In a space race, where companies battle to carve out market share in a brand new product category, making sense of customer feedback is notoriously difficult. Sometimes you’re not sure if your MVP is moving in the right direction, or if it’s just that customers don’t yet understand why the concept is valuable to them. As a founder, I’m familiar with both struggles, and I find that to point a product in the right direction, it’s necessary to involve feedback from your teams and other sources as much as your customers.
I like to think of product managers as our “internal customers”. Their job is to look at the platform with the customer’s eyes and to make it more helpful and easier to use. But a product manager alone doesn’t have all the context they need to make a feature great, and that’s true for everyone involved. For a Founder, it’s scary to know over 80% of software features are rarely if ever used, so to make the best product and avoid useless feature bloat, the forces best leading the product team are a careful balance of both internal stakeholders and customers.
Feedback Brings Teams Together
Chances are high that you already have lots of meetings surrounding the evolving product and for gathering feedback, and chances are also high that these meetings are a headache, but it’s important not to avoid them. In fact, a holistic criticism session of the product, where everyone rips it apart in their own special way, should be a priority. Internal product feedback is your richest source of actionable product improvements.
It’s true that new features may be influenced by the customers and what they request, from the competition, your own vision, and industry analysts, but the product can best be perfected internally. Creating features or additions with a great user experience involves several disciplines, so it’s your job as Founder to involve all respective authorities within your company for feedback sessions, and to have these meetings mid-morning or mid-afternoon, when people are bright and engaged.
Developing a product is complicated but it’s less complicated when the process doesn’t break down at various levels separately. One meeting with a thorough walkthrough from the product manager and providing a space for everyone to voice their unique perspectives or understandings will reveal a lot of flaws and avoid a lot more.
For example, what if your design team is creating something that the sales team won’t succeed at selling, or if your corporate marketing team is focusing on use cases that aren’t relevant to the feature? Both of these are possible and actually occur often when teams aren’t aligned on the product. This is why a mix of internal product feedback ensures that the features you add are also valuable to end-users.
Customer Feedback, Through a Filter
More often than not, customers don’t really know what they want or are unable to communicate it. It’s also a matter of determining the features that most customers want, and not just the squeakiest wheels. To put customer feedback in terms of music, they’re good at providing a key for the band to play in, but not necessarily at knowing exactly what they want to listen to.
The best way to make sense of customer feedback is to get it in numbers and to take sort of an average. Train the sales, account management, and customer success forces into a machine that is constantly collecting quantitative feedback by looking for clues in what customers say. It’s easy to understand what a customer wants when he or she complains, but reading between the lines and learning to ask open-ended questions is a great way to get vital information.
A set of pointed, relevant questions and topics to cover on all calls provides a template to compare customer interactions upon, and to arrive at definite conclusions for what the ideal “persona” prefers. Ultimately, these crucial touchpoints with customers are what inform the product evolving forward and what validates past product evolutions. Great product managers design their entire role around giving customers a mouthpiece that amplifies (and translates) their demands to the internal team.