How to obtain useful feedback from your customers

As you are building your product roadmap, you want to ensure that you have as much insight as possible into your customers’ needs. And not just their current needs – you also need to anticipate what types of challenges will be on the horizon for them. After all, customer success is the be all and end all, and that’s why we place so much value on our customers’ input, of which there is no shortage, luckily. The key is to extract the most useful feedback and to act on it. Here are some thoughts on how to do that. 

Provide multiple feedback channels

In order to get useful feedback, you start by getting feedback in the first place. Make it easy for your customers to voice their opinion and to solicit their ideas, and accommodate each individual’s preferences with regard to communication. Some people prefer written communication, others may provide input in passing as they’re interacting with your team, while others might be more than happy to have dedicated feedback sessions with you. For instance, we have an Idea Portal, where customers can submit their feature requests and vote on ideas. In addition, all customer-facing team members, such as Support, Services, Training, and Customer Success, write down feedback that they’ve received and submit it to Productboard, which is where we house and process all input and plan out our roadmap. Furthermore, our Head of Customer Success and I have many, many feedback sessions with our customers throughout the year. Finally, we’ve hosted focus groups during our user conferences. Be sure to identify those customers who are willing to answer follow-up questions, and respect their time and their communication preferences for follow-ups as well. 

Focus on the outcome, not the specific feature 

Henry Ford once famously stated “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Don’t get me wrong – our customers have approached us with many amazing ideas for new features. However, in order to make sure that we get the most useful feedback, we always try to focus on the desired outcome rather than a feature. We want to have a clear understanding of what our customers are looking to accomplish so that we can find the best possible solution for them, and we certainly don’t just want to copy something that a competitor is doing. In order to innovate, always focus on the desired result, not the functionality. 

Ensure diversity of feedback providers

Some customers are easier to get ahold of than others, which is why I’ve seen companies only receive feedback from the same core group of champions – a dangerous mindset! Instead, make every effort possible to solicit input from a broad variety of clients, including those who tend to be quiet. Another pitfall is to only reach out to your main contact at an organization. It’s simply not sufficient, for example, to only talk to a technical user(s) and not the non-technical end users, or to focus on the needs of the IT department when Marketing and Communication departments are the primary users of your product. Connecting with multiple people at each organization takes a lot of effort, but it’s absolutely mandatory if you want to get the most useful feedback in order to deliver the best products.

Crank out those prototypes

Once you’ve decided to move forward with new functionality, continue communicating with your customers (and your internal stakeholders). Since most of them are visual, you can increase your chances of getting actionable and quality feedback if you can show them prototypes. One word of caution: don’t try to perfect the prototype. It doesn’t have to look pretty, and it doesn’t have to include everything that a feature could possibly do. With prototypes, speed is most important. When sharing them with stakeholders, explain what you’re looking to get out of the feedback. In most cases, it likely boils down to “would you use this?”, “what would be the impact of this feature on you and/or your users?”, and perhaps “would you pay for this?”, rather than “Should this button be on the upper left?”. 

Give thanks and credit

In order to obtain a continuous stream of inspired feedback, make sure that your customers know that you not just value their opinion, but that you are putting your money where your mouth is by actually acting on the feedback that you receive. Share with them the impact that they’re having. For instance, when you present your roadmap, mention the number of votes that a certain piece of functionality had received on the Idea Exchange. Give shout-outs to customers who initiated the exploration of a specific feature. Most importantly, thank your customers for their thoughtfulness, their time, and their willingness to collaborate with you in order to help you create the optimal solutions for them. 

While not every idea will should make it into your roadmap, it is vital to collect as much feedback as you can, to ask lots of questions, and to focus on desired outcomes. The better a partner you are to your customers, the easier this process will be.

What about you? How do you get the most useful feedback from your customers?

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