By Justin Seymour, head of customer support at Help Scout.
Gathering and sharing customer feedback is essential to making informed product decisions.
But how do you decide what feedback to act on? What if you receive conflicting requests from multiple customers?
Being the voice of your customer means you need to know how to effectively process the multitude of feedback your company receives every day. Developing a system of recording, organizing, and sharing customer feedback is the lifeblood of growth for your product.
While feedback should always be part of product prioritization, not every idea can (or should) be shuffled from the support queue to the product team. Here are three steps for turning customer feedback into actionable insights.
1. Determining what to curate
Writing about this can feel taboo. We've been conditioned to latch on to feedback as if it were divine revelation. When a customer takes time out of their day to send us their thoughts, we have a duty to act on all of it, right? Not so. Every email deserves a response, but not every request requires serious consideration.
In Essentialism, author and business consultant Greg McKeown says, "Today, technology has lowered the barrier for others to share their opinion about what we should be focusing on. It's not just information overload; it's opinion overload." Opinion overload can affect support, too.
When you're in tune with product expectations, you're better equipped to pay attention to great feedback and ignore the underwhelming stuff. When looking at feedback, keep the following in mind.
Involve support in the product roadmap
Your support queue is a wellspring of feedback. But without a clear product roadmap, it's difficult for the support team to give the product team to get what they need, no matter how well they manage the feedback queue.
Establishing product goals and a purpose-driven mission then communicating it to your entire company will help all teams work in harmony towards success. Most importantly, it will serve as the north star for support and guide their decision-making process when sifting through customer feedback.
Our support team has access to all of our product roadmaps as well as initial design mock-ups and product specs. With this kind of knowledge, they have the freedom to decide what bits of feedback should (and shouldn't) be plucked from the queue and pushed down the pipeline.
Look out for customer roadblocks
Anything that stops customers in their tracks or prevents them from using the product as intended is a roadblock.
When a customer writes in about a roadblock, it's a lose-lose situation. The customer is rightfully frustrated, and the support team is losing time apologizing for things that just need to be fixed.
The only way out is to fix the problem. This solves a product problem, which then solves the support problem. Since support is often the first to hear about roadblocks, these scenarios should make the share-with-product-team shortlist, no questions asked.
Consider who is giving the feedback
Are you hearing from a long-term product user or a VIP customer who's using every feature available? Or are you hearing from customers at the other end of the spectrum, who are only using the basics? Product experts give the best feedback, and if anyone knows your product well outside of your own team, it's customers who are already extracting a ton of value.
Don't forget about the small wins
"This should be easy for you to code" is a phrase we've all heard before. But what may seem like simple-to-execute suggestions may not be so simple or necessary after all. When a customer suggests something that would have a meaningful impact and there's room for a fast change, make sure those ideas get to the right person.
We call these updates "CANIs," or "Constant and Never-ending Improvements." Over time, little changes go a long way.
2. Organizing customer feedback
We love email, but it's not the best channel for organizing feedback across teams. There's no immediate visibility as to what happens with feedback after the email discussion ends. Who is responsible for keeping tabs on action items? How can we check in regularly on progress? Accountability can disappear, which is why we're big on keeping all customer feedback in Trello.
We have a dedicated Customer Feedback board that serves as a table between the support and product teams. Throughout the week, the support team pulls feedback from the queue and adds it to the board. Each card includes a summary of the request or idea, link to the original conversation in Help Scout, and any additional clarification about the request.
At the end of the week, someone from the product team sorts through the Good Ideas and Discussion lists and leaves us comments or sends actionable cards to other boards for prioritization.
This process is lightweight and decidedly uncomplicated, which is key. It's easy to add cards on the fly, see when somebody has commented or archived a card, and most importantly, it's transparent.
3. Sharing feedback with the product team
Judging the value of feedback and requests is half the battle; the other half is communicating that value properly to your team. Here's what to bring to your next product meeting.
Bring the numbers and talk about trends
Data is useful for solidifying your case on both ends. "The Numbers" help you offer a grounded argument with supporting evidence to your product team, but they also bring clarity to the fog that is your own memory.
Without data to validate your hunches, you might remember things wrong--that issue you could have sworn you heard 100 times this month was actually mentioned a lot less, the support equivalent of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon affecting your perception.
A meaningful number attached to feature requests, bug reports, or specific use cases helps prevent ambiguity. We use tag counts alongside our own reports to keep track of what customers are talking about. Whether it's a feature or a non-urgent bug, tags are attached to Trello cards so we have an accurate count of how many people are talking about the same thing.
Volume alone isn't everything. But if you're hearing the same beat from different places, listen closely.
Keep your emotions in check
Saying support is a role centered on empathy is "eat-your-vegetables" levels of obvious, but passion for solving customer problems can leave you forgetting about another group who need your empathy: the product team. Support is a tough gig exactly because you want to champion both sides.
When you're arm in arm with customers, it's easy to get too passionate about solving every problem or pushing to get things fixed and deployed as quickly as possible. But your company is your home team.
When you bring your emotions from the support queue to a product meeting, it's not good for business. That doesn't mean you shouldn't bring heated feedback from customers. Sometimes a few lively lines from a customer can start a fire in all the right places.
Talk about sentiment
How do your customers feel about something? When reflecting on a feature release, you should be able to say that for a given time period, sentiment was positive or negative. Categorize the good, the bad, and the ugly comments that trickle in after an update. We do this by tagging and copying feature-specific feedback to a mailbox folder via a workflow. These folders are visible to key people on the product and engineering teams.
Tell customer stories
It's easy to prematurely form an opinion based on how you think your product should or shouldn't be used. Instead of rolling in with a chip on your shoulder, let your research and feedback build the case first, then form your opinions. This is important when pushing for significant changes that you feel should be higher priority but are still further down the line.
There's often a difference of opinion on how important a change is or why it makes sense in the first place. When you're telling a true story based on use cases, it's easy to paint the whole picture. It's fine to argue and bring the full court press if you feel strongly about something, but make sure you've clearly communicated what needs to happen, along with the why. Clear, concise feedback along with action items goes a long way.
Let your customers be heard
Your support team probably knows more about what customers are struggling with than the people building the product. It will negatively affect development if they're stranded without a means of regularly sharing feedback. A fierce commitment to gathering, organizing, and sharing feedback plays an important role in pushing your product and business forward.