While every organization has its own unique definition of “success,” every product in the world shares a common purpose: to serve customers by solving problems. Products that exist without solving customer problems simply don’t last. Customer feedback is your key to discovering and solving customer problems as your customers and product evolves.“Customer feedback is the most important type of communication an organization can receive...feedback can ultimately determine whether the organization lives or dies,” says Craig Cochran, noting that user feedback should be a priority throughout your product’s lifecycle, beginning the moment an idea is conceptualized.
Despite its obvious significance, feedback can easily fall to the wayside because in the hecticness of trying to “do it all” PMs often struggle to find time to collect and act upon feedback. No matter how busy you are, if you want your product to succeed you’ll need to stop looking for time to manage feedback and start making time--make customer feedback a priority. After all, as Cliff Gilley puts it, “[Customer feedback is] completely useless...unless you want to be successful and/or make money.”If you’re looking for easy ways to collect more customer feedback, look no further than your organization’s existing channels for customer communication for inspiration. With a little careful planning you may be able to leverage these overlooked feedback opportunities to collect extra customer insight.So where exactly are those missed opportunities and how can you make them work for you?
Customer feedback should be collected throughout the product lifecycle...and the customer lifecycle, and that means even when you’re parting ways. Exit surveys or exit interviews can provide your team with insight that extends well beyond your product and into how well your organization is performing; is support doing a good job of educating customers about what your product can do? Are your account executives responsive to customer needs? Is a competitor stealing your best customers?
There’s a bit of debate about whether collecting feedback from customers when they churn is a good idea or not. On one hand, whether you’re sending them a “goodbye” survey or giving them a call after they cancel, the quality your results will likely vary; you might not have great participation rates, and in some cases, those who do participate may leave vague, or even angry feedback because they’re in a rush to move on to other things.On the other hand, they’re a great opportunity for you to determine why customers are leaving and, if possible, take action to smooth things over and prevent more customers from leaving for the same reasons. Consider making feedback part of your cancellation process; a survey or a text box that displays before customers can confirm cancellations or within a cancellation confirmation email--if you can pull it off, try and get on the phone every now and then with customers who churn to get closer to the root cause.
Keeping product and support connected is an extremely helpful, if not critical, means of collecting feedback. Support is oneof the most customer-facing teams in any organization, they talk to customers constantly, helping them solve problems, and understand confusing areas of your product, and fielding their complaints. As unpleasant as complaints can sometimes be, they’re a great source of valuable customer insight. In many cases, customers who complain do so because they care--if they didn’t care they’d no longer be customers. “Customers who complain are committed to your organization,” says Cochran in Becoming a Customer-Focused Organization.Yes, you probably receive some ridiculous complaints from time to time, complaints about things that are out of your control, or not related to your organization or product at all--just acknowledge them and move on to focus on the complaints that matter. Have support keep you in the loop about complaints they field--being receptive to criticism is a great way to discover ways to improve.
Almost every brand today has a social media presence, and if you’re merely using that presence to announce new product releases or to do a little content marketing here and there, you’re missing on several valuable opportunities to collect feedback that require very little effort to execute on. Your social media channels offer a built-in audience of people who likely know your product and industry--and you can use that audience to your advantage by asking them questions and listening in on what they’re saying.Furthermore, if you’ve been around for a while, you likely also have an existing community of supporters and loyalists--maybe even a few haters, too. In some cases, your community will “hang out” on your site, on your own forums (take Apple’s Support Communities for example--at any time, Apple’s product team can browse through these forums and read customer feedback on its products. Additionally, customers can help other customers troubleshoot problems and learn more about features they may not have realized existed on their devices) or on external forums on sites like Reddit. Same deal goes for these communities--you can make them work for you by asking and listening.
Making a decision? Regardless of the size of your business, social media can serve as an excellent channel to run and promote surveys.An ice cream shop for example, trying to choose between four new flavors could post a quiz with four options and see which one gets the most votes or could turn to a community forum and ask for input. If one option gets an overwhelming number of responses, the shop has insight into which one will resonate most with customers.A software company, on the other hand, may want to use social and community to promote a survey on their new UI or to pick what features to work on next, or to select folks to reach out to personally and ask them to participate in a usability study or focus group.
When you don’t have a specific question in mind, keeping a pulse on what your audience and community are up to can also yield some helpful feedback. Beyond listening to what customers say directly to you on social media, look at what they’re saying in general about you and monitor social and community for trends like recurring questions, complaints, and/or “I wish it did…” statements to keep a pulse on where your customers’ pain points are. As Don Peppers writes, this type of social listening is the best way to collect truly honest feedback from your customers.“The only truly unbiased voice-of-customer feedback, I believe, is the feedback you find "in the wild," that is, by simply observing the comments made by your customers in social media”Pro tip (and shameless plug): our forums are a great way to give your customers and community a voice--try em out!
Each time you make an announcement on your blog or send an email newsletter to your customers, you have an easy opportunity to collect feedback. Whether that announcement is in the form of a press release, a social media post, a new blog, or an email, you have a chance to invite customers to provide their thoughts. A simple line of text at the bottom of a post or email “tell us what you think” or a link to somewhere customers can leave feedback can go along way. For example, BevMo recently sent me an email where I could leave feedback directly from the message:
Little feedback opportunities like this require very little effort to execute on, but have potentially big impacts on your product and organization because each feedback channel holds potential to reveal a new insight into your customer’s needs and how your product is serving them.
Your website or app is probably the most obvious place to collect feedback, yet it’s an easy one to overlook or over-complicate. A bare bones approach is as simple as strategically placing contact forms and/or surveys throughout your site or app...just be sure not to annoy your site visitors and app users with constant or aggressive requests to complete surveys and answer questions. KissMetrics UX researcher Chuck Liu recommends keeping those embedded surveys as short as possible--try asking just a single question, if they answer the question give them the opportunity to provide more feedback or answer more questions if they so desire.A Final Note:Collecting feedback is about far more than just finding ways to improve your product, it’s also about giving your customers a sense of responsibility in the success of your product--so be sure to acknowledge them when you use their feedback. Make customer feedback a two-way communication channel, not a one way dead end street. (Photo courtesy of JD Hancock.)