How I deal with Customer Feedback

The fine Line between doing what Customers say and doing what Customers want.

Thomas Schranz
Feb 11, 2014 · 5 min read

There are a lot of opinions on how to deal with customer feedback. Over the last few years I’ve witnessed countless almost religious arguments on what’s the right way to listen to customers and how important it actually is to the success of a product.

That’s why I wanted to share how I think about customer feedback and how I deal with it. Here we go ☺

The Customer is always right …

I think it helps to understand that the idea of the all-knowing customer that is always right has its origins in the customer service world. Not in product management. Think restaurants, hotels & retail stores.

The customer is always right.
César Ritz, founder of The Ritz Hotel

I believe dealing with customer feedback in this sense & context actually makes a lot of sense. If your customer (or even the customer of your competition) is telling you something you better take them serious.

Amanda Palmer just recently worded it really well

i try never to invalidate someone’s feelings.
[…] everybody’s feelings are valid.
[…] if you face a person and say: “your feelings are not REAL. they are not TRUE,” i think it is the most unkind, dehumanizing thing you can do.

If you are striving for fantastic customer service and support I think it is crucial that you understand this and act upon it. It doesn’t mean that you have to do what your customer tells you to do but I think it makes sense to take any feedback and emotions you get from your customers at face value.

But to really benefit from your customer’s input you need to be able to empathic towards them. This is the super hard part. Especially if you lack the context to understand the feedback you just read.

Ideally you want as much context about the person you are talking to as you can possibly get. What’s their role? How did they find you? When did they sign up? What are they paying? Where do they live? How do they feel? Whom are they working with? What drives them? What’s the weather?

Tools for customer relationship management like Intercom help a lot here.

Intercom enables you to connect with your customer, where they are coming from and where they want to go.

Don’t try to make everybody happy …

Sometimes it is hard to take in harsh feedback and I certainly have those days where negative feedback weighs me down. But even the harshest and most negative feedback you get is a sign that someone cares about what you are doing. Fear indifference, not negative feedback.

Last year I went to grab a coffee with Jesper Noehr, the founder of Bitbucket at Sightglass and one thought he left me with really helped me a lot to lower my stress level while answering support requests.

Trying to please everybody is impossible — if you did that, you’d end up in the middle with nobody liking you. You’ve just got to make the decision about what you think is your best, and do it.
John Lennon

It is incredibly hard to please a lot of people, let alone everybody. I love products that make decisions for me. I love sensible defaults. I love getting nudged into a certain direction.

Don’t be afraid to take a stance. Be opinionated. Simplify.

Don’t be afraid to refer unhappy customers to your competitors if they are a better fit.

Feedback Quality is a Function of your Positioning.

This leads me to the next aspect of customer feedback. Often the feedback you get is not aligned with where you want to take your product or with the way you think about the market.

If you tend to get a lot of feedback where you feel it does not make much sense for your product it can be an indicator of weak positioning. If your product appears as all things to all people the feedback you get can become very noisey and hard to take in.

Low barriers to sign up/try your product can add even more noise.

Feedback Quality = ƒ(Positioning)

Instead of wondering about why your customers request certain features and how to deliver them take a step back and figure out where your customers come from and how this insight can help you to improve your positioning on the market.

Don’t be afraid to state what your product is not about. You want to attract customers that will be happy with what you are offering. Dharmesh Shah of HubSpot gave a great talk on this at Business of Software.

Our Job is to innovate for our Customers …

Last but not least I believe that in a nutshell our job as product people is to be very conscious about not doing everything our customers tell us to. Instead our job is to innovate for our customers.

We need to understand what the job is they are hiring us for and how to give them super powers.

This goes way beyond doing what they say or ask us to do. My job is to understand their situation better than anyone else. To understand it better than even they do themselves and to offer the right solutions to them.

  • Dig for Root Causes
    Often a lot of symptoms/requests have a common root cause.
    Your job is more like that of a physician than that of a pharmacist.
    Think House, M.D.
  • Understand where your Customers are coming from
    Context. Intercom, KISSmetrics, Qualaroo, …
    Work on positioning.
  • Think about your Market and where it is going
    Context. What changes? What stays the same? Innovate!
    h/t Des Traynor

Customers might buy or use our products. But in the end customers hire us to innovate for them. That’s why they come to us in the first place. That’s what they expect from us going forward.

How do you deal with customer feedback?
Any tips & lessons learned? Please let me know!


If you found this post helpful follow me on twitter where I tweet about Software Development & Product Management ☺

Also make sure to check out Blossom an Agile/Lean Project Management Tool I’m currently working on ☺

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Posts on Product Strategy, Management, Design, Development & Marketing.

    Thomas Schranz

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    Founder at Blossom & Lemmings

    Product Love ❤

    Posts on Product Strategy, Management, Design, Development & Marketing.