Lessons from Building a Consumer Product

Your product is not just the UI.

I recently had the opportunity to help build and launch a consumer-facing product: Clio for Clients.

It’s the first time in my (short) career that I’ve worked on a consumer product. To date, my work has been B2B-focused, building for the likes of lawyers, service professionals, and knowledge workers.

Clio is now a B2B2C company, which means we sell our software to law firms, who also provide our software to their clients.

So, with this product, we were building for legal consumers; ordinary people like you and me who were experiencing a legal matter. That could be anything from a divorce to bankruptcy to selling a home. Quite the emotional spectrum, you can imagine.

In this post, I’ll summarize the key lessons I learned in building a product for consumers, and provide some recommendations for anyone who goes down this path — like I just did.

Your product goes beyond the UI

I came across this tweet while in the development process, and it really shaped my philosophy on building for a completely new type of user:

Your product is not the UI; it’s how your users feel throughout the entire experience. How it helps them achieve their goals, or complete the job they’ve ‘hired’ your product to do.

Consumers are inundated with a plethora of emails, advertisements, notifications, etc. these days.

So with this app, we needed to cut through the noise and provide these clients with clarity on how to navigate their legal matter and move it forward.

Ultimately, everything in product is a funnel — whether it appears that way or not. And funnels are all about decreasing friction at every step of the process.

What do I mean by friction?

Well, imagine being an everyday consumer with no knowledge of a company’s brand or product. In fact, no need to imagine — this is all of us every time we see an advertisement or marketing email. What questions would you have?

  • Who is this company?
  • Why are they relevant to me?
  • What do I do now?

In our case, this was an everyday consumer who would be receiving some sort of notification from ‘Clio’; a company they’d never heard of, and we had to drive them to download + start using our client portal app, so that they could securely communicate with their lawyer. (Not as easy as it sounds!)

This is the first step in the funnel: Awareness.

That touchpoint — whether it’s an email or a text message — as minor as it may seem in the moment, can make or break the experience. First impressions can leave lasting impacts on your users.

Next comes the Interest phase. In this stage, you need to make the content relevant to the consumer. In our case, this was giving the client context as to who Clio is, what we were instructing them to do, and why.

Desire comes next, which means you have to entice or incentivize the user to take action — whether that’s downloading an app or filling out a form.

In our case, we did this by ‘teasing’ the material that their lawyer had sent to them, providing some context (e.g. message preview, document title) so that it was enough to peak their curiosity — but not all the details, so they were still incentivized to download our app.

This is a growth / virality technique used by many collaboration products such as Dropbox; you’re given some context in an email notification, and are then incentivized to signup / click, so that you can see the full material or unlock any collaboration restrictions (i.e. view-only access). And now you’re in! Win-win for both the company and end user.

Finally comes the Action phase. On mobile, this often takes place on an App Store listing page. Here, your goals should be to showcase the value propositions of your product (as a reminder), show how easy it is to get started, and provide one clear call-to-action (CTA).

With that in mind, I’ll now share some tips & strategies for how to best optimize this funnel, in particular areas of your product:

Messaging

Imagine receiving an email from a company you don’t recognize. Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes: Does your copy speak to them? Does it convey the answers to those who/what/why questions? Is it filled with complex customer-facing jargon, or does it use simple, consumer-friendly language?

You need to assume that these consumers have no preconceived notion of your brand; you’re vying for their time & attention.

For emails that you send, you need to nail your subject lines, sender names, preview text, and call-to-actions (CTAs).

Consumers may not have an existing relationship or ‘skin in the game’ with you. With your customers, they pay you money and use your products regularly.

But for consumers, you’re just another email in their crowded inbox or another ad on their feed. It’s like a first date: you have seconds to nail that first impression.

With the Clio for Clients app, we opted to use simple language like “your lawyer” and “securely communicate”.

No lawyer-facing jargon like matter, contact, portal, resource, etc.

Key takeaway: ensure your messaging resonates with your target demographic, and speaks to users’ goals & needs.

Copy

While copy is similar to messaging, I view them as distinct. Messaging is about conveying your positioning and value propositions, while copy is about establishing trust and comfort with your users. (Imagery also plays a big part in this.)

One of the things we did in the Clio for Clients app was insert the branding (i.e. logo) of the law firm you’re working with, into the email you received from Clio, to make the notification appear more recognizable. That familiarity helps breed trust with the consumer.

The tiny details matter here, too. In all the emails we sent clients, we included the law firm’s name in the subject line. And we made the sender name the name of the employee at the law firm — to optimize open rates.

Copy, surprisingly, was an area where we spent a ton of time testing and researching. This is a great area to do usability testing with; get some consumers to read through your emails and voice their thoughts.

Key takeaway: always be improving your copy, and test it with your target segment.

Channels

By channels, I’m referring to the avenues and spaces through which the following actions take place:

  • Purchase / conversion (where does the buying action take place? What happens next?)
  • Signup (what is required? What can come later?)
  • Onboarding & setup (how do you set the user up for success?)
  • Settings (how can users customize the product to their liking?)
  • Login (how will subsequent attempts to access the product work?)
  • Support (what if users get stuck on something? How can they get assistance?)

When building a brand new product from scratch, you get the opportunity to completely re-imagine all of these things.

Don’t take this lightly — it’s something that usually only happens in the early days of a company’s life. It’s like getting to build a mini startup :)

Now, notice how most of those experiences don’t actually take place inside the product? They happen on external channels (e.g. email, web), which are used before, during, and after adoption.

Yet, they’re the things we often overlook or undermine, because they’re not part of what we (fallaciously) deem the ‘product’; aka the UI.

When we first began building this product, we focused so much on the UI and features, but after some early rounds of testing, it was clear we needed to put more thought into the end-to-end flow: every step from awareness → action.

So, rather than falling back on the status quo that you use for your customers, challenge yourself to think about the right channels for your users.

For example, with our app, when tapping “Get help”, rather than directing clients to our customer knowledge base website, which contained thousands of articles that would be of no relevance to them, we created a mobile-friendly landing page that had a handy explainer video and some FAQs, plus a link to phone our Support team.

Now, let’s talk about signup & login.

In the Clio for Clients app, we knew from research that the #1 barrier to adoption of our old client portal, Clio Connect, was the friction of creating an account, and having to remember your password every time you logged in. So, we set out a few product principles for this brand new client app:

  • Minimize the concept of ‘creating an account’ as much as possible. When you call it an ‘account’, and ask for things like usernames and passwords — especially when alternatives to your product are just a tap away, e.g email or texting — it’s inevitable that users will abandon the process and resort back to defaults.

What we did: we made no reference to terms like account, username, password, login, etc. All we did was ask what your email address was. The beauty of this was that iOS and Android keyboards would suggest / pre-fill the email address they had on file for you, so there were minimal taps required. Signup feel like one smooth flow, rather than a multi-step process.

  • Contain the experience within context. Most traditional signup forms require you to fill out some fields, then go somewhere else (usually your email) to click a link, then come back and fill out some more fields. Abandonment in the funnel is prevalent here due to the context switching it entails (e.g. forgetting to click the link, not being able to find the email).

What we did: when needed, we took users to and from their email inbox, back to our app. We even gave them the choice of opening any installed email app, such as Outlook or Gmail. The benefit of mobile is you can easily specify a destination (i.e. Mail.app) that a button in your app links to, then use universal app links (i.e. a CTA on an email) to navigate back to your app.

  • No passwords. This was our boldest principle, yet one we held the most conviction. You might be wondering, how can this app be considered secure if there’s no passwords? Well, passwords are just a concept, that frankly, haven’t been improved on much since inception. That’s starting to change now, with the advent of methods like SMS verification codes and ‘magic link’ emails. It turns out, it’s all about perceived security. Even if there’s no password, you still use the same underlying security standards; the user just doesn’t think they’re using a password.

What we did: We used ‘magic link’ emails for the initial onboarding. This email contains a one-time link that acts as the ‘password’, and the email expires within 1 hour. We then always kept users signed in after their initial setup, and allowed them to use Face / Touch ID as the authentication method when launching the app.

Key takeaway: building a product is about the end-to-end experience, not just the UI.

As a PM, building this end-to-end experience will entail cross-functional work with your Marketing, Sales, Support, and Customer Success departments to get the proper channels and systems implemented. It may require new tracking in your marketing funnel, new lead channels for your Sales team, new onboarding tactics for Customer Success, new Support mechanisms for end users, and so on.

Ensure those departments understand who these users are (share your research), how they’re different from your traditional customer base, and paint a picture of the ideal user experience for them. That way, rather than insisting on defaulting to status quo methods used for customers, they’ll be open to re-imagining these channels because it’s a completely new user base.

Features

When scoping the feature set for a consumer product, there’s two things to keep in mind:

What is the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) you can ship to your users?

When building out this new client portal, there was a long laundry list of features we originally thought of, and that we could’ve deemed must-have for launch. But, we didn’t want to delay getting value out the door to customers, nor did we want to go too far down a path without getting enough validation & feedback that they were valuable for customers.

What we did: we analyzed usage data on our old client portal, as well as API calls from our integration partners who had built their own client portals, to see which features were used the most by both sides — lawyers and their clients.

From the data, it was crystal clear that this was documents and messaging, which makes sense when you consider the fundamental component of a legal matter.

So we opted to start with just those features, and then launched as Early Access. And while we had the remainder of our laundry list in our back pocket, we committed to listening to our users post-launch to let them guide us on what to build, rather than us deciding it for them.

How are consumers’ needs different than your customers’?

When we started out, we initially assumed the functionality of the documents and messaging features for our consumer-facing app could be similar — if not identical — to the app we’d built for our customers. Because we assumed their needs were similar.

However, through conducting interviews with consumers (who’d used a lawyer before), as well as our existing customers, we learned that this was far from the case!

Instead of asking questions like “how do you use the Documents feature in Clio Connect?”, we asked general questions like “how do your clients send you documents? What are some challenges with that?” We deliberately chose to speak to both customers and clients who had and had not used our old portal.

Our customers told us stories of how their clients would use their smartphones as their cameras when sending in documentation, and they’d send them blurry, low-resolution, or improperly formatted pictures of forms — via text! Even worse, clients would send each page as one picture, meaning lawyers would often get 5–10 separate PNGs or HEIC files! All for one form.

What this meant was the forms were often illegible (due to the quality / format), or required significant cleanup work for lawyers: editing the picture to improve the quality, rotating it so it was facing the right way, joining the multiple pictures into one file, then converting it to a PDF. And then re-uploading it back into Clio.

PDFs are the tried-and-true backbone of documentation in the legal industry. They’re required by many governing legal bodies for permissible submission.

Furthermore, clients told us about how when requested, they’d have to go download an external scanning app from the App Store, just in order to send a signed form to their lawyer. Some of these apps weren’t free, or had friction in their signup process. And there were several steps to take the scanned image and send it back to your lawyer.

These insights led us to build my favourite feature on the app: the built-in document scanner.

We leveraged VisionKit and PDFKit to turn the “Take Photo” option on the app into a built-in scanner that automatically detected, cropped, and adjusted the object (i.e. piece of paper) for clarity. And best of all, it converted the multiple scans into one combined PDF.

This feature was an instant hit with our customers; it led to an outpour of customer love on Twitter, and on our virtual conference platform where the keynote announcement took place.

And that, for my money, is the best part of product management. When your team’s hard work on research, design, & testing tugs on customers’ heartstrings, and they shower you with love… that’s what it’s all about.

Key takeaway: don’t lean into existing functionality; approach discovery with a fresh set of eyes, to define the optimal user value.

In summary, here’s what I learned building a consumer product for the first time:

  • Ensure your messaging resonates with your target demographic, and speaks to users’ goals & needs.
  • Always be improving your copy, and test it with your target segment.
  • Building a product is about the end-to-end experience, not just the UI.
  • Don’t lean into existing functionality; approach discovery with a fresh set of eyes, to define the optimal user value.

This is a series of blog posts on my learnings from product management. I’m on Twitter at @samir_javer if you want to say hello!

Product @GoClio. Ex: @Thumbtack, @DoMeetings.

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