How Customer Success Can Make the Most Out of Product Feedback

Written by Hannah Chaplin  | 

11 min

 

While product feedback is often seen as the domain of product management, customer success teams have a huge part of play in understanding needs and requests from the customer base.

Success managers speak to customers on a daily basis – it’s their job – and so they hear firsthand where the product is falling short, and listen to ideas that their customers have in terms of improvements.

When there isn’t a good process in place to collect this data and pass it on to the product teams, it ends up being ignored, and that’s frustrating because it’s the success team that has to deal with angry customers who feel their feedback has disappeared into a black hole.

With that in mind, here’s a guide that explains the importance of product feedback for success teams, and some helpful advice on how they can improve their process and get the product team on board.

This will lead to more successful, happier customers, as well as an even better product. It’s a win-win for any software company.

The contents below will allow you to jump around to the sections you feel are most relevant. Otherwise, let’s start with why feedback is so important.

Contents:

Why is product feedback so important?

When it comes to building the best possible product, one of the key considerations you have to make is what customers need from it.

It’s all well and good trying to get inside the mind of your customers and guess what they want, but it’s far easier, and much more accurate, to simply ask them.

Your customers are the ones using your product day-in-day-out, and so they know better than anyone which functionality is lacking or which areas could be improved in some way.

So, from a product point of view, it makes a lot of sense to listen to feedback, and use it when it comes to making product decisions.

However, it also provides an incredibly useful purpose from a CS point of view as well.

Photo by Jason Rosewell, Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/ASKeuOZqhYU

If you listen to what your customers have to say when they give feedback, then you’ll also understand aspects of the product they’re struggling with. This provides an opportunity to educate them further and ensure they get the most out of your product.

Furthermore, those customers who provide feedback are generally the same customers who have the potential to be your biggest advocates. Taking their feedback onboard and involving them is a surefire way of helping them make the leap from customer to advocate.

Finally, listening to feedback, and acting on that feedback, can help reduce churn. Some of the features that your customers are demanding might well be deal-breakers, and if you don’t listen to their feedback, they might not stick around much longer.

I think it’s safe to say that product feedback is a crucial aspect of any software business, and listening to it properly can bring company-wide benefits.

What information should we collect?

While it’s true that product feedback is massively important (as I explained above) it’s also true to point out that not all feedback is equally important.

Some feedback is fairly useless and will simply confuse your product team more. Some feedback, on the other hand, will make your product managers’ eyes light up with glee.

So, what’s the difference between useful feedback and not-so-useful feedback? To understand this, we need to look at it from a product manager’s point of view.

Photo by Emily Morter, Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/8xAA0f9yQnE

Their job is to build the best possible product, and part of that is understanding what their customers want to do. If a customer needs to do something and they can’t, then the product team needs to find a solution.

The product team needs problems to solve, that’s how they’ll be able to develop new ideas and improvements. There are three main pieces of information that will help your product team find a solution:

  • What is the customer trying to achieve?
  • Why can’t they achieve it?
  • Are they using any workarounds?

This way, the product team understands the problem, the context around it, and how the problem might actually be solved by tweaking other features.

Notice that you aren’t giving the product team suggestions on what to build, you’re leaving it up to them to solve the problem.

If there’s one thing a product manager will hate, it’s being told exactly what needs to be built, without any context as to why.

When it comes to feedback, context is key.

Where should we store our feedback?

If you aren’t storing your feedback correctly, then you might as well not even bother collecting it.

There are a few common issues we see in SaaS companies that struggle with feedback management.

The main one is that they have feedback all over the place – in emails, spreadsheets, Slack, Trello, etc. – and it’s hard to analyze it. How do you compare requests you’ve put in Trello with a conversation you’ve had in an email?

Photo by Alfons Morales, Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/YLSwjSy7stw

This issue often arises when customer-facing teams all have their own tools they use to store feedback. Your support team might collect in Zendesk and export to a spreadsheet. Your success team might have email chains all over the place. Your sales team might have a load of feedback in Salesforce.

The trouble is that your product team can’t possibly access it all and by the time they’ve shoulder-tapped people into giving them the information, a lot of the context (see ‘What Information Should we Collect?’) has gone.

So, to avoid this problem, you should really find a central database in which to store all your feedback. Every time one of your customer-facing team members receives some feedback, they stick it in this database. Your product team can then go in and find the information they need.

Even better, allow your customers to provide feedback themselves, whenever they like, and have it go straight into the database.

A central repository of customer feedback is essential if you want to be able to use the data you gather.

Should we keep our customers updated?

It always surprises me when I see how so few companies don’t close the feedback loop. They listen to what their customers have to say, they store it in one place, they analyze it and use it, and then… nothing.

Customers are left in the dark, with no idea as to the status of their feedback.

This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make, because two things will happen if you don’t close the loop. Either your customers will hound your customer-facing teams asking for updates (and using up more of their time), or they’ll feel like you weren’t really listening.

If your customers feel ignored, then that’s not exactly going to help their relationship with your company, is it?

You should keep your customers in the loop at all times. Whenever something happens to their feedback – you’ve decided to build it, you’ve decided to review it next year, you’ve decided to implement it as part of another feature, you’ve decided to say no – you need to let them know.

Photo by Mohammad Metri, Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/1oKxSKSOowE

Firstly, it’s just being polite. Customers appreciate that. Secondly, it shows your customers that you take their feedback seriously, so they’re far more likely to provide more in future. Thirdly, developing these relationships is what leads to advocacy.

As the success team, maintaining and improving customer relationships is your responsibility. It’s not up to the product team to reach out to customers with updates, it’s up to you.

So to do that, you need to make sure you have visibility of any decisions that the product team makes. This is where the central database (see ‘Where Should we Store our Feedback?’) comes in use. As long as the product team updates the status of feedback in there, you can see it and then reach out to the customer that requested it.

You’re talking to these customers day-in, day-out regardless, so this shouldn’t take up much more of your time.

But I promise you it will make a massive difference.

How can we get our product team on board?

It’s no secret that product and success teams don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to feedback. Success focus on what their customers want – it is their job after all – while product is tasked with balancing customer feedback with strategy and other stakeholder demands.

As a result, feedback can often fall between the cracks and be left ignored completely.

Unfortunately, there are still some product teams who don’t recognize the amazing value that customer feedback provides. Success teams can often be frustrated at the lack of co-operation from product teams.

It’s crucial, therefore, that any success team wanting to implement customer feedback into the decision-making process, gets the product team on board.

Photo of a team of rowers taken from above

Photo by Josh Calabresem, Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/Ev1XqeVL2wI

One way is to sell the benefits of feedback to the product team. It may be that they don’t quite realize how useful it can be. Set up a meeting and explain to them how it will offer new ideas and enable them to see your customers’ priorities.

Even better, get your leadership on board. The more higher-ups push to implement this process, the more likely the product team are to adopt it. Leadership can help align all the teams.

Finally, involve the product team. They have their own process to help them decide what to build next. If you come in and start wanting to change things, you’ll be met with resistance.

Instead, explain that as an organization you need to improve how you collect, manage, and use customer feedback. Invite them to discuss their perspective on how you can make it work. Don’t force a new process on them, work with them to adopt feedback into their current process.

Ask them what information they need (see ‘What Information Should we Collect?’), how they would like to access the feedback (see ‘Where Should we Store our Feedback?’), and decide who is responsible for each part of the process.

Involving the product team from square one is a great way to get them on board.

Conclusions

Hopefully this guide has explained everything you need to know. Here’s a round-up of the key takeaways…

Collect the right information.

This means collecting whatever the product team needs to help them make a decision.

Store it properly.

This means keeping it all in a central database that everyone can access.

Communicate with customers.

This means closing the feedback loop and keeping customers informed of any changes to their feedback.

Get your product team on board.

You can’t do this without them, so do whatever it takes to align them with your goals.

Customer feedback provides company-wide benefits, that can help customer success as much as any other team. It’s everybody’s responsibility, but we’ve often found that success is in the best position to kickstart the initiative.

If you like to learn more about how to solve feedback problems at scale, sign up for early access to Pendo Feedback, launching in September.

This post originally appeared on www.receptive.io/blog/.