Customer Requests vs. Ideas
July 27, 2021

Customer Requests vs. Ideas

by Brian de Haaff

People interpret the same event in multiple ways. Take eyewitness testimony. People often describe the details of what happened differently. Not because some of them are lying, but because everyone has a unique way of perceiving the world. I think most product managers can relate. We have all heard people react to our product in different (even contradictory) ways. Our job is to balance the various feedback we receive, acknowledging that there is truth in each customer's nuanced perspective.

Everyone will describe how they want to use your product based on their unique preferences and experiences.

Customer requests and ideas may seem synonymous. But there is a subtle distinction that is worth understanding. A request is a desire for something specific — such as a new feature or enhancement. It usually calls for a "yes" or "no" answer. An idea is a suggestion or a possible solution to a problem. It is typically broader and more open-ended than a request. It sometimes can be thought of as a concept to be further considered.

Sometimes a customer will make what sounds like a request, but underneath is actually a larger idea. Let's look at an example. If someone requests to change the color of a button to blue, what they may actually be asking for is more customization. Even if they prefer blue, building functionality for a blue button would be short-sighted. Instead, a color picker would meet the needs of more users. You can now start to see that requests are often trail breadcrumbs to follow to bigger ideas. 

Of course I am not saying that you should ignore customer requests. Some requests are important to quickly act on — especially when there is a bug to fix or a simple and highly impactful improvement to make. But more often it requires experience and discernment to identify whether there is a broader idea behind a request.

It starts with deeply knowing your customers and what they are really buying from you. When you internalize their challenges, it is easier to recognize patterns and choose an approach that would benefit many, not just the individual making the request. Here are some ways to evaluate and mine requests for greater ideas:


The more feedback you gather, the easier it is to spot trends. You need some sort of idea management process and a tool like Aha! Ideas so you can capture and evaluate requests in a central place. Give customers multiple ways to engage — ideas portals, 1:1 interviews, virtual empathy sessions, and in-app feedback are a few examples.


Group feedback into themes or categories, such as "integrations" or "analytics." Use tags to lend more specificity to the type of request. Organizing feedback in this way helps you quickly refer to similar types of requests across customers. Over time you will notice repeated requests and patterns — bringing you closer to understanding the broader ideas below the requests.


Sometimes a request is straightforward. But pausing to digest and empathize with the customer's frustration is vital to identifying an idea that could benefit more users. Ask yourself, "What does this person really need?" Speak to your colleagues in sales and support to gain more context. Even better, follow up directly with the customer when you can.


Now it is time to go deeper. Merge similar requests, add notes to clarify ideas, or discard ideas that do not align with your product vision. Use a simple scorecard to quantify the value of each idea against metrics that matter to the business. Then, rank ideas based on those scores.


Tell customers which ideas you are likely to implement and how you will approach it — or not. Addressing what they asked for (or explaining why you believe you have a better solution to offer) not only builds trust — it also encourages customers to continue submitting feedback in the future.

Understanding and acting on customer feedback is the primary mode you have for delivering a better user experience.

It takes patience to examine requests closely instead of just reacting to them. And when you are operating at an even more advanced level you will start to see patterns. When you put in the effort to draw connections across requests, you will strengthen your ability to invest in more impactful work. And in turn, you can identify solutions that a large swatch of customers will love.

How do you uncover the deeper insights behind customer feedback?

Aha! is helping companies innovate. Start your free 30-day trial today.

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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