This article could be of interest to anyone who is in software product development (a 5+ min read + time to think over). It's about upgrades, the major ones, in particular, and how the current customers take them. Are they enthusiastic about upgrades? Or reluctant? Would they refuse to upgrade at all? The behavioral dynamics that influences the "upgrade or not upgrade" decisions is quite diverse, and taking a deeper look at it is crucial, to have your old customers stick along. Note that I'm not talking about new prospects. Ironically, it's easier to get them use the newer version. They haven't adjusted their ways of doing what they do to the old version, and they're like a clean slate. The newcomers will evaluate your latest upgrade with no anchoring to how your product looked in the past.
As always, the devil is in the details. Namely, in the standpoints that software producers would paste on their customers. At times — and this borders on the soapiness factor that I described in my Why People Don't Understand How to Use Your Software blog — software producers believe that if they come up with a new slick design, or with a couple killer features, or with a really cool and ground-breaking new product concept, this means that 99% of the old customers would upgrade instantly. I wound't say that. How do you make sure that the customers organically need this upgrade? The rhetoric of "now you can do your stuff in this slick design and with all those new features" might not get the point across to them. So, I want to explore people's thinking about upgrades, and see what can be done to win over the old customers, making them love the new version of your software product truly-madly-deeply.
Natural Inertia: It's Fine the Way It Is, and I Don't Need Anything Else
Are you the one who acts on every upgrade alert that you get from your smartphone? I'm not. I'm fine with what it does for me, and I want to keep its "functional homeostasis", so to say, as unretarded as possible. With all those years that I spent somewhere near software development, I'm very cautious about upgrades. They might spell some unexpected breakdowns, or weird new interfaces. So, as far as it goes about my smartphone, I won't do an upgrade unless there's some really compelling reason. This is a typical behavior of a conservative user, and something makes me think there're legions of them.
Compelling Reasons to Upgrade: Finally.. ! Here's This New Feature!
This scenario is a piece of cake. There're some customers who want you to release this or that new feature. This feature is very important to them, as it will let them do their work (or whatever it is that they do with your product or app) easier and better. They might be looking sideways at other products unless you give them what they want. Once they are happy with the newest additions to your soft, they will move on and stay with the latest upgrades.
Upgrade to Whatever
Some people have the holy faith in the power of upgrades, starting from their phones to the larger soft products they use. They'd upgrade whenever they're notified of new releases, regardless of whether they need the upgrade or not. Seems like this is an easy scenario for software producers, too. Well, it is, but at times those mindless upgrades can cause some problems, when people don't see the things they use where they're supposed to be, and then they need some 911 assistance from the support team.
For all the above scenarios, you still need to make sure that people can transit easily from the older to the newer version. I've written on that previously in my Help People Understand How to Use Your Software blog.
Soft Producers + Users = Learn From Each Other
Usually, soft producers give some time so people could make up their mind and do the upgrade, until there comes a time when they no longer support the old version. This outcome is inevitable, and usually the time that goes before people find themselves facing the new version is not spent on learning how and what they can do better with it. The thinking of such users is something like: "It all looks totally new. I can't figure out where my stuff is. No matter which great things they promise, I'd better stick to the old version that I use as long as I can." In their turn, soft producers tend to focus their efforts on new customers, thinking that the old customers will move along somehow.
Eventually, it all depends on how well the soft producers know what their current customers need. Of course, this involves following up with the customers, finding out how they currently work with the old version, checking if the new version will help them do their work better, and educating them. Again, this is the dichotomy of "how painful the current pain is" vs. "I'd better follow my natural inertia and stick around with the old version as long as I can". On the part of the customers, if they're thoughtful about the software tools they use, it'd be wise to step closer to software producers and check how exactly this new version can help them do their things better.
This mutual learning approach, as far as I see it, yields much better results than hiding and shoving new upgrades under the rug up to the very last moment. On the part of software producers, it's really more of an educational task — and a good service job. I can compare it to how moms talk to their toddlers as they encourage them to walk and not to crawl, and showing them how many more benefits are there in walking than in crawling.