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The Black Hole of Customer Feedback

Communicating back to customers matters just as much as listening in the first place

Image credit: Adam Lofting, Flickr

How the black hole is created

There are many of us who are good at gathering feedback & feature requests from customers but this is usually done through a channel that is shared with other key tasks such as support or customer success.

Open forums with a voting concept are another popular choice. They are especially effective for brands talking to a large and often unknown user base, but this approach doesn’t work well in SaaS.

Forums lead to the voice of the customer being drowned in a sea of noise from folk who’ve never actually logged into your product. And which customers do you need to be listening to anyway? Without any understanding of who feature requests have come from, or their level of importance for:

  • The customer giving you the feedback; or

  • our business and it’s strategy…

…you’re taking a guess in the dark, potentially listening to voices that don’t align with your plan and releasing features that don’t move the needle as much as they should.

A dangerous view of the customer voice can also be created. You believe that by gathering feedback & feature requests that you are listening and taking the customer seriously but that’s often not the case since half of the dialogue is missing. It’s all too easy to gather feedback but very hard to communicate updates back out.

Instead of letting feedback & feature requests get dragged into a black hole, actually talk back and you’ll be surprised at what you learn because the truth is that most SaaS businesses need customer feedback:

Where you were once on the ground, you’re now building a SaaS product where it’s hard to keep up with the changing requirements of a fast-paced and complex industry. It becomes all too easy to fall out of touch with day-to-day experiences that gave you the insight you needed to start your SaaS business in the first place.

This is why a mechanism for collecting and understanding feedback & feature requests from your customer base is so valuable. The customer is now you…the person on the ground…the one with the day-to-day experience who has no choice but to evolve with the demands of their industry where workflow best practice and new regulations will push your product to develop at an astonishing rate. If you don’t capture their knowledge and insight, you are seriously missing out.

Read more in Complex SaaS Products NEED Customer Feedback

It’s not the X Factor

Image credit

There’s always the danger that customer insights sit in a support ticket or forum where ideas are voted up (or down) by others and this data isn’t very useful to a SaaS Vendor. You have no idea about priorities or who requests are coming from. Should you really build the most popular feature? This isn’t a series of the X Factor and your business roadmap shouldn’t be treated as such.

Instead of just gathering information from your customers, actually use what they give you.

So if you do have a mechanism for gathering feedback from customers ensure that everything is in one place and that there’s clear ownership of that data and the process as a whole. The good will and sense of being listening to will evaporate if customers find that their insights are disappearing never to be seen again!

Updates matter

Image credit: Caroline, Flickr

Implementing a channel dedicated to the gathering of this data and (most importantly!) sharing updates back out of the organisation has massively positive consequences for SaaS companies.

For a start, you’ll find you capture a whole layer of requests that customers don’t feel are annoying enough for the support team or important enough to mention when you call them up.

We’re currently building a large feature that we hadn’t ever planned on building, until we opened up Receptive. Right away all of our customers voted for it and put it in their top three priorities, even though not one customer mentioned this to us on the phone, in face-to-face meetings, through support, or via email.

Sabine Douglas, Beatroot

You can read more about how Beatroot saved 50 hours a month on feedback management by using Receptive.

As well as giving the support team room to focus on real issues… The powerful thing about having a method to collect these little annoyances is that they can transform how your customers feel about your product. Those small improvements - the ones you don’t hear about through support - can collectively make a huge difference. It’s not just that little things can mean a lot, they really DO mean a lot.

Find out more in Your Silent Customers Have Something To Tell You

Communication really is a win/win situation in SaaS. This became apparent in my last business. We developed Receptive and started updating customers & prospects with progress on feedback & feature requests. We had some fascinating findings come out of this:

Saying no became easy

Where saying no was once a massive deal (which often involved a long discussion with a prospect or customer & fear of losing a deal) this part of the product management process became easy.

Because we had started communicating clearly through updates and a high-level product roadmap, when we gave a “no” with a clear explanation it was accepted and appreciated as oppose to being seen as a major sticking point. And saying “no” in the right way can actually build respect and trust with your prospects and customers:

You have to fearlessly say no to feature requests. Done correctly within a solid culture of building value for you users means it actually helps to build strong relationships.

More on saying no can be found in Building a SaaS Product - It’s Not A Democracy.

Massive efficiencies were made

We used to have to dig through spreadsheets, emails, chat channels and support tickets to find who had given us a piece of feedback or raised a feature request that had then been acted upon. This used to waste so much time and tracking prospects was especially hard! Having automatic updates go out as things change completely cut this out saving hours & hours of time.

The right customers were kept in

Communicating well and sharing a high-level plan of things we were considering, developing or had released meant we started to attract prospects that were a good fit. We also found the “right” customers were kept in by the direction our product was moving in.

Not having any idea of where a company is heading forces customers out the door, while transparency keeps the right customers in. If a customer is considering leaving, but you have some important features on your roadmap, that may change their mind. Emeric Ernoult, CEO, Agorapulse

Prospects would wake up as feature updates were released

As feature updates went out, we’d always get a handful of prospects or customers wake up and look to upgrade, purchase or simply reach out to say great job. Communication back is a fantastic marketing mechanism by raising awareness, showing that you are really listening and that progress in being made.

Allowing our customers to influence our roadmap has helped us gain new customers and reduce churn, and will have a good long-term impact on our growth. Matt Warren, CEO, Veeqo

A final note

Make your feedback & feature request process 2-way and you will reap the rewards. Don’t just gather requests…truly understand them, act upon your data to drive growth and always, always, keep your customers updated.