Every company has its own processes, numerous little cogs that work together to give a more or less smooth user experience. When one little cog doesn't work, it's like having a stone in your shoe; only tiny but incredibly annoying. Over the past two years, we have tried to refine the processes we use to keep Alfred users as happy as possible, whether they use the core version or the Powerpack.
When a few fellow small business founders asked me what tools we used when we were at South by Southwest Interactive earlier this month, I thought I should share more widely some of our favourite ones, in the hope that they can help others keep a happy community.
While we also use the Mac App Store for distribution, a large number of users choose to get Alfred directly from our website. With hundreds of thousands of downloads for every release, we needed a fast, solid delivery network we could trust to always be available when you needed your Alfred fix. This is where Cachefly came in.
The download comes in lightning fast so don't blink or you'll miss it! :D
There are a few tools that, once discovered, stay with you for a lifetime. Campaign Monitor is one of those; it's an email marketing platform that allows you to send newsletters to your ever-so-precious list of customers. Their templates system make your life easy from one send to the next, and the support is friendly and second-to-none.
It's super simple to add a signup box to your site (like the Alfred newsletter one in our site footer) and the process of sending a newsletter couldn't be more straightforward.
Campaign Monitor have recently launched the Worldview feature, which allows you to see in real-time when your emails are opened. Inevitably, it makes me look like a complete lunatic as I say "Hi Stig! Oh hello Paul!" to my screen as I see Alfred users opening our newsletters. (Just think of me next time an Alfred newsletter lands in your inbox!) Every time, it's a pleasure to use and pretty affordable for small businesses.
Those who bought the Powerpack in the early days will remember that we used Google Checkout as our payment process. It was straightforward to set up but the user experience was... not brilliant. Google Checkout customer service was non-existent so if we or a user had issue, Google wasn't there to help us resolve it as quickly as we like to.
A few months ago, we switched to FoxyCart, an e-commerce platform that was recommended to us by a few Alfred users. With a little bit of customisation, the Powerpack purchase process was fully branded in lovely Alfred colours and ready to be rolled out. We could now offer credit card and PayPal options to make buying the Powerpack a pleasant experience. The platform has been rock solid from day one so, conversion has increased and we've received many compliments on the friendlier process.
Every day, we receive dozens of tweets from you and we love reading each and every one. Andrew also tries to reply to as many of you chatty tweeters as possible.
Originally, we used Cotweet, a very useful if slightly hiccupy platform for responding to and archiving tweets. Unfortunately, a few months ago, Cotweet became a paid-only product with a high price tag, so we looked for alternatives. After experimenting with various apps, believe it or not, Andrew settled for the official Twitter app for Mac. This wouldn't be suitable for larger teams where many people tweet, or for fancy tasks like setting posts to publish automatically later, but we use Twitter to talk to you so the simplicity suits us just fine!
On iOS, we both use Tweetbot for iPhone and iPad, which has the most pleasant UI out of the flurry of iOS Twitter apps out there.
WordPress needs no introduction these days, but we fly their flag high and proud. It's nice and simple to use, the Wordpress.com hosted platform is stable and fast, and it's a tried and tested solution. Through the highest peaks of traffic we've had, it's never let us down so we can sleep easy.
Andrew picked Tumblr for his Alfred development blog, and so did Anna for the Alfred tips one. Tumblr is quick to publish to, and a lightweight solution when you just want to get those tips out there!
One of the most important assets for an app as flexible and complex as Alfred is a good knowledge base and FAQ. Around a year ago, we moved to Wikidot, a wiki platform, for our help site. The objective was to make it as easy as possible to add new knowledge base items and edit them, to keep them up to date.
I don't know if I'll ever be 100% satisfied with the way we handle FAQs. I'll keep adding and refining content every day, but this platform makes it easier!
One thing we've learned in the past two years is that Alfred users are tinkerers with a lot of ideas. From creating custom themes to sharing their own extensions, it made sense to have a user-to-user forum for swapping those ideas and tweaking extensions to make them just perfect.
Get Satisfaction is a quirky little support forum, which allows us to see the level of interest for certain features, and publicly help groups of users. Of course, it's no guarantee that a feature will be implemented, but it's a nice way to gauge interest and a great place for users to share their own extensions.
Ultimately, it's about more than the tools...
You can have the best running shoes in the world, but if you don't put them on, the miles won't run themselves.
It takes motivation, passion and a whole lot of stamina to give your users a good experience. No matter how good the tools are, you've got to wake up in the morning with a smile on your face and a willingness to do everything you do as well as it can possibly be done.
Use the tools wisely and get to know what matters to your users. Welcome feedback, listen hard and carry on creating great software!