How 14 Product Leaders Generate and Use Customer Feedback

Daniel Zacarias
Dec 6, 2017 · 12 min read
  • how to make sense (and decisions) out of customer feedback data
  • how to approach organizations that don’t value customer feedback
  • how to get access to users when Sales and Account Managers are protective of their relationships with customers and prospects
  • how to work with second and third-hand feedback data that comes from other teams
  • which collection of best practices are used by successful PMs and which pitfalls we should avoid
  • how best to segment our customers and users
  • how can we evaluate the success of features we ship

1. Feedback is only relevant vs. a goal and user context

Understand where it’s coming from

A piece of feedback usually comes to us in the form of “users are asking for X” or “customer Y and Z are telling us this”. By itself, that’s absolutely meaningless. The first step to figure out if something is relevant or not, is to know where it’s coming from — and since we’re dealing with products and markets, this isn’t about knowing which specific users are giving the feedback, but about which segments they belong to. That will provide the necessary context for us to understand the motivation and problem they might be facing.

Characteristics and Behaviors

Traditional market segmentation is typically done around observable characteristics and behaviors for customers and prospects. First, we have demographics — statistical characteristics of the population, such as age, gender, income, etc. Then, there’s also psychographics — which classifies people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria. However, these kinds of segmentation are mostly useful for Marketing purposes, but not so much for PMs.


Frameworks like Jobs-to-be-Done are extremely helpful in determining exactly what the product is supposed to be doing for its customers — that is, the needs it serves. The same product may be used by people with quite different needs and under a wide range of contexts. This means that a product’s suitability will not just depend on the person and her characteristics, it will actually depend on the product’s usage context and the goals for the task at hand.

Relationship with the product (over time and over value)

Another way around which to segment customers is how they relate to the product over multiple dimensions–most commonly: their usage level, how long they’ve been users, the value they get from it and what they pay (or have paid so far) for it. These dimensions are cross-cutting (and complementary) to other types of segmentation and can be very useful in understanding why people in what should be the “same group” are giving different answers.

  • Longevity — Where the customer is in his relationship with the product is very important to classify unsolicited feedback and knowing which kinds of questions to ask them. With new customers, we’re looking for product fit, usability feedback, indications of continued use in the future, motivations behind the purchase/usage decision. With older customers, we’re typically interested in satisfaction, power-user and early-testing feedback and pain points that the product doesn’t solve.
  • Perceived valueA set of customers can have the same underlying need and motivation to use the product, but the value they get from it is different. Their particular pain points might be the same, but the intensity isn’t homogenous. We’re looking to have a clear view of “What is the customer getting out of the product?” and “How important is that problem for them?”. By understanding where they fit within this gradient, we can get much more insight into their feedback.
  • Invested value The amount of money customers have spent on the product, relative to other customers is also telling of the kind of relationship they have with it and a proxy for their satisfaction, perceived value and importance. This of course varies widely and depends on each product’s characteristics; however, it is an easy metric to use as guideline.
Uses and definition of different kinds of segmentation

You need to know where you’re headed

Yet, having a good segmentation model and being aware of where the piece of feedback is coming from (and the context and motivation behind it) is not enough.

  1. Is this something that we want to focus on right now?

2. Getting quality feedback is a cross-functional effort

Insert yourself into customer touch-points

Organizational silos exist for many reasons, but they particularly affect Product Managers because they are the engines of the cross-functional process that defines and ships products. So, it’s on us to break those barriers down.

Get everyone to think like a PM

Since you can’t always be there for other teams, coach them so they give you data that’s closer to what you need. Help them think like a PM, so that in their interactions with customers they dig further to understand the problem, and they don’t come to you with solutions.

Feedback is most valued (and valuable) when shared

If your organization doesn’t see the value in customer feedback, find a way to get some, and show it to people in leadership positions. It’s amazing the impact in empathy and understanding that comes from this.

3. Think of customer feedback as a system

When talking about customer feedback, people usually think about a particular type of tool — it might be surveys, user tests, feature requests or others. But in reality, it’s a system of tools and techniques, combined.

  1. Testing — methods that help us test and validate if a concrete idea, feature or value proposition matches our expectations or not.
  2. Monitoring — methods that work as “thermometers” to track over time if some feature, release and the product in general are truly matching our expectations or not.
  3. Listening — open feedback channels for customers to reach us for support, questions, requests, or general feedback.

Something is better than nothing

The good news is that we don’t need to do everything to get valuable insights — at least not right away. We usually fret about whether or not we’re doing the right things and whether we’re doing them right. This is a great instinct to have as PMs — we should be thinking about how to improve our processes and work. On the other hand, this can also lead to inaction (“what if I send this survey to the wrong audience?”, “what if I’m not asking the right questions?”, “which tool should I use for this?”, and so on).

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Daniel Zacarias

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Product Management consultant /

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