Don’t be Afraid of Customer Feedback

By Kristen Hayer

It isn’t fun to hear that your product has a bug, your service isn’t being delivered in a timely manner, or you are behind on features you promised a year ago.  In fact, it can be tempting to hide behind ideas like "We don't have time to handle all of the requests." or "Customer feedback is tactical, not innovative."  However, without details on how your customers feel, you’re flying blind in the market and unable to effectively prioritize fixes, feature requests and process changes.  Here’s an approach to building a customer feedback system to ensure that customers feel heard, and their input is used to make critical decisions about your product or service.

Build a Cross-Functional Customer Feedback Team

Most companies are already collecting customer feedback in some way, but I often find that the data is not shared across departments.  By limiting feedback to just the information collected by your success team, you’ll miss out on key insights.  Instead, create a customer feedback team that includes any group that is collecting client comments or is regularly in contact with customers.  Be sure to invite:

  • Customer Success – include people from across your success team, considering different success functions, customer segments and client lifecycle stages.
  • Sales – will often hear the same feedback as your success team, but with the the added facet of competitor details. 
  • Product – may be in direct contact with clients leading user testing and user groups, or conducting customer interviews.
  • Marketing – typically already conducting surveys, and may have direct contact with clients through various channels like webinars and email blasts. 

Use a Variety of Collection Points

Make sure that you're collecting data over a wide variety of lifecycle stages and in many different ways.  A prospect or new client may be less likely to share a lot of feedback than a loyal customer who has been with you for years.  By offering the opportunity to give feedback at various touch-points, you'll increase both the quantity and quality of the information you receive.  Consider:

  • Inbound – any customer coming to you via app, chat, email or phone is an opportunity to gather feedback.  Make sure your front line teams are trained to ask the right questions.
  • Outbound – your CSMs or Account Managers are probably tasked with regular outreach to a segment of your client base.  These calls are an excellent opportunity to gather feedback.
  • Scheduled Meetings – QBRs and Sales Presentations can be designed to gather information about customer needs and wants.  
  • Surveys – These data-gathering machines can be powerful or useless depending on the questions.  Have your customer feedback team weigh in on both the questions and timing.
  • Forum - An online forum requires a moderator, but it can be an excellent resource for gathering feedback and serve as the canary in the coal mine for urgent problems.
  • App – If you work for a tech company, you can weave customer feedback collection points throughout your product, both in general support areas as well as on new features.  

Bucket your Feedback

In general, there are 3 main categories for feedback, and each needs to be tackled differently:

  • Product Issues – product issues are things like bugs, flaws or problems that cause your product not to work the way it was designed to.  Or catch on fire.
  • Feature Requests – these are the ways that your customers wish your product or service worked, but are not part of the original design.
  • Process Changes – these don’t have anything to do with your product, but everything to do with the way it is delivered or serviced.  Think of this as the business around your product.

Within each of these categories you’ll probably have sub-categories that help you prioritize.  The breakdown between these general categories is critical, however, because different teams will be deciding what to do with the feedback:  Product Issues (Product and Engineering), Feature Requests (Everyone) and Process Changes (Customer Success and Sales).

Compile and Prioritize the Data

The data you gather is only as good as what you do with it.  First, you’ll need to choose a system for collecting information.  If your company already uses a CRM tool like Salesforce, an inexpensive option is to use Cases for tracking customer feedback.  Of course, there are tons of other tools out there:  Just make sure the tool you choose is available to every team and customizable.

Next, you’ll need to compile the data you’ve gathered.  This is where your buckets and sub-categories will come in handy.  You should also cross-reference your feedback with impact and demographic information like the number of customers that have requested a particular change, where they are located and how much revenue they represent.

Finally, you should prioritize the requests.  Use your major buckets to funnel requests to different teams, but use the impact and demographic information to determine which requests should be tackled (or championed) first.  This is an art, not a science, and you’ll need to think through what matters most to your organization in order to come up with the right system for prioritizing client feedback.

Don't Forget to Respond to Customers

If your client took the time to let you know their thoughts, they deserve to hear your honest reaction.  Base your response on the time it took for the customer to provide feedback.  If they took a one-question survey in the app then a simple, automated “Thank You” is fine.  If they spilled their guts during a QBR you’d better be ready to provide a point-by-point response.  It is absolutely OK to let a customer with a random feature request know that there are other requests ahead in the queue.  If you’re up front with clients about how you prioritize, the majority of them will understand your logic and be willing to wait.  It’s also important to tell customers the truth if their request isn’t going to happen.  Stalling or hedging on delivering the bad news isn’t going to make the situation better and is likely to make it worse in the long run.

Be fearless!  Customer feedback is the best way to make sure your company's product or service is moving in the right direction.  A well-implemented feedback program can have a direct impact on both new and recurring revenue, but you won't reap the benefits unless you're willing to listen.  

Need help building your customer feedback program?  The Success League is a consulting firm that works with executives who are ready to develop a top-performing customer success team.