This is an excerpt from a talk being developed for SXSW 2016
Customer feedback is a gift. Of course, the problem with gifts is you don’t always want the item under the wrapping paper. Sometimes you get a shiny new toy and sometimes you get an ugly sweater...or something worse. Customer feedback is no different in this regard, but handling it well can result in happier customers and better products.
In this session, we’ll look at each of the different types of feedback that customers provide about the products we build. We’ll identify the value in each kind of feedback, and explore the challenges that come with them. We’ll also review tools and techniques one can use to encourage customers to share their most valuable insights.
Michael Boeke SXSW 2016
DO YOU KNOW
WHO I AM?!
A few jobs ago, a customer was beta testing a new platform my team had just launched. It
had way more bugs than it should have, and the customer was livid. He called me up and
shouted at me as loud as he could. Any time I tried to say anything he would cut me off, and
then circle around later to call me stupid for not being able to complete a sentence. He
practically vomited out a sentence I will never forget: “Do you know who I am? I WILL SINK
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the feedback I had just been given was a Stinky Turd. The
experience was unpleasant (to say the least) but it wasn’t without value, and it’s one of the
four types of feedback customers will give you.
4 Types of Customer Feedback
Sometimes you get customer feedback that’s just what you wanted. Getting a heaping pile
of praise from a customer who loves your product feels like opening that shiny new toy at
your 5th birthday party. The giver and receiver both feel great about the situation, and
celebrating success can help cement an already solid customer relationship.
What to do with a shiny toy
Thank your customer for the warm feedback and give yourself a pat on the back. And don’t
forget: shiny toys are meant to be shared with others. Let your teammates know about the
great feedback! It takes a lot of effort to get a product right, and you should celebrate those
moments. Shiny Toys are also important because they show where you are getting things
right, so you can keep doing them. However, while this feedback feels great, remember that
it can’t actually help you improve. You need the other types of feedback for that.
It’s wonderful when a customer cares enough about your company that they can’t wait to
share their fantastic new idea for your product…but it gets tricky when their idea doesn’t
sound so great to you. Maybe the idea is too speciﬁc to their situation, or doesn’t ﬁt with your
product vision, or would cost far more to develop than it is worth. Just like when you
received that heinous hand-knitted holiday sweater from a beloved relative, you want the
giver to feel good about their gift without actually having to use it.
You owe it to the customer to give their idea a fair shake, whether it’s just asking good
questions, or submitting it to a formal evaluation. Make sure your customer can see their
suggestion get a fair chance. Explain how you evaluated the idea, and why it doesn’t ﬁt into
your plans. The key is to acknowledge that you appreciate the idea while being honest
about why it may not ﬁnd its way into your product. Then you can thank them for caring
enough to share the suggestion, and encourage them to share their thoughts in the future.
What to do with an ugly sweater
Sometimes customers get angry and frustrated, and they take it out on you. That giftbox of
customer feedback arrives with a big Stinky Turd inside of it, as happened in the episode
with the unhappy fellow at the beginning of this post. Getting this kind of feedback always
sucks. It sucks even more if you know the customer has a legitimate complaint that you want
to address, but their behavior is blocking any rational communication.
The key to dealing with a Stinky Turd is to separate the useful feedback from the manner in
which it was delivered. It can be tempting to dismiss this kind of feedback. When a
customer crosses the bounds of decency, it’s easy to convince yourself the problem is due
to their bad attitude. However dismissing a Stinky Turd is missing an opportunity to improve.
Most customers won’t yell if they’re unhappy - they’ll just leave. So identify what you can do
better, own the issue, and ﬁx it for all of your customers before it becomes a bigger problem.
What to do with a stinky turd
Most of the time, customer feedback is like getting a puppy from your signiﬁcant other. It’s
wonderful and immediately appreciated, but comes with an expectation of care and feeding
for a long time to come. What does this feedback look like? Oftent a fast-growing customer
that is very happy will let you know that they need you to provide new features or a new level
of service to support their growth. Adorable Puppies come in all sizes. Sometimes they are
just little things that would improve the daily experience for users - this stuff is critical too.
This is the feedback that can often make or break a product. Accepting the challenge may
require more of a commitment than you are ready to make, but rejecting it might spell the
end of the relationship. If a long-standing customer informs you that expectations in the
market have shifted, and you need to provide more value to compete, that’s some of the
most valuable feedback you can receive. It may even present an entirely new strategic
What to do with an adorable puppy
Creating a feedback Hyperloop
Customers want to know where you are headed, and if you’re paying attention to the product
improvements that matter most to them. I’m no advocate for publishing long term roadmaps
- that locks you into plans and prevents you from responding to important product feedback.
However, it’s possible to share which initiatives you’ve prioritized to be developed next.
Sharing your plans can help customers to feel like they’re part of your team. So they’ll not
only give you the beneﬁt of the doubt, but they’ll be advocates for your product & company.
Share your plans
Once you’re sharing your plans with customers, and collecting feedback as you move
forward, there is one last step to closing the loop: follow up with customers when their
feedback makes it into the product. There are bunch of ways you can do this:
- Use release notes or newsletter to give a shout-out to the customer.
- Employ a platform to enable customers to vote on features and track their progress.
- Search your customer interactions, notify anyone who talked to your team about the issue.
Share your plans
Once customers can see their suggestions being taken seriously, and experience the
product getting better with each release, they will be encouraged to volunteer more
feedback. And with transparency about your plans, and honesty about your product vision,
your customers should be able to provide not just more feedback, but better and more
relevant feedback. With time, you can rev-up a hyperloop of customer feedback that
delivers more Shiny Toys and Adorable Puppies, and fewer Ugly Sweaters and Stinky Turds.
More to come at SXSW 2016