Customer feedback often comes with its own set of customer expectations–are you managing them in a way that helps your customers help you?
Last month I got a kick out of this tweet about the meta-ness of our feedback forums and wanted to share it in today’s post:
— Morio Okumura (@moriook) March 4, 2015
Morio has a point, it is kind of funny that we build and sell UserVoice customer feedback forums and have our very own customer feedback forum on our site to collect feedback from our customers about our own customer feedback product. We eat our own dog food, what can I say?
Today’s post is also a bit meta in that way, it’s all about improving your customer feedback process by making it more customer-centric.
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Why Optimize your Feedback Process?
At this point you may be thinking: “I don’t have time for this nonsense” or “But I already have more feature requests than I can handle” or “Ugh…customers always want things, it never ends.” Good. Then you’re actually in the right place, so hear me out:
“I don’t have time for this nonsense.”
First off, I feel ya. Product Managers are busy people. But you know what? So is everyone else, including your customers. Two things happen when you make your feedback process itself more customer-centric: First, customers suddenly find it much easier to leave feedback and do so at their convenience, and therefore you don’t have to spend time soliciting feedback later, and second, if done correctly, you can ensure that the feedback you collect is organized as you collect it, so when it comes time to review it, you’re ready to rock’n’roll.
Still don’t think you have time? Here’s an Alternate Adventure for you.
“But I already have more feature requests than I can handle”
One of the most challenging tasks for product managers is prioritizing feature requests, which come from a variety of sources: the product team, executives, other customer-facing teams, and customers. While there’s plenty of ways to sort through and prioritize these requests, one of the most important factors in nearly every roadmap prioritization framework is the impact on and demand from customers.
Last year we surveyed 300 product managers of different experience levels, company sizes, and industries who told us executives and sales have the most influence over their product roadmap, but that in an ideal world, feedback from customers and support would help drive their roadmap decisions. Without a proper customer feedback system in place, that ideal situation simply cannot happen, which is frankly a little bit scary. Regardless of their source, feature requests must be looked at from the customer’s perspective, and without customer feedback, you’re essentially taking shots in the dark at what features are most important.
Are feature requests still your biggest concern? Here’s an Alternate Adventure.
“Ugh…customers always want things, it never ends”
Of course they do. Chances are your product was developed because a customer wanted (or more likely, needed) something, and a constant flow of customer feedback is your (cheap) ticket to staying relevant to your customers and identifying new opportunities to innovate and grow.
Still don’t care? Take an Alternate Adventure instead.
What Customers Want you to Know About Feedback
Understanding customer motivations for leaving feedback is key to improving your process. A recent customer experience survey revealed a few key things about customer expectations and feedback that you should know:
1.“We leave feedback because we want to help you.”
Sure, unhappy customers won’t hesitate to leave feedback–if not with you or your support team directly, they’ll take to social media to vent their frustrations–but the customer experience survey revealed that the majority of consumers are motivated to share feedback because they hope to make a difference in your company or product’s success. Let me repeat: customers want to help you and they believe leaving feedback is a great way to add value–it’s like a “gift” from them to your organization.
2. “We want you to do more than just listen”
Another interesting finding in the aforementioned customer experience survey was the frequency at which customers mentioned wanting to feel valued, acknowledged, heard, and respected when engaging with businesses. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise: no one wants to feel like they’re talking to a wall, and when a user spends their precious time writing feedback, they want some form of assurance that they’ve been heard and that there are folks on your team who will take the time to review (and, ideally, respond to) their feedback.
3. “We want to know what happens with our feedback”
As I’ve already discussed, customers leave feedback because they care and they want to be acknowledged for sharing. Part of acknowledging them is about keeping them in the loop about any updates or you make as a result of their feedback. It’s not the first time we’ve addressed this concept but to reiterate: simply thanking customers for their input and saying you’ll pass it on is not enough. Talk is cheap, and while customers love hearing that their feedback is appreciated, seeing is believing in that customers want you to show them what you’ve done with, or in response to, their feedback–even if you’ve dismissed it.
4. “We want flexibility & efficiency”
I mean, duh, who doesn’t? When it comes to solicited feedback (i.e. email surveys) customers are happy to help, as long as the surveys aren’t too lengthy. As for unsolicited feedback? Customers say it should require minimal effort on their end. On both counts, customers say they’d like some flexibility in regards to how much or how little feedback they leave and what aspects of your product they can leave feedback on as there are certain product features, pain points, and needs they are more passionate about than others. Customers want to leave feedback on their own terms.
How to Help your Customers Help You
Ask More Questions & Have Real Conversations
When customers want to be heard, we (hopefully) listen to them. Regardless of the channel customers communicate with us through, they expect that we’re listening…actively. This is one reason it’s important to assure them they’ve been heard in a manner that’s slightly more involved than an automated email that says “Thanks for your feedback, dude.”
To be clear, I’m not hating on automated thank you messages–keep sending those! But keep in mind that you need to take it a step further and put some effort into truly connecting with your customers and showing them you care. Sure, a handwritten thank you note would be the ultimate personalized way to say “I’m listening to you!” but that would be a silly way to spend your time because snail mail is not a channel that your customers are likely to continue your conversation over, and you want to keep the conversation going. With that goal in mind, the most effective way to show your customers they’re being heard is to chime in every now and then: have real conversations with them; be present and actively engage whenever you can, regardless of the channel.
Asking customers follow up questions is the best way to make your efforts here worthwhile. Why? Well for one, you’re showing your customers that you value their feedback by confirming that you understand what they’re saying. Second, you it’s an opportunity for you to clarify any vague parts of their feedback or to squeeze more feedback out of them by asking them to weigh in on another aspect of your product. Finally, these conversations build relationships that will come in handy down the line: you’ll know who to contact when you need to conduct usability or beta testing or if you ever decide to put together a customer advisory board.
A final note: You won’t be able to personally respond to every single bit of feedback you receive, (next, I’ll describe how to provide assurance to all customers who leave feedback) but what’s most important is that you get the most value out of the conversations you do have by prioritizing responding to the feedback you’re most confused by and to the users who are most active or influential.
Keep Users in the Loop
So you’ve got a lot of feedback on your plate, now what? First, congratulations! You have customers who care. Second, if you don’t already have a release communication plan in place, get to work…your customers are waiting. Communicating with your users about what you do with their feedback is almost as important as gathering the feedback in the first place. Not only do regular updates show customers that you appreciate their input, they also build trust and credibility. Unfortunately as Lisa Nakano writes, we too frequently neglect our users:
“As soon as we get customer feedback, we turn inward, circle the wagons and get to work fixing what’s broken, creating an eerily silent space where customers are neither invited nor welcome.”
Don’t put your customers in that position. No matter how busy your team is, find a way to communicate with your customers, even if all you can manage to crank out is a blog post or tweet here and there, something is better than nothing. The smallest of updates show users you appreciate and respect them for the feedback they’ve shared.
Here’s a few more ways you can share updates:
- Emails: either to your entire database or mailing list, to a specific group of people who’ve suggested a specific change, or a personal email to an individual user.
- Sales & Success Calls: Have these teams get on the phone and tell customers about changes and show customers how to navigate them.
- In App Messaging: Share chances through banner messages, push notifications etc.
A final note on keeping customers in the loop: if you’re not going to act on their feedback, don’t leave them hanging! Tell them you aren’t going to roll out that feature they suggested, briefly explain why, and thank them for their input. There’s nothing wrong with saying “no” to a customer’s suggestion, but there’s a whole lot of things wrong with ignoring a customer’s feedback altogether.
Optimize your Process
Finally, as I discussed earlier, customers want efficiency and flexibility, so organizations should strive to streamline the feedback process.
Part of this is an internal effort: getting every customer-facing team on board and putting a feedback collection, organization, and sharing system into place so no feedback falls through the cracks. There’s plenty of ways you can go about doing this, and every organization will be different: Pardot created a “Product Management Awesomeness Counsel” for this purpose, and Wistia experimented with a few different systems before getting things “just right,” chances are, you’ll have to experiment a bit too.
The other part of optimizing your feedback process involves the external parts that your customers see. There’s two things to consider on this front:
1. How hard is it for customers to figure out where to leave feedback?
Whether you’re collecting feedback through a dedicated email address or through dedicated feedback forums, it should be very clear to customers where they can leave feedback–they should not have to hunt for it. A feedback tab is a great way to make that distinction clear:
Another high-visibility option is placing contact forms throughout your site. I noticed recently that Encore Alert does this with a corner popup tab that’s similar to a live chat box and does double duty as both a support and feedback channel:
2. How often are customers presented with an opportunity to leave feedback?
While displaying a feedback tab or otherwise making it clear to customers where they can leave feedback is bound to increase the amount of feedback you receive–you can further improve by providing convenient opportunities for customers to leave feedback at the times they’re most likely to have feedback to share: after or during an interaction with your product. Send them an email when they sign up or activate a new feature and give them the opportunity to share feedback and/or ask questions or ask for feedback right on your site during these events. Pro tip: your activation email is a great opportunity for this–I felt that InVision recently did an excellent job using their activation email to not only answer my questions, but also to solicit feedback:
Finally, don’t forget to look at your solicited feedback efforts as well. If you’re struggling to get folks to participate, or finding that you aren’t bringing in quality responses, it’s definitely time to streamline those puppies and make them more customer-friendly. As a reminder: customers want to help…if it’s on their own terms. They care a lot about certain parts of your product and will spend as much time as they need sharing in-depth input on those parts, but when it comes to other parts they don’t feel so strongly about, they’d rather fill out a quick survey of multiple choice questions and move on. Short surveys with optional open-ended or supplemental questions can collect feedback from users on both sides.
A few more notes on customer-friendly surveys:
- Keep them short and sweet. Your customers shouldn’t have to spend more than 3 minutes on a survey.
- Leave room for open-ended feedback. Give customers a place to leave their own commentary at the end for a healthy balance of qualitative and quantitative feedback.
- Sample wisely. Don’t blast your entire database with an email, reach out to just enough people to get the input you need.
- Don’t harass your customers. If you’re emailing surveys, don’t send multiple reminders; if you’re surveying folks on your website, take it easy with the popups.
Help your customers help you by understanding their expectations when leaving feedback. Make it a point to have real conversations with your customers, keep them in the loop about product updates or changes you’ve made as a result of their feedback, and to improve your feedback strategy based on customer needs.