Steve McIrvin is VP of Product and Customer Satisfaction at Wyze, a smart home camera and device company. He started his career in network engineering and transitioned to product management at Amazon upon getting his MBA. Steve then worked in various product- and leadership-oriented roles at Autel Robotics, Dusk Mountain Media Group, and Amazon Advertising, as well as co-founded an ecommerce agency startup, before joining Wyze.
In our conversation, Steve shares the importance of creating a “product factory” — a suite of products that all work together and sustain over time — and the necessity of having that structure and quality standard. He discusses how Wyze combines product, community, and customer service teams to remove the walls and barriers to excellent customer satisfaction. Steve also discusses how the Wyze community group he leads ties into and collaborates with the product organization.
My concept of the product factory is really more about the process than the actual product. It’s especially helpful in the smart home environment because if you think about smart home and security, you’re not just talking about one device. We can’t just sell one product, it has to service the entire home. When we think about this product factory idea, we’re trying to make products that work together and sustain over time. We like having a process down to check that we always include certain features as a baseline, follow checklists to make sure that one product works with another product, and ensure the customer experience is the same.
We didn’t know that early on in our history. But for the last couple of years, we’ve been able to standardize with a high bar of quality. This is how we set up a product, this is how we talk about fundamental things like Wi-Fi, this is how long we expect the overall setup experience to be, this is how we train agents, etc. We want to bring that structure, that quality standard, and that framework to the whole set of products.
We definitely learned a lot from our mistakes. Experience is not the best teacher, but it’s the most visceral and emotionally scarring teacher. Thinking through stuff is probably the best. I’m reading How Big Things Get Done right now. One of the big takeaways is that if you want to get something done really well, think slow, then act fast. That’s what we’ve learned a little bit about now: thinking slow, acting fast.
For example, we just launched a v2 of our floodlight product and it’s so much better than the v1 because we had all this customer feedback from the first version. We learned what worked and what didn’t work. And when we launched the original one, that was our first product that required 120V instead of just a USB connection or something like that. We learned a lot about that and the installation, the coverage area, and the resolution. Having that feedback from that initial product was really helpful there.
I’m a huge fan of the Jobs-to-be-Done framework — looking at what problem a customer wants to solve and how we can solve it on their behalf. Customers are great at identifying problems and current needs, but they shouldn’t have to tell you what the solution is. That’s our job as product managers, as well as to solve future problems. You’ve got to look a couple of years down the line and say, “I see that this isn’t an expressed need by customers right now, but I can see where the industry is heading, what technology is doing, so I know this will be a need that customers will have. I can formulate a solution before they do.”
Sometimes, it’s even addressing the problem with very simple things. The job to be done for that floodlight I mentioned was to see everything — much more than a normal camera — and to light up. I use a “three Ds” framework for the jobs that that floodlight is doing: detect, determine, deter.
Those three jobs help us figure out the jobs we want this camera to do differently than our other cameras.
One example I love to share is pure innovation and listening to customers. We have a camera made for the outdoors; we listened to customers and made our cameras waterproof. The next thing they asked was, “Well, how do I get power to this thing?” So we came up with a battery camera, but it needed to be charged and was more expensive. A simpler way we addressed that was to ask, “Where does power already exist in the user’s home?” It turns out that a lot of customers, myself included, have little decorative lights outside that they can turn on and off. We said, “What if we could get power from that?”
One of our product managers suggested we make a product that I call an interposer. It sticks between the light bulb itself and the light bulb socket, and there’s a magic USB port there. You can actually power our USB outdoor cameras in a water-protected environment using that.
We had no idea if customers would like it or not. We thought it was crazy. It looked weird. And customers responded really well. They said, “This is genius. This allows me to put a camera in a place where I already have power using the cameras I already have.” I think that was a really clever example from one of the PMs who solved a problem on behalf of a customer.
That kind of thing drove a lot of the decisions in our mesh router product. I was very involved with that and we said, “What kind of Wi-Fi do we want customers to have?” There are two extremes: people who aren’t very technical and would have some issues hooking up all the products to Wi-Fi, and people who have been very technical in the past and started out on technologies like Wi-Fi 3 and Wi-Fi 4. For that very technical group, a lot of the things they used to do to optimize their Wi-Fi doesn’t apply to modern technology anymore. In a way, we need to also save them from themselves.
We decided that our router is going to, by default, be perfectly configured for the highest performance and the best case. Even if all you do is set it up and nothing else.
We’re addressing two problems with that: we remove the necessity of those choices from people who are technically challenged, and we also remove the false option of those choices for people who are more technical and think they have to change the settings themselves to eke out the best performance.
I originally had the product role and then added two additional groups: community and customer service. Some of that was out of necessity as a result of layoffs and a restructuring we had, but the key strategy of combining these three teams was to allow the community and customer service groups to have an easier pathway to be the eyes and ears for our customers. We wanted them to be able to say, “These customers are having these kinds of issues. Let’s find the data to support those problems.”
We wanted them to be able to quantify that and have a smooth pipeline to the product teams because if you have too high of walls, it becomes like an us versus them thing. But, if customer satisfaction is part of the product team, then there’s no wall. It’s all of our problem.
For me, empathy is about listening, but it’s also about suffering with someone, in a way. I think that’s the core of empathy — having compassion for customer needs so that if there is a new product or product potential that hasn’t been addressed yet, you get in the customer’s shoes and feel that pain. If it’s your product that’s the problem, you really have to step into those shoes and suffer along with them. That gives you the right sense of urgency. You can be the champion on behalf of the customer and say, “I have experienced this. This is miserable. We need to reconfigure this.”
You still have to combine that with data because anecdotes can take you a long way. Data is the only way you can prioritize. If 1,000 customers are feeling a small pain and one customer is feeling a big pain, you can probably do a lot more good by solving the issue that the 1,000 customers are experiencing. If you just listen to the anecdote of the customer who’s really upset, you would solve all the little one-off deep issues and not do the most good.
We use NPS, but it’s difficult because it’s a little bit like a huge cruise ship — it doesn’t turn very quickly and you just don’t know sometimes. When you have 60 products, services, and subscriptions, along with all these different branding opportunities and customer service, you don’t know truly what’s causing that overall score. That’s why we collect verbatims as well. We look at the stuff people tell us and really try to dive into that. It’s a lot of work when you get enough data to make NPS valid — you’re going through a lot of text.
The other things we counterbalance that with are on the customer service side. We look at the metrics for each interaction. We already know that if someone is calling customer service, there’s probably been something that’s gone wrong. So we want to understand how we’re responding to that.
We have a great community team. We actually have two full-time employees who just do our community, as well as almost two and a half dozen volunteers who are just dedicated Wyze super fans. They’re in the community all the time and helping a ton. We’ve had these people come to our campus for parties and celebrations. They feel like they’re part of the Wyze team, and it’s amazing how much knowledge and how much passion they have for not only the product but for their fellow users as well.
It’s been amazing to watch how valuable and how devoted they are. We actually have two different groups with named members and named titles for them. When I wake up in the morning, I think about how I can help them because I know that they’re not just helping the rest of the community, but they’re also my ideal user. They’ve committed so much to the Wyze ecosystem. They’re really the ones that I need to please. If I can do that, then I think I’ve done a good job.
I think a lot of companies have this too where certain people who have contributed so much to the forum can start to moderate other posts and help others. That’s one way people are going to show themselves. We look for people who have been helpful in the areas that they are already serving, and who demonstrate consistency and kindness.
Some people post very basic questions and experienced folks can feel frustrated by that, so we want to find people who can demonstrate that empathy and say, “I remember what it was like to be new, I can answer that question in a way that doesn’t talk down to you.” Those are the kind of people we’re looking for. So people that have not only that passion for the product but that compassion for the user.
I want it to be invisible. I don’t want my home to feel like some sort of computer museum with all this technology visible everywhere. The smart home right now is a collection of random devices that are somewhat smart. We’ve not risen to the level of the home being smart, because if the home were smart, it would be like the casita in the movie Encanto where the home is protecting itself and caring for its residents.
That’s where we want to get to — the home itself can know its own condition, can know about the conditions of the people who live there or the people who visit, and the whole house can act as a single entity. That’s the technology that needs to advance further. Each individual part needs to be a lot smarter, a lot more intuitive, and use more AI. And there needs to be a lot more collaboration among those devices. The devices themselves have to recede into the background and become a part of the house without you really knowing that they’re there.
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