You can’t improve your product and customer experience if you don’t know where you stand. It may seem simple, but many organizations—particularly those that are growing quickly—forget that their single greatest source of product inspiration is the people who use and rely on the product every day. 

As organizations expand, it becomes harder for customer success (CS) and product teams to stay as close to their users as they once were. They sometimes lose touch with what their customers want, and find it harder to extract what they really think about the product. And in a company’s evolution from startup to enterprise, it can also be tempting to shrug off customer feedback because it feels too daunting to manage at scale. But all that feedback is actually a crucial source of direction that can make or break the product experience. It informs the product roadmap, uncovers the “why” behind user behaviors, and improves product decisions.

So, while leveraging quantitative data (i.e. product analytics and usage data) is one of the most important principles of becoming product led, it’s important to remember that qualitative data (i.e. feedback) has an equally vital role to play, too. 

What is customer feedback, and why does it matter?

Customer feedback, which can also include user feedback, is information provided by customers or users about their experience with a product or service. Its purpose is to gather customers’ thoughts or requests about the product and reveal their level of satisfaction to help internal teams understand where there might be room for improvement.

This kind of feedback is a critical source of inspiration for both product and customer success teams. It informs product decisions and adds rich context to the product roadmap. It helps shape and improve customer service and success motions internally. And it’s a powerful way to help customer experience (CX) leaders validate or challenge their assumptions about the way they have been—or should be—engaging with customers. 

There are many kinds of customer feedback, which can broadly be divided into two categories: passive and active feedback. 

  • Passive feedback refers to feedback that is instigated by the customer, not the company. It’s helpful to think of these as “always-on” methods for collecting customer feedback. For example:
    • In-app feedback or feature requests
    • Social media
    • Support ticket data
    • Product usage / analytics
  • Active feedback is when a company directly asks customers for feedback. This type of feedback is often measured over time to assess progress. For example:
    • Net Promoter Score (NPS)
    • Customer Satisfaction (CSAT)
    • Customer Effort Score (CES)
    • Polls and surveys
    • User interviews / focus groups

The strongest companies operationalize all of these inputs in a voice of the customer (VoC) program, which allows the business to collect and take action on customer feedback. Ideally, VoC programs bring all of this customer experience data into one place so that the data can be analyzed in aggregate. This also helps CS teams correlate their customers’ behaviors with their feedback and feature requests. In other words, VoC programs help CS teams:

  • Understand the “why” behind their customers’ feedback and product usage trends
  • Identify what customers need and want, and what their pain points are
  • Synthesize feedback and share it in a way that informs different areas of the business or improves customer engagement processes
  • Close the loop with customers to build trust and encourage them to continue sharing their feedback

Feedback tells you what customers think and feel about their experience.

While product analytics can objectively show you how your customers and users engage with the product, feedback tells you what they subjectively think and feel about their experience. Leveraging this combination of quantitative and qualitative customer data is one of the traits that sets product-led organizations apart from the rest, allows them to gain a robust understanding of the entire customer experience, and leads to better (read: well-rounded and data-informed) product decisions.

The role of customer success in feedback

Customer success managers (CSMs) are uniquely positioned to help champion customer feedback in their organizations. 

In a single day, a CSM may hear from an array of users across segments and industries, giving them a broad view into all the ways customers are engaging with the product—as well as where they’re getting stuck or not seeing its intended value. Plus, CSMs have a frontline view into their customers’ anecdotal sentiment—through weekly syncs, email communications, quarterly business reviews (QBRs), and other recurring touchpoints—that other non-customer-facing teams throughout the company might not. Much of the context product teams benefit from the most comes from these kinds of on-the-fly conversations CSMs have with their customers. 

CSMs can also add valuable qualitative context to the product team’s quantitative analytics data, giving both teams a richer and more complete understanding of the customer experience. CSMs can enrich the product team’s understanding of the real intent behind customer requests, and help them identify the highest-value requests (which don’t necessarily come from the loudest requestors). This elevates the role of the CSM in the product development process, and encourages product teams to partner with their CS peers to make more strategic and informed decisions.

Why feedback is a team sport

It’s important for CS teams to have the same line of sight into feature requests as the product team. Creating a single source of truth for customer feedback allows CSMs to flag requests associated with areas of the product that might be putting renewals at risk, and helps them stay in lock-step with the latest product developments. 

CS teams should work closely with the product team to build a feedback or VoC program that’s accessible by both departments (and beyond). This ensures that neither team wastes time or resources duplicating efforts across various parts of your business; eliminates unnecessary friction in upsell, cross-sell, or expansion conversations; and empowers both the product and CS team to more confidently communicate with customers.

How to build a product-led feedback process

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to gathering and acting on customer feedback is doing it in a scalable, repeatable way. 

While the insights gathered during one-on-one customer interviews (which small teams and startups generally have the luxury of doing) can be extremely valuable, they don’t necessarily represent the views of your entire customer base. Plus, they require a great deal of manual effort and synthesis that larger organizations might not have the bandwidth for. 

Organizations looking to understand the full breadth of their customers’ experiences—and put that data into action—need a scalable approach that makes it easier to gather, triage, and close the loop on all the active and passive feedback they’re receiving. Here are a few tips for getting started.

Get all of your feedback data in one place

Since you can (and should) collect feedback from so many different places, you need a central place to house all of it. Start by having a conversation with your product team. 

Where do they store all incoming product or feature requests? What about anecdotal customer or user comments? Where do they keep their product analytics and user behavior data? Are the tools they’re using accessible by the CS team? The answers to these questions should help you determine which tool to use—be it a simple shared spreadsheet or a more robust feedback management platform. The important part is to get buy-in from both CS and product leadership, and to work together to find a solution that meets the needs of both teams.

And before you launch your feedback or VoC program, be sure to create a Product Feedback Policy so that everyone (both internal team members and customers alike) understands how they can submit feedback, why their feedback matters, and how their feedback will be managed and used. Setting these clear expectations up front goes a long way towards creating accountability, mitigating potential confusion or frustration, and building trust.

Establish clear processes

Building a culture aligned to and enriched by customer feedback also requires clear and consistent processes. The first step is understanding what your feedback inputs are, then establishing ownership for each. For example:

  • Who will be responsible for responding to NPS submissions?
  • How will you route feedback or requests from social media to the appropriate team(s)?
  • Who will create and send out user surveys?
  • How will you solicit ongoing, in-app feedback?
  • How will the product team determine which requests to include in the roadmap?

Building this kind of accountability around customer feedback not only ensures that requests get acted on in a timely manner—it’s also a powerful way to help everyone across the organization feel a sense of ownership in the product and customer experience, which is a core tenet of product-led companies.

It’s also valuable for the CS team, in particular, to meet regularly with the product team to discuss the customer feedback being received. CSMs can share additional feature request context gleaned from conversations with their customers (e.g. whether a particular request is urgent or putting an account at-risk), while PMs can provide product education or roadmap updates to help inform future customer touchpoints. This healthy dialog strengthens the work of each department and ultimately leads to a more cohesive customer experience.

Leverage the product as a feedback channel

When it comes to asking for feedback, making it easy is the name of the game. Think about how you can make it as simple as possible for customers to provide feedback. Most often, this is while they’re using your product.

In-app feedback requests—including NPS surveys, polls, and user experience (UX) research solicitations—are one of the most effective ways to ask for input from customers and users, and yield higher response rates than those delivered via email or other external channels. This is because of the lower barrier to entry: users are already immersed in the product, so they don’t need to context-switch to respond. Soliciting input in-app also improves the quality of the feedback you receive, because it’s submitted while the user is actively engaged with the product—not as an afterthought.

An important consideration for in-app feedback requests is timing. For example, it’s a good idea to target and time something like an NPS survey to appear following the completion of a task or during a moment of delight (in other words, not when the user is in the middle of an important workflow). Pairing your analytics tool with your feedback platform can help you track user behaviors and segment your audience so you can target the right customers with the right feedback requests, at the right time.

In addition to lightboxes and pop-ups, you can also leverage your product to collect passive feedback using an always-on area within your app—like an in-app resource hub or feedback and request submission form. Be sure to make this area of your product easy to find and navigate to, and always include a link to your Product Feedback Policy. Also, consider periodically promoting this area of your product with an in-app guide or tooltip—particularly if you’re looking to gather user feedback following a product or feature release.

Close the loop

Arguably the most important part of any good feedback or VoC program is closing the loop with your customers and users who submitted requests or ideas. 

In an ideal world, your feedback platform should include functionality to help automate at least some of this process—for example, notifying customers when a request they’ve submitted changes statuses. But even if you’re using a basic spreadsheet to manage all your feedback data, there are ways to lean on your product to help take some of the manual work out of closing the loop. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Instead of emailing customers for more context about a request they submitted, target them with an in-app guide where they can provide more details
  • Use an in-app guide to recruit customers for the beta of a new feature they expressed interest in
  • Deploy an in-app guide to tell users who engaged with a particular request that the feature is now live in production

And don’t forget to close the loop with your internal stakeholders, too. Ensuring your customers and internal teams feel heard—and letting them know their feedback is valued—goes a long way in encouraging continued engagement and shaping the future of the product.