How to Best Avoid Product Problems and Handle Them When They Occur

Contributed article in our business series. Enjoy! – Kimberly

Developing a line of successful products is no small task. There’s much that goes into the creation of physical goods and it’s a highly involved process. Many steps are required, which opens the possibility of something going wrong at any point along the line.

Here are some thoughts about how to avoid problems with products and what to do should they arise.

First, Research the Target Market

One of the biggest mistakes when creating a new product is not doing the market research first. Commonly, a triumphant decision is made that that “we can create this product” while making the erroneous assumption that the product is needed or wanted in the marketplace.

It’s true that some products are the first of their kind – like the first 3D printer to be developed which cost $100,000. These products sell poorly despite their early innovation because their pricing is too high due to the lack of mass production. Only when product unit costs come down through larger production runs and the ability to source materials at a lower cost do other businesses or consumers begin to show serious interest.

Bear in mind that market research is notoriously unreliable. Why is this? Because what people say they want and what they actually do when a product becomes available are two entirely different things. We tend to think one thing and do another. Confusing, right? Sure. Which is why it’s also easier to improve upon an existing product with a proven pool of buyers than try to launch something completely new.

Iterate Through Multiple Prototypes

When designing, develop a series of prototypes as designers explore what’s possible using current manufacturing techniques and materials. One concept may be followed and when seeing the physical mock-up, other ideas may sprout about how to improve upon the product before it gets finalized.

Certainly, solicit feedback from research groups on new product ideas. Often, potential customers will have suggestions that people inside the company would never have thought of and this noticeably improves the design as a result. Don’t discount that option, but try to avoid letting potential customers guide design, as this can lead down a rabbit hole.

Finalize the Product

Finalize the product by making sure everything is covered. Run final tests like how tough the product is. For example, a toy for kids must be made so it won’t break off into small pieces that small children could try to consume and then choke. Depending on what the purpose of the product is under development, there are different concerns based on use cases. Cover the bases from a health and safety standpoint.

Test the early production model to verify it does what it should be doing. Whatever purpose the product will fulfill, double-check that the pre-production model satisfies all these criteria perfectly, or to the degree expected.

Go into Production

Each production run is set as a different batch. Within each batch, the manufacturer may set up lot numbers along with batch numbers. This can divide up something as simple as different materials or ingredients used when they’re sourced from third-party suppliers. There could be different worker shifts each producing part of a batch. Alternatively, multiple production facilities within a single plant can have different identifiers too.

For products that need to be identified individually, they each get given a serial number. For instance, while a laptop may have a brand, a product name, and be assembled from numerous individual components, it also needs to be uniquely labeled. Its serial number can be used for insurance purposes, as well as registering for extended warranties.

Ability to Identify Products by Identifiers

When a difficulty arises with a product, that’s when the systems for product identification come into play. Without barcodes, and serial, batch and lot numbers, it would be near impossible to track a faulty or inferior product back to its original manufacturer.

Tracking lot and serial numbers is extremely important for manufacturers, warehouse storage facilities, smaller retailers and big-box retailers alike. Sometimes products are reported by the brand as being poorly produced and they take them off the shelves. Armed with the necessary information, the software can be searched for the relevant serial, batch or lot numbers to confirm where in the supply chain or store chain those individual products are right now.

If some products have already been sold to end customers, the product information is connected to the customer receipt, allowing contact to retrieve and replace the product or refund them, as needed. In other cases, products might be in transit from a warehouse to a retail store and be handled once they arrive. For products already unpacked and sitting in retail stores or warehouse/drop-shipping facilities used for online sales, these items can be located too.

Dealing with Faulty Products and Customer Complaints

Often, the first time a business hears about a faulty product is when they receive a complaint from one of their customers or a negative review on their website or a consumer review site. It’s then up to the company to jump into action to determine whether this is a real problem, what the cause of the issue with the product is, and whether it’s an isolated incident or not. It could mean it’s a manufacturing problem with that whole product line, just the batch, or one lot that had a problem.

Companies that work well with design and production and make sensible choices about avoiding issues likely come out ahead. A lackadaisical attitude toward product design and production quality usually returns to bite them when customer complaints flood in. From a PR standpoint, the damage is already done at that stage; it’s then about doing as much damage control as possible. It’s always best to get out ahead of problems and avoid a slew of customer complaints derailing the brand reputation and future sales prospects. It’s not always the easiest route but being thorough from the product conception stage through to prototypes and testing and eventually, production, avoids problems later.

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