Creating effective customer feedback loops for product teams

Tarif Rahman
Jun 1, 2018 · 12 min read

During one of my daily peruses of the tech Twitter-sphere, I came across a tweet I feel should be plastered on the walls of every single product organization ever.

Yeah, we all know feedback will forever be critical to product orgs, but how feedback is ‘looped’ to product teams is just as integral. If feedback is not reaching your product team and/or not continuously, you seriously risk stunting your product (and organizational) growth. So how do you transfer feedback to your product team in a “tight and continuous” manner?

Meet part of Roadmunk’s customer success team. They’ve set up an effective customer feedback loop here (#proudcolleaguealert). When they’re not doing a fun photoshoot for our blog, they’re our front-line; the middle-women between customers and Roadmunk. We’ve got Steph, our Customer Success team lead. Main duties include overseeing all customer accounts, upselling, maintaining retention and contract renewals. Michelle, a Customer Success Manager, takes on more of a training role to get customers up-to-speed on releases or updates. And then there’s Kait — our User Support Specialist. She’s all about diagnosing customer inquiries as user errors, product issues or bugs.

I enlisted the women of CS to explain how we’ve set up an effective customer feedback loop here at Roadmunk so that our product team can make the most of user feedback. Here’s a breakdown of our feedback loop at Roadmunk.

Step 1: Collecting user feedback

The first thing you’ll need for a customer feedback loop is some, well, feedback. There are more than a few ways (and tools) for capturing feedback to send to product teams.

Intercom is the biggest tool for our CS team in terms of gathering feedback. It’s the hub that collects all of our support tickets, customer conversations, emails, user information, questions — you name it. It’s a customer success (and organizational) lifeline. And at the forefront of the tool is Kait.

As the “diagnoser” (a nickname I really think she should consider), Kait is the first to encounter customer feedback. “Feedback falls into my lap, because I’m the first point of contact,” she explains. “They write in and I’m the first to see on Intercom if they’re happy or not and what they want improved. Then I’ll dive in — just asking a bunch of questions. What purpose will this feature request serve? How beneficial would it be? Would it be a deciding factor for you as a user?

Intercom isn’t just Kait’s domain, though. The rest of the CS team is also always keeping an eye on tickets/comments/concerns that might be relevant to their accounts or something they’ve addressed before (it’s actually a policy at Roadmunk that ANYONE can jump on support at anytime). With a tagging system in place that classifies Intercom conversations and messages based on feature requests, bugs, feedback and more, the team tracks and classifies all incoming feedback in a neat, organized manner that they can transfer over to product.

Our CS team isn’t the hide-behind-their-screens type; ‘traditional’ outreach via human interaction is a must. As Steph puts it: “The most effective way to gather customer feedback is always hopping on the phone with them. Or even better, in person. Because for us that’s where you can create a real relationship with the client. And that’s where the real feedback comes from.” (Or as Kait likes to say, “Being honest without just complaining.”)

“We try to have a regular cadence with our clients. When we set up meetings, whether it’s a training session or a regular quarterly call with them, we’ll get their feedback,” says Steph. “Face-to-face is the best and second is on the phone talking to them. In person or over the phone, you can really dig and ask why. Whereas by email, you’re limited.”

And the team doesn’t limit themselves to speaking with only existing customers. They like jumping on calls and talking to every type of customer. “We like to get feedback from all areas. It doesn’t matter who they are. Trial user, existing client, top-tier client, small client, churn client. We want to hear from them,” says Steph.

“And we encourage people to get on a call. Even if they’re a trial user, we take calls. Even if they have no prospect of purchasing the product in say, the next year, we still want their feedback — positive or constructive,” says Michelle. “Anything helps us build a better product.

So while waiting for incoming feedback through Intercom or in-person/phone meetings is a successful tactic for our CS team, our CSMs find that being proactive even outside scheduled interactions with customers helps get more feedback. Specifically when studying usage data. “It allows us to be more proactive, instead of reactionary,” says Steph.

“We have a monthly churn meeting where we pull usage data and see which clients have the lowest activity. Based on usage data, we proactively reach out to offer training or to talk about new features,” says Michelle. “This outreach opens the door for more feedback, as my emails always say this is also time to offer feedback.”

But our CSMs aren’t just studying usage data of churn risks. They’re constantly evaluating customer activity and jumping on opportunities for feedback. “We implemented Totango, a customer relationship management tool, which is a huge step in helping get health checks. We can see customers go from ‘green’ to ‘red’ based on their usage. And based on that we do outreach to get their feedback,” adds Michelle.

Shoutout to our churned customers: our CS team really, really likes talking to you as much as any of our existing customers.

“If anyone signs up for a trial and stops using it, we send an email asking for feedback. Why didn’t they continue? Why didn’t they decide to purchase?” says Steph.

“It allows us to be more proactive, instead of reactionary.”

“Yeah, when a customer is looking to cancel an account, we always get more color around why. We take customer feedback seriously — especially from churned customers — as it helps us build a better product and prevent this from happening again,” explains Michelle.

While not the most fun thing, asking for product opinions from ex-customers uncovers a wealth of valuable insights that can help product teams evaluate product strategy.

Step 2: Funnelling feedback to the product team

Feedback is pretty useless if it’s not being actioned upon. So our CS team has a few processes in place to make sure that feedback reaches the product team.

Besides being a source of insightful threads, private DMs and amusing gifs, Slack is also an ideal way for our CS team to share user feedback to our product team (and the company as a whole). Setting up a #userfeedback channel, our CS team drops relevant, but not-necessarily-too-urgent feedback into the channel for all (specifically product) to see.

“If it’s general feedback, we’ll share in our Slack feedback channel — which is usually just text-based. Chances are we’ve already heard about this request, so this way we show that this feedback keeps popping up, so perhaps it’s time to prioritize,” says Steph. Also the channel acts a perfect way for CS to ask our product team more questions (and vice-versa) so they can dig deeper into unclear or confusing feedback from users.

Slack is the CS team’s best friend when dealing with general feedback, but when the CS team receives new requests that need development work, they turn to Trello.

“If it’s feedback that needs to be actioned upon, then we’ll submit the feedback through Trello. We’ll create a card for it (or add it to an existing card depending on the feature) and then it will go through the development process. Feature requests, bugs, anything of that sort, we add it to a card so product and dev can see the feedback immediately. We also add all of the customer info to the card so it can help with prioritization,” says Steph.

Sometimes though, you’re going to run into a piece of feedback that must absolutely be sorted out — like right now. (It’s inevitable with any product org.) So in that case, the CS team finds it much easier to just go straight to the product team.

“If it’s a bigger issue, I skip all the steps and go right into the product room and say, ‘Hey, we have an issue — let’s get this fixed.’ Just getting face-to-face with our PMs,” says Steph. “So I’d say, first tier: Slack. Second tier: submitting through Trello. Third tier: I’m already in the product room figuring out next steps with the team.”

Since Kait is primarily behind-the-screen and (wo)manning all the incoming feedback through Intercom, she follows the step-by-step process laid out by our CSMs, but also implements her own feedback submission process.

“I come across a lot of ‘It would be great to have this.’ And so I’ll ask why and get the customer to straight-up walk me through what they want, so I can base the feedback off their exact request. If it’s something that’s not in the feedback channel, Trello board or internal roadmap already, I’ll make a write-up for the product team in the same way that the customer walked me through the issue, and share it via Google docs/note sharing” explains Kait.

While our CS team is down in the trenches, it can be… complicated to get our product team to understand specific pieces of feedback. In those cases, our CS team gets our product team to put on their “customer success” hats and plops them right in front of our clients.

“In certain cases, we encourage members from our product team to get on a call and talk to the client. They really like talking to and understanding what the client is looking for. And sometimes it’s very valuable because they can analyze feedback in a different way than us,” says Michelle. “They can then bring feedback directly to the rest of the product team and speak to what they’re working on in terms of their internal roadmap.

Step 3: Looping back to customers

It wouldn’t be a feedback loop if you weren’t going back to the source. What happens after product’s taken in your feedback and you have to close the loop by letting customers know that yeah, we’re working on it?

We mentioned in Step 2 that the CS team uses Trello cards to get feedback in front of the product and development teams. But they don’t lose track of the feedback once it’s submitted in Trello. They tag the hell out of the card to make sure they keep the case top of mind.

Feedback is pretty useless if it’s not being actioned upon.

“We have insight into the product team’s Trello board. The company’s very transparent in the sense that you can see what the developers are working on and when certain cases are going from ‘In Progress’ to ‘Testing’ or if there are delays in between,” says Michelle. “It’s great because we can find that information without even having to ask.”

“It’s really cool with Trello that you can add yourself to a card and get email notifications for any updates or changes. So you’re constantly seeing status updates in your inbox about cases you’re concerned with,” explains Steph. “This allows us to reassure customers that we’re addressing their feedback without giving unrealistic expectations about when it’s going to be complete.”

Trello’s not CS’ only tool for closing feedback loops. As we mentioned, all our customer info is nicely packaged in Intercom, so it’s a primary avenue for communicating feedback updates to customers.

“If a feature is released that a client has been requesting, obviously we notify our list of users, plus anyone we’ve tagged in Intercom under that feedback. Usually Noah (another CSM) will proactively reach out and let them know it’s available and how they can use it. Same thing with bugs. We make a list of users based on bug tags and let them know when it’s fixed,” says Steph.

“If we weren’t getting feedback, we’d probably just stay stagnant.”

Tags sort out who to contact and which users to share feedback with, but CS also ensures they’re not closing conversations too quickly. Kait puts it this way: “I tend to keep a lot of my conversations open until I have something closing on their end. And so, I’m always going from the beginning of my conversations to make sure I know which ones still need addressing.”

And even if CS hasn’t heard from a user in a while, they still reach out based on tags and convos they see in Intercom. “If the user is working fine without whatever feature they requested and we don’t hear from them, we just follow-up to say, ‘Hey, your request from before is updated — check it out!’ And then that’s it,” says Kait.

Proactive outreach part two

While customers who really care about their feedback will reach out, some customers completely forget. But since we want to ensure our customers are always satisfied and we’re not losing them, we loop back to them even if they haven’t made a peep.

If you’re not hearing from someone, pick up the phone and call them. We want to reach out and get them up to speed so they know we take feedback to heart because it really helps us as a company,” says Michelle.

This is where tagging in Trello and Intercom really comes in handy — especially for older requests. Going through old conversations and reaching out to convey that features and feedback that were requested are implemented opens up a door for future feedback.

And the last — but definitely not least — way our CS team loops back to customers about their feedback, is through offering a peek at our roadmap. “Jalil, our Director, always says feel free to share a screenshot of the internal roadmap to show a customer that their feedback is being worked on,” explains Kait.

When it comes to customers who may be overtly concerned about when to expect what, our CS team isn’t afraid to show them what’s up with their feedback. After all, roadmaps aren’t just for aligning product and CS on strategy; roadmaps can align external stakeholders (in this case, customers) about how their feedback fits into the overall strategy. (Check out our template library full of roadmaps for all kinds of teams!)

A tight & continuous feedback loop = a better product

Collect all the feedback you want, but if you’re not funnelling it to and from your product team for them to actually act on it, you may as well stop collecting feedback. Not only does a tight and continuous feedback loop ensure that your product team isn’t missing any incoming feedback, but it ensures your customers know you’re not just talk; you really do listen and care about their opinions. Which in turn encourages more feedback and just keeps the loop going.

As Steph puts it, “If we weren’t getting feedback, we’d probably just stay stagnant. Any feedback whether positive or constructive is going to help us at the end of the day build a stronger product and grow the company.”

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