By leveraging feedback at all points in the product life cycle, the risk of a product flop or a slow market adoption can be reduced.
As well as we know how important and vital collecting product feedback from customers is, it’s nearly as common for product managers to not ask early enough in the process or at all. Product development processes get complex and fast. Skipping parts where it may not seem clear as to why it’s important is often the all too comfortable status quo.
Yet, if the product is to remain competitive and relevant and useful and profitable — customer feedback needs to be seen as the central nervous system of the company’s ecosystem.
Clarity of Purpose, Plan, and Responsibility
How often do we solicit feedback and let it sit collecting dust due to a lack of what next direction? I don’t have a statistic for this, but I can anecdotally say, it’s more than it should be. And overtime, this lack of clarity can severely impact the bottom-line, hemorrhaging billions of potential profitability.
“At Asana we wanted to get the best of both worlds: a clear strategy where everyone can connect the dots from their daily work to the company mission, and a collaborative process where the people closest to the work can influence our direction,” says Jackie Bavaro, head of product management at Asana.
Make it well-known throughout the company what the next step always is — maybe the next few steps. Plans may change, especially for those who are making products in the high-tech high-growth startup world, but at the very least the team is in-the-know that there are plans to keep the feedback in motion.
The feedback management process can be thought of as a give and take relationship — it’s only as valuable as you make it and that value only increases if you use the feedback for the product and company’s betterment in a timely manner.
Establishing a Feedback Loop
With a plethora of channels available to send in and share customer feedback, a recent study by Uservoice suggests companies find traditional customer interviews (in-person, over the phone, or a video conference) to be the most valuable albeit one of the most costly means of data collection.
Do be mindful that interviews should not be the only feedback source. As useful as they are, they are extremely time intensive, and typically, garner only a handful of interviews. To tell the full story, product and customer-facing teams should explore other sources such as usability tests, surveys (our favorite!), and establishing a customer advisory program that can be relied on as needed, the Uservoice study found.
Closing the feedback loop is a challenge for most companies and where the process often falls flat.
“A growing number of companies have developed effective customer feedback programs that head off those challenges right from the start. Instead of building elaborate, centralized customer research mechanisms, these firms first begin their feedback loop at the front line. Employees working there receive evaluations of their performance from the people best able to render an appraisal — the customers they just served. The employees then follow up with willing customers in one-on-one conversations. The objective is to understand in detail what the customers value and what the front line can do to deliver it better. Over time, companies compile the data into a baseline of the customer experience, which they draw upon to make process and policy refinements.”
-Rob Markey, Fred Reichheld, and Andreas Dullweber, “Closing the Customer Feedback Loop”, Harvard Business Review. December 2009.
With nearly eight years after publication, it still holds true: the strongest and airtight feedback loops not only connect customers with front line employees and decision makers, but they keep that customer top-of-mind across the organization to product teams and beyond, which was proven by the comeback of Charles Schwab in 2004 to boost revenue and make billions in net new assets in less than five years time.
Foster Transparency at All Junctures of the Development Process
Let it be known how you are using the feedback and that you’re listening. Make it prevalent on your blog or in a FAQ section of the website showcasing that the feedback submitted is being taken into consideration. Don’t forget express how thankful you are for that feedback, too, a small token of appreciation can go a long way. Otherwise, people will not see the impact of their feedback and the likelihood of collecting future feedback from the same customer is lower.
We’ve seen companies keep these lines of communication open a few different ways:
- Post updates on where the product team is in in the process on the company’s public facing blog or appropriate community pages/forums
- Invite the customers who provided feedback to a shared Slack channel to easily share updates and in near real-time
- Devote time during weekly company meetings to discuss the current state of feedback and product developments influenced by that feedback
To learn more tips like these on how to improve your product feedback process, get a copy of the eBook Build Better Products with Intelligent Product Feedback.