I recently wrote about how Concierge MVPs work, and shared an example from my startup, GoodApril.
TL;DR: Concierge MVPs help prove out a new software product by offering customers a service, and providing it, without building out all the software to deliver it in an automated way.
The GoodApril Tax Checkup was actually a form of “Wizard of Oz” MVP, where the user didn’t know that my Co-Founder and I, not our software, were doing some of the work.
For this second example, I share an example of how a Concierge MVP can work even at a mature software product like TurboTax. This example is of a true Concierge MVP, where the user knows they aren’t interacting with software.
Example of Concierge MVP: The TurboTax Health AnswerXchange
After GoodApril was acquired, my Co-Founder and I joined the Intuit TurboTax team, responsible for the company’s response to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Investment analysts had downgraded Intuit’s stock because of the risk that consumers would flee Do-it-Yourself (DIY) tax software in the face of this complex tax law change, and rather prefer the “expertise” of tax stores and accountants. As leaders of this team, however, we weren’t sure what about the law was most vexing to consumers, and how we could best alleviate their concerns and keep them as TurboTax customers. To find out, we built a way to gather data quickly: a question and answer forum on what would become TurboTax Health.
Starting with a Concierge MVP is a great way to uncover customer needs without building tons of product up front. You offer to help customers with their problem in a manual (and likely unscalable) way, and in doing so, gain much deeper understanding of their specific needs and what kinds of solutions might work best at scale.
For ACA, our idea was pretty simple: Let’s just ask TurboTax users to post their questions about Obamacare, and we’ll offer to answer them. We could then analyze the most frequent questions, and build tools or content to help give them confidence that TurboTax had them covered for ACA.
Our plan required two things: users with actual questions, and someone to answer them.
Finding customers was easy enough: We created a branch off the TurboTax homepage asking users if they had questions about how Obamacare would affect them in the year ahead, and directed them to our new Question-and-Answer product for healthcare, which we called the AnswerXchange.
Giving customers accurate answers at scale was a somewhat tougher challenge, but luckily we had a major asset on our side: an existing question-and-answer forum called the TurboTax Live Community. The community was built to help answer in-product questions for users. While some Intuit employees answered questions in the community, most of the answerers were actually just regular people who enjoyed helping others with tax questions.
Since we anticipated we might get a large volume of questions, and some folks at Intuit had already built a basic calculator that helped customers determine if they would face a penalty under the law, or be eligible for a subsidy, we incorporated it into the AnswerXchange. First, they could step through that calculator, then they were prompted to browse the existing questions or ask their own:
The volume of questions that started to roll in was pretty overwhelming, and it turned out our community experts couldn’t totally keep up, so our whole team – product people, engineers, designers and marketers alike – began researching the answers for customers’ questions and posting them in the community.
Within just a couple of weeks, we had amazing results. Here are a few of the ways the Concierge MVP benefited us:
- We were able to develop a basic solution to our customer’s problems before any competitor did, helping us establish credibility and generate early press mentions on our expertise on the ACA.
- We learned the most common kinds of questions people had about the ACA: how much subsidy they could get, whether their insurance qualified, and how they could enroll.
- We also learned that even for basic questions like these, the answers could be surprisingly complex based on small nuances of a family’s situation. For instance, what if your kids were covered under free government insurance (CHIP), but you as parents weren’t?
- Our entire team developed a much deeper understanding of the law, its many complexities, and the impact it was going to have on our customers
With what we learned, we were able to roll out a much more robust solution, called TurboTax Health, to serve customers throughout the 2013 tax year. It incorporated a step-by-step guide to understanding the subsidy, what kinds of insurance would avoid the penalties, and even connected you to an online health insurance marketplace partner to purchase insurance if you needed it.