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Bill Gates once famously said “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

While it’s a poignant quote, it doesn’t mean unhappy customers are your goal (there’s only so much positive spin Silicon Valley can put on failure). Prevention, as always, is the best medicine. With that in mind, here are 7 of the most common customer feedback nightmares Product Managers face and a few sharp strategies for avoiding them.

1. Your biggest external customer demands a feature that doesn’t belong on your product roadmap.
customer feature requests that aren't on your product roadmap

It is not unusual to get an off-the-wall request from an influential customer who represents a large percentage of the business. While the request may be just what the customer needs, it may not fit on your product roadmap. An in-depth assessment of the feature request — the problem it solves for the customer and the current and future relationship with the customer — can help determine how to respond.

If other customers aren’t facing the same problem, or it doesn’t dovetail with the current business strategy, put your long-term thinking hat on and consider if they might in the future. In addition, you should ask yourself if it might be mutually beneficial to form a partnership and customize a solution for them. Could it be an actionable idea down the road, if not immediately feasible?

Alternatively, you may need to tactfully decline the idea. Learning how to say no to a feature request is a skill that every product manager must develop (practice saying it in the mirror if you have to).

Even if you must say no, you should consider whether or not the request exposes a product weakness you would like to explore further. It’s healthy to view the complaint as anopportunity to reassess the long-term product roadmap.

2. Your biggest internal customer (your CEO) demands a feature that doesn’t make sense.

When management suggests a change that doesn’t seem to make sense for a product, it could be a red flag that the company’s strategic direction has shifted. Similar to a seemingly ridiculous request from any customer, it’s important to explore why it’s being suggested before making a decision or judgment. Good communication between leadership and product management should include transparent conversations about company strategy as well as product management direction. If you’re skeptical of the request because (after doing due diligence) it lacks substantive backing,  you should share hard data that illustrates why it isn’t good for the product or the company. Doing so can provide an objective illustration for discussion.

When given the opportunity to share your Product Roadmap with management, HOW you present it is almost as important as what you present. Keep in mind that executives are interested in high-level strategy, progress, and customer impact that can be quickly understood and absorbed. Preparation for the presentation is also key, and should involve serious soul-searching in advance.

3. Your colleagues believe their feedback has been ignored.

There is an inherent dichotomy between customer-facing support teams who listen to customers on a daily basis, and Product Management teams who own product direction and performance. Although input from colleagues can be highly valuable, this “internal customer feedback” can take the back seat when Product Roadmaps are created and adjusted.

Regularly sharing strategic goals and communicating your product roadmap with customer-facing teams arms them with information about what’s happening and what’s ahead. In turn, you should be open to hearing their suggestions and taking their expertise seriously.

While that doesn’t mean you should trust every bit of input — sales, for instance, may have their own financial motives for pushing certain customer requests — you should absolutely listen when they report feedback that impacts your development plans. By sharing your product roadmap, it’s likely that they’ll only report that which is relevant. Regular, thoughtful collaboration along these lines will likely lead to customer-pleasing product improvements.

4. Customers are silent.

What to do with the feedback you get internally and externally is a good question. But what if your sales numbers aren’t great and no one is complaining?

A number of things could be going on — there could truly be nothing wrong (unlikely). It could also be that you need to tweak some things on the customer support side. Investing in phenomenal support —that doesn’t rush, doesn’t dismiss, and makes it fun — goes a long way. Also remember that customers don’t necessarily like to provide feedback in the same way.

While some customers would like to call and talk to someone, others want to send an email, others want a place to write a quick comment online (and better in your own provided portal than on Twitter…), and still others would like to stay anonymous. Some dedicated customers would even enjoy participating in User Feedback sessions online or in person or attending a user conference.

Although it does require resources and time to monitor the channels, it’s better to have that problem than no feedback at all.

5. My customer survey isn’t providing the data I was hoping for.

Customer surveys are a tried-and-true channel for customer feedback. Naturally the way you approach the survey will determine the response rate, and the types of responses you get.

Limiting your survey to one question, “On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend us?”, also known as the Net Promoter Score (NPS), increases the likelihood of responses and your ability to gauge your performance on a high level.

To get answers to multiple and more specific questions, brevity, objectivity, simplicity, and specificity are key. Timing is also critical. When you ask for feedback early in the Product Development Lifecycle, it can impact how well your product addresses customer pain points and prove or disprove some of your hunches. Post-release, survey data can keep customers engaged in order to meet future needs.

6. You have multiple Excel sheets with feedback and they’re all a mess.
no organized customer feedback system?

This illustrates the problem of a disorganized or unsystematic approach to customer feedback tracking and archiving. Given the volume of feedback now generated in social media, as well as the need for categorizing and acting on issues raised by feedback, there is really no avoiding some kind of automated customer feedback system.

On the other hand, a system is only as good as the foundation it is built upon. Every customer feedback system should be transparent to all teams, allow for easy input of issues, assignment of issues to individuals and teams, and include easy-to-use filters. The form the system takes can be a manual email intake system with organized and accessible folders, collaborative spreadsheets, or software designed for the purpose of aggregating feedback.

7.  One hundred (or 1) angry customers skewer your product on social media.

It just takes one. One customer has a negative experience with your product, makes a stink about it on social media, and no one from your company responds to it. Now a possible misunderstanding has turned into a crisis.

Although not always a direct concern of Product Management, attending to social media is as important as any customer relations effort, and an understanding of how customer-facing teams combat this type of crisis can come in handy. As Product Manager, you will be looking for how this information is communicated to Product Management, tracked, and how it impacts the Product Roadmap.

In Sum

Some nightmares can’t be avoided. In the process of building your Product Management team, there are bound to be growing pains and learning opportunities. These strategies can help you avoid the ones that are avoidable, and recover gracefully from the ones that aren’t.

Sara Aboulafia

About Sara Aboulafia

Sara Aboulafia is a Content Marketing Specialist at UserVoice with a background in freelance writing, content marketing, and journalism. Outside of work, Sara writes and performs music, binge-watches comedy, and spends an unhealthy amount of time futzing with technology before happily retreating to the woods.