The Problem with Customer Feedback

customer-feedback By Hannah Chaplin When you build software, it’s inevitable the minute you ship your first features and gain your first real customers you’ll also get feedback. Customers expect great service and increasingly, this includes giving them a way to share feedback, ideas and feature requests. Things like:
  • Can it be blue?
  • Why don’t you have feature X?
  • Why do you have feature Y?
  • It would be nice if …
As software vendors, we are in the amazing position of being able to listen more than ever before. Unfortunately, that doesn’t keep us from shipping features that don’t move the needle. Customer feedback offers opportunities but also challenges:
  • You don’t need a lot of customer feedback before you feel overwhelmed.
  • Your product teams spend hours and hours acting as administrators — manually collecting, prioritizing and making sense of requests.
  • The loudest customers or that new, big customer can have too much sway on how you build your product.
  • Feedback from important customers may get swept up with requests from users who are a poor fit or are using a free trial of your product.
  • Communicating updates back to customers is manual and incredibly time-consuming.
  • Customer priorities change over time so you may make product decisions based on old information.
  • It’s impossible to see how customer feedback fits with demand from your internal teams and the market.
It’s challenging, but getting customer feedback right is absolutely essential for software vendors; if you don’t you’ll miss out on a huge opportunity to delight customers, reduce churn and increase growth. Customer Demand Is Only One Input into Product Design Customer feedback is essential but it is only one input into product design. Unless you balance demand from your customer base with the requirements of internal teams and the market, you may end up creating a product that does not support the needs of your business. For example, if you serve the small-to-medium market, but company strategy is to start closing larger accounts, then feeding demand from small customer accounts into your product roadmap won’t be the best use of your resources. Feedback from your current customer base won’t help you design your product to close those important, bigger accounts. You need to understand demand from the whole market and from your sales team. Not All Customer Feedback Is Equal Customer feedback is the sum of many voices and each segment has its own demands on your product. If you collect and prioritize feedback as a single unit, you will miss out on key insights into the different customer groups. Think about how the requirements of your largest paying customers differ from those of customers who are on a free trial, and how needs may vary based on different locations or markets. Feedback from churned customers could hang around on your long list of requests, but should it be weighed the same way? Segmentation often brings understanding and actionable data to your product decisions. Use Customer Feedback Effectively in Your Product Roadmap Adding features to your roadmap based on popular requests from your customer base can create terrible products, especially when your backlog is full of feedback from poor-fit prospects, free trial users, churned customers and noise from your most demanding clients. Yes, it’s important to understand why certain feedback was given, but remember: Building a SaaS product is not a democracy. Never forget that customer demand exists as one part of the picture. Demand from internal teams and the market are also essential ingredients that feed your product roadmap; a roadmap driven by customer feedback alone may cause more harm than good. Hannah Chaplin is co-founder and CEO at Receptive, which brings product demand intelligence to software companies. Hannah has a background in software project management and she is an experienced entrepreneur who has run her own businesses for most of her career. She was COO at OrderHarmony, and has been involved with mergers and acquisitions, market research and eCommerce development (LAMP stack) and acted as an advisor on behalf of a major investment firm. Email her at or follow her on Twitter: @hanchaplino.

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