Build Through Continuous Feedback

MARCO NESPECA

Using feedback in product correctly

While all product teams leverage customer feedback to inform product decisions, most fall short of designing their customer feedback loop to maximize the benefits by gathering, recording, and synthesizing feedback back to the product team. Often treating customer feedback as a point-in-time activity as opposed to a far more helpful continuous process. Here are some techniques I’ve used for developing a product’s continuous feedback cycle, designed specifically to maximize the benefit of the customer feedback that organizations are already listening to.

Catalog Your Sources of Feedback
The first step is cataloging the various sources of customer feedback. Relevant customer feedback can come from a range of sources and it’s important to think about each source, the relative strengths and weaknesses of the feedback from that source, and how it fits into your overall feedback cycle.

Sources of feedback

Customer Interviews – product team’s typically conduct interviews with either existing or prospective customers to learn more about their needs and experiences with their product. These could be customer validation interviews, persona development interviews, usability studies, and more. Customer interviews provide one of the best sources of feedback due to the depth of learning you can get from getting into the minds of users. However, they are often one of the most expensive sources of feedback from the time & effort it takes to gather it. While teams often do these at the beginning of a project, it’s important to invest in them in future iterations of the product as well.

Customer Surveys – While customer interviews allow you to get depth of understanding of your customers, customer surveys allow you to scale your feedback process to larger audiences and to achieve statistical significance in your findings. These surveys can take multiple forms as well, whether it’s market research on potential new product areas, or gathering feedback from your existing customers on their experience. For example, periodic Net Promoter Score surveys serve as a strong compliment to individual customer interviews by moving from anecdote to quantitative findings.

Customer Support – Customer support is talking to your customers every single day, providing a wealth of knowledge on pain points, bugs, feature suggestions, and more. It’s important to create a forum by which this feedback gets regularly bubbled up to the product team for review and action.

Customer Metrics – Your customer metric dashboards and funnel analyses provide a view into what’s resonating with customers and what’s not. Knowing what parts of your product are regularly used vs not helps you quickly determine areas to double-down on or areas that need work. While they can’t tell you how to fix the problem, they do become an important source of where to conduct further research.

Sales – If your product is sold through a sales team, the sales team is an incredible source of knowledge as they are talking to potential decision-makers of your product every day. It’s important to find ways to bubble up what they are hearing on a regular basis to the product team. You need to be careful to realize that their feedback will be coming from decision makers and not end-users and you’ll need to analyze it appropriately.

Employee Feedback – Employees using the product often have great suggestions on additions. You need to be careful here though as their feedback will often reflect power user feedback as opposed to those experiencing the product for the first time with far less motivation.

Social Media – Depending on your product’s audience, you’ll inevitably find feedback on your product across social media, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or blogs and reviews published across the web or reviews on the App Store or Google Play store. It’s important to not only use these sources as a feedback mechanism and a pulse on the sentiment of your product and brand, but also as a channel to engage those customers when appropriate. The bias with these sources are that feedback is most often polarizing – it’s either coming from your strongest advocates or your most dissatisfied users.

Customer Success – B2B SaaS companies have started developing large customer success teams responsible for driving the adoption, engagement, and continued growth in the usage of their products within existing customers. These are also the best source of adoption blockers from your largest customers and should have plenty to say on how to drive quicker and more wide-spread adoption of your product with customers.

Churn Surveys – It’s becoming common for companies to send feedback surveys to customers who have canceled or stopped using their product for some time. It becomes a great source of feedback on exactly how you lost your customer. The response rates on these surveys are typically low given the lack of motivation of churned users so you’ll have to wait awhile for appropriate signal. And you’ll need to think through this feedback carefully, because you may ultimately decide that some of these churned customers are not your ideal customer as opposed to assuming you need to action their feedback into the roadmap.

Develop a channel

Setup a feedback channel – a place for anyone who is interested to get direct access to primary feedback on the product from across various channels. This has typically taken the form of an internal feedback channel such as Slack or HipChat. Typically it is important that all product managers, designers, and engineering leads have access to this, but everyone on the team should be encouraged across R&D, marketing, sales and customer service. 

All feedback that is gathered across the various feedback sources is then encouraged to be shared in a reasonable aggregate form on this channel. For example, let’s say the product team conducted a set of customer interviews. They are encouraged to provide both links to interview recordings as well as summarized feedback on the channel. As another example, the customer support team usually has a designated person who sends a weekly customer feedback report on the channel with details of top issues that customers have been facing as well as links to reports for further details.

This setup ends up having several benefits. First, it provides product managers, designers, and engineers the ability to regularly hear feedback directly from its source as frequently as they would like regardless of the source of origination. As an organization gets bigger, take more effort and get out of the building and actually talk to your customers . It’s a great way for exisiting and new team members to quickly and authentically hear the voice of the customer and understand what excites them most about the product and their pain points.

While it ends up being a high-volume channel that can get noisy at times, the benefits of the ease of sending feedback this way as well as the broad transparency end up outweighing any disadvantages. 

Develop a recording system

In addition to developing a high-volume feedback channel, setup a feedback system of record. This becomes the source of truth for consolidated and aggregated feedback across various feedback sources designed specifically for facilitating roadmap planning.

The goal here is to create a highly systematized process such that as new feedback comes in across the various input sources, it is quickly and efficiently processed into the system of record. For each unique piece of feedback received, it should have a short description, one or more feature or product categories it falls under, and names or counts of the requestors. 

Capture examples:

Spreadsheet – Google Sheets, Microsoft Excel – The simplest approach is to create a shared Google spreadsheet with columns for the description, category, and requestors. The benefits of this approach is that it’s quick & cheap to add items and most people are familiar with it. Though the drawbacks are that it creates yet another tool the team has to use in addition to their project management tool.

Project management tool – JIRA, Asana, Trello – Alternatively creating a ticket for each unique feedback item and then adding the additional details as fields or in the ticket description. The advantages here are that your team is already familiar with the tool, it avoids double bookkeeping across multiple tools, and often provides robust reporting capabilities. 

The trick to making this process work is making it as light-weight as possible to get all the data from the various feedback sources into it. If it’s burdensome to do so and it’s not kept up-to-date, it ends up being a waste of effort. Try having a designated person enter feedback data for different feedback sources and distributing the load across various stakeholders responsible for each source. 

Incorporate feedback into your product roadmap process

It’s critical to ensure you incorporate your feedback process directly into your product roadmap process to make the effort you put into cataloging feedback worthwhile. Roadmap planning meetings should always include discussions about  feedback received and whether that validates or pivots their current roadmap plans.

When discussioning what features to prioritize, having data-driven discussion with the team based on actual data inputs from feedback, knowing who is requesting a feature, whether you’re hearing it from multiple channels, and how frequently. This moves prioritization closer to actual user needs based on data and truth-seeking.

The value of the feedback is not simply the features users have requested, but the synthesis of the learnings from that feedback. For example, you might notice a request for functionality but then business strategy drives to understanding that the user segment is no longer a target customer. This synthesis of learnings from feedback is absolutely critical.  Over time as you get accustomed to leveraging your feedback and system of record and it will become a natural part of product roadmap discussions.