Product Management Chris Jones

Omni-Channel Product

Have you ever received a text notification from your airline about a flight delay before the ground crew in the waiting area has the information? Have you been unclear on whether to call your bank’s web support or banking support line to answer a particular question? Are you baffled by the differences in your favorite retailer’s in-store and online experiences? These are examples of omni-channel businesses whose products and services have a spectrum of customer touch points that span digital (apps, websites, notifications) and physical. In these cases, and many more like them, the company has not been able to unify the holistic customer experience.

Omni-channel products and services often provide value that is not digital. Many of these companies existed before the internet, some of them even before computers. Think of industries like banking, insurance, transportation, media, and retail. They established their core value, but the internet dramatically changed how they deliver that value to their customers.

These companies are often characterized by the presence of two distinct types of product managers: those responsible for the legacy product (e.g. actuarial insurance models, credit products, financial derivatives, academic data sets, etc), and those responsible for e-commerce and the digital experience. Actual role titles vary widely, but for the purposes of disambiguating the two types of PM in this article, I’ll refer to the first group as “Legacy PM” and the second group as “Digital PM”.

Many companies maintain strong organizational and cultural separation between Legacy and Digital Product Management. Frequently, the two have little understanding of each other’s job. In some cases, they don’t talk at all.

This leads to fragmented user experiences like the examples above. What’s worse is that the product organization can’t innovate around a holistic view of the value they could bring to their customers. Consider an established auto insurance company developing a new “pay per mile” product where customers pay for insurance based on their actual car usage over any given period rather than a regular monthly period. Such a product requires intertwining the “legacy” value of new risk models and pricing, with “digital” value of gathering and displaying usage information. A company with strongly siloed Legacy and Digital PM will have a tough time discovering a successful product.

Of course, skill set considerations often motivate splitting into Legacy and Digital camps, e.g. Digital PM’s in a credit card company can’t be expected to have the same actuarial skills as the Legacy PM’s. That said, these companies should find ways to promote a holistic view of the product in order to unify the customer’s experience and innovate across the spectrum of value.

Here are some places to start:

  • Ensure that Digital PM’s have a deep understanding of the core business and the value that Legacy PM is creating for customers. Because of their role in creating the customer experience, Digital PM’s are often driving product discovery. It’s essential they know enough to generate new ideas, formulate hypotheses, and create experiments that integrate Legacy and Digital value.
  • Embed Legacy PM’s into cross-functional product teams. Here, a given Legacy PM is strongly associated with one or two product teams where they can closely collaborate with a Digital PM, designer, and engineers during discovery. Ideally the Legacy PM physically sits with the product team and contributes directly to product discovery work.
  • Remember that product discovery is fundamentally about reducing risk; specifically risk around the value, usability, and feasibility of a product or idea. Regardless of whether the idea is based on Legacy, Digital, or a combination of the two, use discovery practices to gain insight and reduce risk.

Customers don’t distinguish between the Legacy and Digital aspects of products. Companies that learn how to discover products that holistically blend these parts of their value proposition will be the ones that win.