Every product manager knows that customer feedback is integral to developing a stellar product. After all, if the end user isn’t happy, the product is nothing but a very expensive exercise in futility. But all product managers wrestle with one pressing worry:
Will constantly accommodating customers lead to an endless loop of feature requests?
In all companies, product development is influenced by 2 key factors:
1. Existing customers offering a constant stream of requests for improvements and new features
2. The company vision that represents its future, defines what success looks like and establishes what you need to do to achieve it.
While customer feedback can serve as a north star for development, for many companies it is also a dangerous whirlwind pulling them in multiple directions.
In a misguided attempt to be “customer-centric”, product managers may put vision in the backseat. But as a seasoned Product Manager, your vision is crucial for creating a successful product.
Only serving existing customers can make your product obsolete. Customers are short-sighted. They’re distracted by present-day goals and obstacles. Each customer is merely a microcosm of a large, complex, and ever-evolving market.
But it’s your job to see the big picture. To reconcile present customer needs with the future vision of your company.
Balancing these two pillars is what leads to strategic long-term growth.
So how do you do it?
1. Understand the Why
All feature requests arise from underlying problems that evade first glance. With every new feature request, dig deeper. Understand the "why" to uncover the true pain.
Giving customers the outcome they're looking for is more important than just pumping out a new feature. Why? New features don’t always provide customers the outcomes they desire. That’s why those shiny updates you implement upon request can end up collecting dust.
Aim to deliver the outcome, not the feature - or risk low adoption rates.
Henry Ford summed it up perfectly when he said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
2. Look At The Big Picture
Customers’ desires are shaped by their current experiences. Considering the broader implications of their feedback helps you overcome short-sightedness.
- What are the future applications of the new feature request?
- How is the feedback relevant to other customers?
- Will future prospects benefit from this?
These are all questions that you should ask yourself instead of immediately reacting to requests.
3. Identify Patterns
By doing the above, you’ll recognize that not every customer request needs to be implemented.
But how can you be certain that a particular request has merit? By identifying patterns in feedback from your whole customer base.
If multiple customers mention similar needs, it's a signal that there's a real opportunity for improvement.
4. Innovate Wisely
True innovation comes from thinking outside the box. Constraining yourself to customer feedback may limit your creativity. Challenge yourself to think beyond their immediate requests.
You are the expert on the product. You can see it from all angles, informed by a wealth of experience. Your visionary approach can lead to groundbreaking solutions they didn't even know were possible.
5. Communicate Transparently
Keep your Customer Success team involved throughout the product development process. Explain the reasons behind your decisions, and listen to their insights. Hone ideas by bouncing them off each other. Transparency fosters a collaborative and mutually beneficial relationship.
The Customer Success-Product Team Synergy
Cross-functional collaboration can produce a wealth of creative solutions. Here are some tips on how to foster a culture of cooperation and shared goals:
1. Regular Meetings
Schedule frequent meetings with Customer Success to discuss their findings and insights. These discussions can lead to actionable strategies for product improvement.
2. Feedback Loops
Create a structured feedback loop where the Customer Success team feels heard. This helps them pass along customer feedback with clarity.
3. Manage Feature Requests
Maintain a log of feature requests. Encourage your CSM to rank them based on customer needs. Shared pain points between customers will become visible and the team will know which ones to focus on.
4. Joint Success Plans
Success Plans are projects that CSMs are working on to make the customer Successful. Part of the plan should consist of feature requests that are in the product roadmap. CSM and Product Managers need to work closely to deliver feature requests. All deliverables should be clearly communicated to the customer.
5. Joint Customer Calls
First-hand exposure to customer needs and challenges can be enlightening. Involve the Product Team in customer calls now and then.
6. Training and Knowledge Sharing
Encourage knowledge sharing between the Customer Success and Product Teams. When both teams understand each other's roles and challenges, collaboration becomes seamless. Product teams should educate CS on new features. Then CS teams can offer insights on how they help customers.
Building a stellar product isn't just about meeting customers' current demands. It also requires anticipating their future needs.
The best product teams are agile, creative and innovative. Synergy between Customer Success and Product creates a feedback-driven and innovative environment. An environment primed for the creation of truly exceptional products.
Remember, there is a difference between what customers think they want and what they really want. Customer feedback can be powerful. But it's your visionary leadership that will create a product that transcends expectations.
Customers are not product specialists. It's your responsibility to understand the true needs behind their feedback. Together with your CS team, you can build products that leave a legacy.