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In case you’ve missed it, UserVoice is currently *obsessed* with researching and sharing industry best practices for customer feedback — a subject area that’s continually evolving. In keeping with this theme, we decided to talk to product experts and get their perspectives on how to optimize customer feedback. This post is the third of a handful of influencer interviews we’ll be sharing in the coming weeks.


Paul Jackson product managerMeet Paul Jackson 
As a content person at UserVoice, I’m constantly sniffing out engaging writing that product people will love. Paul Jackson’s thoughtfully-curated product management Pivot Product Hits is one blog/newsletter I regularly read — both for great pieces by his peers and for his own provocative product posts. Jackson is also the Product Manager at Newsmart, an “EdTech” SAAS product that uses premium content to teach Business English.

I reached out to Jackson for insight on on how product managers can gather quality customer feedback. Here are his top four tips (are you writing this down?):

1. Gather In-App Customer Feedbackcollecting in-app feedback

Jackson echoes UX designer Sarah Doody’s recent call for in-app micro-feedback:

“Anonymous, non-intrusive, single question surveys served within the product are the most effective method I have encountered for gathering feedback; at least for a product like Newsmart.”

2. Don’t Let Data Outshine Customer Listening

best feedback practices“Over reliance on quantitative data at the expense of qualitative data is a common problem IMHO as is the assumption that customer feedback is easy to come by and easy to interrogate. Neither is correct.

Many PMs, like most executives, are blinded by the pseudo-science of dashboards and ‘hard’ analytics so regard customer feedback as ‘soft’ or less weighty. When presenting internally (especially upwards), it’s much easier to make an impact with graphs and charts than it is with customer comments and textual anecdotes.

In the past, I’ve included customer comments in my presentations to the C-suite and been asked to remove them! I guess they were perceived as lacking ‘gravitas.’ People prefer to think of a business in terms of the numbers rather than trying to understand the people behind them. I wrote about it in this post.

In summary: Customer feedback is just as important as quantitative data and should be gathered, analysed and responded to in equal measure. But it rarely is. You need to actually listen to what people are telling you, in their own words, not just crunch numbers. This data is always fuzzy, unstructured and often contradictory. Drawing out the insights is a real challenge – but well worth it.”

3. Start Your Voice of Customer Program with A Small Group of “Ideal Customers”

ideal customers for best feedback practices“Develop a detailed profile of your ideal customer and then try to incentivise a small group of them to take part. Achieving this is very much dependent on your size, where your audience is and how many people are on your team.

For a new product like Newsmart, with a small number of subscribers, we can’t yet discern who is ‘ideal’ or how to categorise within the base. Every subscriber is cherished at this stage! The best way to incentivise is to offer the product for free, but you want feedback from paying customers so there’s a major downside to going this route. When you reach a certain # of paying customers, segmentation of paid customers becomes more realistic but incentivising engagement remains a challenge.

Most startup case studies seem to involve companies who are located in the same area (namely SF!) as their first adopters, so are able to meet and hang out with them and get to know them. On Newsmart, an English learning product, our entire customer base is outside the UK, usually very far away, so face-to-face contact is out of the question. We do speak to customers via Skype/Hangout but, again, only a small number of customers are willing to engage in this way.”

4. No Customer Success Team = All Hands Need to Be on Deck.

hands in customer feedback“On Newsmart there’s no Customer Success team. There’s just me and a Growth Marketer. We do all and any outreach, customer insight and customer support. There’s only limited scope for us to understand our customers so we need to make any tactics count.

I know Gainsight et al. advocate for recruiting dedicated Customer Success folks into the team early on but it’s still a hard sell to convince people to hire for retention over growth right from the start. In the meantime, it is likely that a combination of the PM / the UX Team and the Growth Team will be responsible for VoC and customer feedback activities.”

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.