Something I hear over and over from customer service and community teams is that the product management team doesn’t seem to care about customer feedback. As the folks who are trying to make these customers happy, this is quite frustrating. The feedback is here, so why isn’t the product team acting on it?
I decided to reach out to some of our Product Manager Breakfast members here in the Bay Area to find out if feedback is important to them and how to best deliver it.
“[We’re] supposed to be able to map customer needs to a product or service their company and build or deliver,” says Tiho Bajić, VP of Product Engineering at Nitropdf. “It is hard to imagine someone opening a restaurant for the first time and creating a complete menu for opening day without getting any feedback on it.”
Dejana Bajić (yes, Tiho’s wife) was until recently Product Manager at UserVoice (she’s managing the most difficult product now: a baby). She recently wrote: “As a Product Manager, communicating with customers and users on a daily basis is a prerequisite for making smart product decisions.“
Ok, so if product managers do want customer feedback, why don’t they seem to care about it?
First and foremost? “Product managers are juggling 100 different things,” says Jen Kirkland. That’s a pretty standard line for a modern professional, but it’s especially true for product managers. They’re looking at the whole picture, and that can make it hard to focus on the small things.
Vincent Turner, CEO of Planwise, concurs: “There is the perennial challenge with the people who deal with customers day-to-day…and the people who own the month-to-month (quarterly or annual) direction of the product. Customer/user facing teams…are going to feel like ‘nothing is happening’.“
Additionally, Vincent says, product managers already have a lot of data. “In the majority of cases something a customer suggests is already known to a product team…because a) another customer said it b) it was thought of internally…and [deferred] to meet a deadline.”
And lastly, as much as we’d like to think we can make everyone happy, we can’t. Put eloquently by Dejana:
“At the end of the day we are a business and we want to deliver what not only will make customers happy, but will bring in more dollars and differentiate us from our competitors further. Therefore sometimes we skip a popular feature request and go for something innovative instead.“
We’ve actually just been in one of those cycles. We really do think what we’ve built will revolutionize our field…but it meant we focused a lot less on customer feedback while building it. It goes without saying that this was painful for the customer-facing teams.
Ok, so customer feedback can be useful to product managers. What’s the best way for me to give it to them?
There’s a lot we can do to optimize our feedback delivery. First, the simple stuff.
“Best is via email, so I can organize the feedback and label it or paste it in the appropriate place,” Dejana says. “Inbox meetings are great for pressing issues, as always. Beta feedback, or minor feedback works well via email. Worst is chat. It’s a distraction, and sometimes I can’t drop whatever I’m doing to deal with feedback. In-person is medium-level (but only if we’re chatting already, not if I’m randomly interrupted). However, I’ll probably tend to think that, if they didn’t bother to bring this up in Inbox, or email, it’s not that important.”
We’ve previously recommended a bimonthly feedback meeting where customer-facing and product teams discuss specific feedback (we do this ourselves and it helps a lot).
Jen recommends getting the PM involved in the feedback process. Ask for their advice (“what should I steer away from?”). It’s easier for them to have an open mind if it’s not coming out of a black box.
She warns that product managers do like numbers. “DO bring emotional customer requests, but also take the time (or have your manager take the time) to get and calculate any stats you can to support the request. Keep in mind that most small (and even large) companies are already overextended. You might want to do something, but you need to show that it should be a priority.” That can absolutely be hard…which is part of why we built SmartVote to help you get statistically significant data on what your customers really want.
Still having trouble? Jen suggests playing hardball.
“Bring it up with more than just the PM. If you talk about it enough with everyone in the company, eventually it’ll happen. It’s important to make these things part of the general consciousness…IF you’re hearing it from customers a lot.”
What feedback should I be giving my product manager?
“Feedback like ‘customers are canceling because of X’ obviously has more weight than ‘customers would like to do X’,” says Dejana. Tiho agrees (as a husband should): “even highly emotionally-charged feedback from a customer is useful as long as you don’t react to the tone but seek to understand your customer.”
Whom the feedback is coming from is also crucial, says Dejana. “Is this customer in the market group we’re targeting or is this feedback from a wordpress-powered home-renovation blogger?” (Which is why we built the Touchpoint SDK, actually.)
Tiho stresses that trends are more important than one-offs. “Your customers don’t know each other so look out for patterns. If they’re giving consistent feedback it’s a great guiding sign to dig further around that topic.”
The Product Manager’s role
That said, most of the product managers I spoke to admitted that many product managers work badly with customer teams. Improvements need to be made on the product management side of things.
“Product managers need to inform their customer team with what is coming down the line so as to arm them with a response to ‘how about this feature’,” says Vincent. Jen concurs: “The PM has to communicate strategic goals so the customer team knows what sort of feedback is crucial and what’s not.”
“We need to be better about balancing development so that we roughly spend the same amount of time on improving the existing features as we do on innovating,” says Dejana.
Let us know how these tips work for you, and if you have any to add! Looking to learn more about working with customer feedback? Join us at UserConf NYC, Customer Service Breakfast (now in 5 cities), or Product Manager Breakfast SF!
Hey Listen photo courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski.
Trash can photo courtesy of 4nitsirk.
Over-shoulder photo courtesy of emdot.