Climbing the App Store Charts with Four Turnaround Tactics
In the beginning of 2015, Baker & Taylor introduced the Axis 360 mobile app. Available from both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for Android, Axis 360 opened the door for library patrons to browse for eBooks and digital audiobooks, check them out, and read or listen to them on their devices. Just one problem—the user feedback.
Fortunately, as a venerable library distributor with roots dating back 180 years, Baker & Taylor had built an enormous reservoir of goodwill with libraries. But while B&T’s longtime library customers were willing to give Axis 360 time to find its footing, media-savvy and especially younger patrons weren’t so patient or forgiving. They bombarded the app stores with brutally honest reviews, citing frequent crashes and a non-intuitive design that didn’t fit their real-world needs. In short order, Axis 360 was in a deep hole—1.8 stars out of 5 on Google Play, and an even lower 1.5 out of 5 on the Apple App Store.
“We had to sharpen our listening as an organization,” says Amandeep Kochar, executive vice president for K12 Education, Software Products, and Services at Baker & Taylor. “Our end customers were telling us their frustrations, but what was worse – their perception was that we wouldn’t do anything about it.” The bottom line was that Axis 360 was being rejected by a majority of library patrons—a situation that couldn’t continue if the product were to be successful. But could a company as large and with well-established processes as Baker & Taylor innovate quickly enough to save the day?
The answer was a resounding yes. Today, Axis 360 has not only climbed out of the basement, but has steadily risen in the ratings, now garnering a whopping 4.5 stars out of 5 in both store sites for the newest releases. How did Baker & Taylor do it?
THE CUSTOMER’S PERCEPTION IS MY REALITY
The first innovation involved revamping the system of customer feedback. “We had to set aside our inside-out view, where we assumed we knew what the customers wanted without any validation, the challenge was – there were 600 ideas – the budget only for 20” Kochar says. Baker & Taylor created a “customer innovation program,” and invited our library partners to join in monthly meetings to learn about its plans for Axis 360.
To avoid groupthink, they invited both satisfied customers and others who were known to be less than happy with the product or relationship with B&T. “We showed the customers exactly what we planned to build—and went forward only with those changes that got our customers not just excited but jumping for joy.” The group meets virtually every month and has met every year in person twice at conferences. Kochar says he’s now in the process of writing thank-you notes. “We’ve achieved our goal of getting to 4.5 stars. Our customers are the innovators—we just make it happen for them. To be honest, we manage our investments into Axis360 based on these meetings.”
(COMMUNICATION) MATRIX RELOADED
Customer communication was not the only area that needed a fix. Clearly, the product, support, and sales teams all needed to start pulling in the same direction. Several techniques helped break down traditional barriers. First, B&T instituted two monthly town hall meetings, one for the entire team (sales, product, support, marketing and operations) and one for managers at the director level and above. Second, using a customer relationship management tool (in this case Salesforce), B&T made the Axis 360 product road map available to all employees. “If you need information to communicate to a customer or for internal strategy, you shouldn’t have to email anybody. It’s transparent and accurate,” Kochar says.
A new product innovation portal, also in Salesforce, enables any employee to submit product improvement ideas on their own initiative or on behalf of a customer. “But here’s the cool thing,” Kochar relates. “Everyone gets to vote on the ideas—all employees and all customers. Every month we meet and look at ideas with more than 50 points. We’ve democratized product development, with our employees and customers as the true innovators and the developers as guides for the journey.”
DON’T FIX BUGS LATER; FIX THEM NOW
On the front lines, the product and engineering teams retooled their practices, from requirements gathering to accountability. Thanks to improved communication between teams, the staff is no longer overcommitted to rush out releases before they are ready. The quality assurance team now looks at both functional and performance parameters to determine that it is properly built and fulfills the user requirements. The big change here was to test user scenarios in addition to features. Most importantly, the new features are then field-tested by the very customers who proposed them in the first place.
“It’s important to hear that our customers like the improvements we made—especially when it’s a customer who wasn’t happy before,” says Kochar. “And we have loyal customers who have always been supportive because of our relationship now saying they love the quality of the product too—that we are beating the competition.”
RRRRRAPID RESPONSE TEAM
In today’s world, users expect to be able to access resources instantly from an ever-multiplying array of devices, operating systems, and networks. It’s become increasingly impossible for technical teams to test every scenario, but that’s small consolation to frustrated users. To address the need for immediate or advanced technical assistance, B&T formed a rapid response team so that complex technical issues could be escalated quickly from tech support directly to the product and development teams. Customers were fast-tracked to a discovery session with the B&T rapid response team immediately.
For Baker & Taylor, the experience has been transformative. Accustomed to measuring customer relationships in decades, the organization was able to use innovation and discipline to pivot in an industry that measures success only in the moment. For Axis 360 to be competitive, it needed the approval and acceptance of library patrons. From 1.5 to 4.5 stars, the proof of success is in the ratings.