer untouched until we sold our old washer/dryer units

Jan 10, 2010 – Old washer/dryer units picked up by buyer. Fully unpacked new washer and noticed washing drum was not secure and unit had a lot of water in it.  Not what I would expect in a supposedly new washer. See video below.

Jan 10, 2010 – Called FutureShop Customer Service. Had the person listen to the water in the washer. Was told that a replacement or a repair could be made. Asked for a replacement.  CSR suggested calling a local store for  a replacement.

Jan 10, 2010 – Called local FutureShop store. Spoke to a store employee (Shams) who suggested that I “Google” whether having so much water in a brand new washer is a common problem. I ignored the answer and asked if they had a replacement unit available for exchange. Was told no, and that replacement units must come from the warehouse.

Jan 10, 2010 – Called Customer Service again. Spoke to yet another CSR (Travis) who also agreed water in a new machine was not right. Recommended I call their Quality Service Advantage department for assistance.

Jan 10, 2010 – Called Quality Service Advantage and was told Customer Service (!) had to deal with the exchange as QSA only deals with repairs.

Jan 10, 2010 – Called Customer Service yet again. Spoke with David. Explained situation yet again. David indicated that a replacement was in order and put me on hold. Someone else picked up the phone and asked me to explain the reason I wanted a replacement! This person’s name was Miles.I demanded to speak with a Manager. Apparently no Managers work on Sundays. Was told the name of a Manager (Drew) and that we could call him on Monday. Was also told that FutureShop would contact us by telephone within 48 hours to arrange for the delivery and pickup of a new unit. Miles also indicated the issue had been escalated to the delivery team for their attention.

Jan 12, 2010 – More than 48 hours later, still no phone call from FutureShop. Called Customer Service (spoke with Debbie) who was surprised we hadn’t been contacted, and later transferred me to Chris who also shared the same sense of surprise. Chris suggested waiting until end of workday (5PM).

Jan 12, 2010 – 5:18 PM – called FutureShop back and spoke with Matthew. Matthew also was surprised that our case had not been dealt with. Matthew took more notes, promised to escalate the issue (it hadn’t been escalated as Miles had promised) and indicated it would be dealt with “ASAP”.

Jan 12, 2010 – Matthew forwarded me to the “Floor Supervisor” (named Junior) who yet again indicated surprise at the lack of progress. Junior repeated the “ASAP” promise and indicated that he would escalate this to the Head Office and a District Manager who would deal with this and contact us.

Jan 13, 2010 – 72 hours after we were promised a phone call with the delivery time for our replacement unit, I received an email indicating an additional 48 hour wait is pending:

Hello Saeed,

I have received your request for an
exchange of your order.
You will receive an e-mail within 48
hours indicating that your request
has been processed with the scheduled
date for pickup.

Thank you,

Customer Support
Home Delivery Services

Jan 14, 2010 – Called Customer Service and spoke to Wayne about the constant delays and the email received the day before. Wayne indicated nothing else could be done. When I asked to speak to a Supervisor, he indicated a Supervisor would call me back. Of course, no Supervisor called me back.

Jan 15, 2010 – Called Home Delivery Services, spoke to Marnie who yet again took all my information, expressed disbelief at the situation and suggested I call Quality Service Advantage. For whatever reason, I decided to do that, and who picked up the phone? The same Marnie.

Jan 15, 2010 – Hung up and called Customer Service again.  Got connected to Wayne. Yes, the very same Wayne from the day before who promised a Supervisor would call.  Wayne was “surprised” that a Supervisor hadn’t called, indicated that a supervisor couldn’t do anything anyway and asked me to hold while he transferred me to a supervisor. 13 minutes later, Kelsey – a “Floor Supervisor” came on the phone.

Jan 15, 2010 – After a frustrating conversation with Kelsey trying to get a firm answer on when my replacement until would be delivered, I asked Kelsey to commit to one thing. Call me before 5PM that day and let me know whether or not a time/date had been set for delivering my washer. He committed to call me either way.  I didn’t receive a call from Kelsey by 5PM.

Jan 15, 2010 – In the evening received a call from someone named  Cliff. He was actually calling about a conversation we had with Miles on Jan 10, to clarify that the Manager whose name we were given by Miles (Drew) was on holidays and was not available.  I spoke to Cliff detailing all the problems we had had that week in simply trying to get a replacement delivery scheduled for our washer. Cliff listened and committed to escalating the issue, and also committed to calling us back the next day with a status.

Jan 16, 2010 – Late in the day, Cliff called us back! This was the first person at FutureShop who actually did what he/she said they would do.  He indicated that we should have received an email with a scheduled date of Jan 25, 2010 for a replacement unit. Not great in my opinion, but at least we have a date in writing.

Jan 16, 2010 – Cliff also asked us to provide him in detail all the notes we had about who we spoke to, when we spoke to them, what they did and didn’t do etc. We forward this to him and he indicated that he’d look into some kind of compensation for all the trouble we went through.

To this date, we have not heard back from FutureShop on this.

One final note:

Jan 17, 2010 – Received the following email from FutureShop Customer Service. This is a verbatim copy of the email. Read it carefully.

 Dear Saeed Khan,

 Your request has been submitted to our
 Home Delivery Specialist Team.
 Someone will be in contact with you
 within 24-72 business days with a

 We do sincerely apologize for any
 inconvenience this may have caused.


 Customer Support
 Home Delivery Services

Yes, it says 24-72 business days!

After everything else, to receive an irrelevant form email that itself has typos is the height of incompetence.

We did get our replacement units (they replaced both the washer and the dryer) in late January, but as mentioned earlier we still have not heard back about any compensation for having to spend so much time dealing with such a completely inept organization. With the sole exception of Cliff, I feel confident making the following statements about FutureShop Customer Service Representatives.

  • They openly and consistently lie to customers
  • They don’t know what the word “Service” means
  • They are trained to show empathy over the phone but have a complete disregard for customer issues
  • Beyond empathy training, they are not trained to read notes in a file and have no understanding of internal FutureShop processes

As for FutureShop management, they are either AWOL or also have disdain for customers. When I asked for the name of the VP or other executive who is responsible for customer service, I was given a postal address in British Columbia. No actual name of a person, no specific email address, no escalation path that I could pursue. And of course, after sending a 5 page letter detailing my problems with FutureShop to Cliff, no callback from anyone at FutureShop.

You be the judge of this one. Have you heard of a worse company in this regard?


Toronto Transit Commission – How not to handle bad PR

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is dealing with a real PR problem right now. There have been a number of photos and videos taken by transit riders and posted on the Internet showing TTC workers sleeping on the job (such as in the photo below) or otherwise doing things that did not provide a positive image of the transit commission.

Newspapers, television and radio news programs have reprinted the images and run articles and news segments on this story.

Many employees of the transit commission aren’t pleased.

Background on the TTC

Here’s a bit of background for those who are not from Toronto. The TTC operates all of the public transit buses, street cars and subways in the city of Toronto and has the 3rd highest daily ridership of any transit system in North America. Only New York and Mexico City (both significantly larger than Toronto in population) have transit systems that carry more passengers. The TTC is an integral part of people’s lives here.

There have been a number of issues in the last few years such as transit worker strikes, fare increases, ticket and token shortages, and service issues that have led to growing negative attitudes towards the TTC and the services it provides. Most people would probably say that the TTC does a good job in general,  but there are certainly many areas for improvement, and the TTC hasn’t appeared to be the most responsive organization.

Now there are 3 parties with stakes in this situation. There is the TTC management, the TTC workers (drivers etc.) and the public.

The public have legitimate gripes with both the workers and the management. Now, it is only fair to state that the recent pictures such as the one above are not the key problem here, and it is clear that only a very small number of workers are behaving this way. But for an already frustrated public, these images — and they are powerful — are what is putting the frustration over the top.

The TTC has made a number of mistakes in handling this situation.

1. They have not come out and openly acknowledged the problems that their customers (the general public) faces regularly

This is the first step that any company should take when dealing with problems such as these. Acknowledging the problems does not mean accepting the blame, but it does begin a communication process about the grievances. It also starts to frame the key discussion points so that constructive dialogue can occur. Otherwise the result is increasing distrust and frustration from the customers who become further entrenched in their views. This can quickly lead to customer attrition.

2. The TTC itself is embroiled in it’s own (rather public) conflict between management and the workers

This is probably one of the biggest problems facing the TTC and it is the customers that are punished through drops in service, striking unions or other issues.  But management keeps their jobs and the unionized workers focus even more on their own grievances.

The net result is that not only do customers suffer, but their needs are basically ignored while the two groups fight it out.

Here’s part of a statement from TTC chief general manager Gary Webster to workers.  This is excerpted from this article in a local Toronto paper.

In a memo sent to all TTC employees on Saturday, Webster says,

“I am becoming increasingly tired of defending the reputation of the TTC; tired of explaining what is acceptable and what is not; and tired of stating the obvious: that much of the behaviour being reported is, indeed, unacceptable.”

“Two weeks ago I said that the vast majority of TTC employees care about the organization and do a good job, but we can all do better. I asked everyone to respond well. Some of you did. Clearly, some of you did not.”

He is referring, of course, to the bus driver filmed taking an unscheduled coffee break in the middle of his route about a week ago, not long after a pair of ticket collectors were snapped sleeping in their booths.

The resulting video and photos have incited a maelstrom of discontent among riders already familiar with poor service from front line TTC workers.

“The culture of complacency and malaise that has seeped into our organization will end,” Webster warns.

“I hold all of management responsible to make this happen. Reviews and plans are under way to address systemic issues regarding customer service, but real change starts with you.”

Now the response from the union went something like this:

But (Bob) Kinnear (head of the union representing the TTC workers) blamed some of the issues frustrating both the public and TTC workers on transit managers and the commission board, which consists of politicians.

He also blasted chief general manager Gary Webster for his statement over the weekend that appeared to brand all TTC workers as deficient in their work ethic and attitudes.

“The worst thing for a good union is bad management,” Kinnear said. “If you have strong management and a strong union, you meet in the middle.”

Kinnear did ask for calm on all sides and to try to work together to solve the problems, but the finger pointing on all sides, particularly publicly just exacerbates the problem.

3. Some TTC workers started a very poorly thought through social media campaign

In a tit-for-tat move, some TTC workers created a Facebook group, called Toronto Transit Operators against public harassment.

The organizers of the group describe it’s purpose as follows:

This is a group where Operator’s [sic] can give suggestions on how to fight back to the recent photo and video harassment from passengers just looking to make trouble for us. And post photo’s [sic] of your own of passengers breaking the rules.

The “just looking to make trouble for us” line shows a complete inward mindset with no attempt to understand the real issues at hand. Also, the irony of the group name and that last sentence in the description seems to be lost on the group’s creators, although one group member, Mary Bruno Tidona, pointed it out quite plainly. See the image here for more info.

There were many people in the group who clearly supported the transit workers, but there were also a lot of  responses from people pointing fingers at politicians (local, provincial and federal), at the public, at their management, at “the system”, but rarely if ever at themselves. One comment that suggested that the few workers who do sleep on the job etc. get the boot was met with this response.

(click to enlarge)

If you’re going to use social media, at least understand that you’re engaging in a conversation with others and not an excuse making or brow beating exercise. That may work in broadcast media where the few control the message to the masses,  but in a Facebook group, for example, you’re only inviting ridicule.

4. TTC management have responded with old school thinking — repeat the obvious and add more features

On January 27, 2010, the TTC proudly proclaimed their commitment to customer service excellence. Is there anyone who would openly state they are NOT committed to customer service excellence? The web page on their site looks like a well crafted communication piece that announces a lot but doesn’t really indicate that they understand the core problems.

Front and center is the creation of a panel. The description is the following:

This panel will have representation from customers, the private sector, TTC employees and the public transit industry. The panel will review and approve a terms of reference then begin the work of assessing existing plans to improve customer service, advise on where the TTC should seek outside expertise to achieve its objective, conduct public consultations, and draft a customer charter or “bill of rights.” It is intended that the advisory panel will publicly report its recommendations by June 30.

Honestly, this is the best they can do in 2010? Create a panel and report back in 5 months? How about something more inclusive, using social media (effectively!), involving community groups in a series of TransitCamps starting at the end of February? Nope. Just old school thinking.

Beyond the panel, the web page also lists a number of new “features” they will add to the system. These include:

  • a beta of a new trip planning application
  • 50 new ticket vending machines across the system
  • improved plans to help customers and employees during subway delays
  • a new SMS messaging capability at all 800 streetcar stops
  • new video screens and better system status communication with ticket collectors and employees
  • a review of training programs for new employees and those going through re-certification

Now this is a nice list, but it’s simply a list of incremental features being added to the system. How will any of this – with the possible exception of better training — address the core issues of the public?

Incremental changes to the system, like incremental changes to a product, are not game changers. And while it is very difficult to make major changes to something as complex as a transit system in a short period of time, there is certainly a lot more that can be done to make the system more efficient and better address passenger needs.

I grew up in Toronto and used to love the transit system and it was only after I got married that I stopped using it regularly. And the few times I have used it since my marriage, I’ve found it excruciatingly painful and time-consuming.

I think the Toronto Transit Commission needs to understand there are alternatives for people and they will use them when the TTC fails to deliver appropriate value.  I’ve found an alternative to the TTC — same initials though — Take The Car. It does have it’s downsides, but it gets me where I’m going and I always know when it will depart and arrive.


Tweet this article:  @onpm – Toronto Transit Commission – How not to handle bad PR – – #ttc #marketing