How not to upset users with product updates

I love FitStar. It’s a personal training app that works.

Unlike an exercise video, the workouts change every time, so you don’t get bored. The app monitors how you’re doing, and makes your sessions harder each time, so you keep making progress.

Unlike an actual personal trainer, you don’t have to book your sessions. You turn it on and go.

It's the details that make it great. Like the audible rep counter that tells me how fast I need to be pressing or crunching when I can't look at the screen.

But the best thing about it was Tony.

For me, FitStar WAS Tony Gonzalez, an off-the-scale enthusiastic NFL star. He belts out his motivational script like he means every single word. Like he's in the room with you.

Enter the fitness bot

So I was pretty upset when I went to the FitStar site one morning, and Tony had vanished.

In his place was a new female instructor. Same script, but rather less natural enthusiasm. She reminded me of the girls who never picked me for their netball teams.

I ploughed on through the workout anyway.

During my ab crunches, I realised the audible rep counter had disappeared. Oh, and the interface was a different colour.

You know you’ve been updated when…

Well, usually, the app maker tells you. But not this time. So I went looking for answers on the website.

No sign of Tony, and no explanation for his disappearance.

There were two new instructors, Lea and Adrian, but I couldn’t work out how to change from one to the other. It seemed I was stuck with Lea for the time being.

The website also offered a new FitStar Radio feature. How exciting! I could lunge to heavy rock or crunch to hip-hop.

But I couldn’t find the feature anywhere.

After some back and forth with the helpdesk, I did manage to switch my instructor from Lea to Adrian (who is nice, but not Tony).

I still have no audible rep counter in the web version of the app (yes, I have checked my settings). But they've told me several times about the great new FitStar Radio feature.

Unfortunately, I can’t access FitStar Radio, because it’s only available in North America. Eventually, I found this out via a blog post.

It’s not the update, it’s the communication

Some of your users will get annoyed by any changes you make to your products or services.

But this time I wasn’t annoyed so much by the changes. It was the way they were communicated.

I didn’t get an email from FitStar about the update until several days after the disappearance of Tony. Still no explanation of where he went.

I'm still missing my audible rep counter. But when I complain, the help desk focuses on telling me all about the cool new features. Including features I can’t use - like FitStar radio!

So, what can we learn here?

No surprises

Don’t push product updates with no warning. Especially not first thing in the morning when I’m barely awake.

Tell users about an update in advance. Explain when it’s coming, and what will be different for them.

If they can now make different choices about how they use the app, tell them. Give them time to think.

Listen when users tell you they have a problem

Every update has bugs. If you change something, you always break something else.

Obviously, you will test the hell out of any update. You will do your best to minimise glitches. But there will be some.

So - warn users about any known issues. Tell them how to report anything that doesn't look right.

And when they do flag up something odd, treat it seriously, because it’s likely to be your fault and not theirs.

Tell the right things to the right people

FitStar must have some idea where I live. They know enough to prevent me seeing FitStar Radio. So they should have been able to send me an appropriate launch mail, so they didn’t offer me features I can’t use.

When you have an issue or change that only affects a subset of your users, tell only those users.

If you can’t manage that, you need to make the applicability clear up front. Don’t bury the detail away in some blog post that no one will ever find.

What do users really care about?

Before you do a launch, think about whether your users will care. Is it even worth taking up their time to tell them you redesigned your app or your website? Disrupting them for something they don’t care about needs an apology, not a fanfare.

In this case, FitStar did change something I cared about. The problem is, they saw it as an improvement, whereas I saw it as a problem.

But then, FitStar don’t know what I care about because they never asked.

There are so many ways to find out what users think. And often we’re pretty good at applying those ideas when we’re designing new services or features. We just need to remember to take our users into account when we’re launching those new features, too.

Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and buy the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use myself and believe will add value to my readers.