The Problem With Quiet Customers
October 13, 2020

The Problem With Quiet Customers

by Brian de Haaff

Scroll through the review sites and you will see them. You might even recognize the names. There are the ones who loudly complain. And the ones who happily profess their love for your product. Product managers should love them both equally.

Vocal customers are a blessing — it is much harder when you hear nothing at all.

Even though the barbs might sting, remember that those who loudly complain actually care about your product. Most critical feedback is spurred by a desire to get what they need to solve their problem. They would not take the time to speak up if they did not want your product to be better.

The quiet customers are more vexing. Are they apathetic? Dissatisfied? Feeling neglected? You cannot learn from them because you simply do not know. And some will leave without you ever knowing.

Of course there is always the risk that engaging with quiet customers will just make them leave that much faster. But going boldly is the only way to improve. Quiet customers just might have the insight you need to deliver a truly lovable product.

Before you engage, consider their perspective first. There are many reasons why they might not be proactively sharing their thoughts with you. A little empathy for their situation will help you determine the best approach. Here are some quiet customer scenarios and advice for how to engage these folks:

They are busy

Scenario: Your customers are bogged down in the daily constraints of their jobs — meetings, long to-do lists, and urgent requests. They often encounter things that could be better but simply do not have time to share their feedback and ideas in the moment.

How to engage: If you build software, you can make it more convenient for them to offer their thoughts while they are using your product. Add in-app feedback to solicit reactions to new functionality. Give them a short and simple prompt to encourage responses.

They do not know how to reach you

Scenario: Your customers do have ideas and feedback, but they are not sure how to relay those to you. Maybe they have considered emailing your support team but assume those messages will never trickle down to product. They assume that their feedback never makes it to actual decision-makers.

How to engage: Create an open forum like an ideas portal where customers can submit product ideas and feedback. Make it clear that this is a dedicated space for enhancement requests and suggestions on how to improve. Be sure that you respond to every submission and keep customers updated on the status of their ideas to encourage more submissions.

They are struggling with their team

Scenario: Your customer is part of a sprawling or dysfunctional company. There are multiple teams within the organization using your product. There are a variety of use cases. No one is talking to each other. It is tough for your product champion to navigate the chaos, much less gather and consolidate feedback for you.

How to engage: Work with your customer success or support team to schedule proactive 1:1 check-ins. Do more than just sit in on these calls. Prepare a list of questions in advance so you can ask about what their goals are for using your product, any major hurdles or challenges they experience, as well as ways you can help support those various use cases.

They are talking to someone else

Scenario: Your customer is talking, just not to you. Sales teams can be reticent about sharing customer contact information with the product team because they do not want you to mess up their deals. It almost feels like there is an invisible wall between you and the people who are actually using your product.

How to engage: Channel that customer empathy towards your cross-functional teammates. Make yourself available to your sales teammates whenever they need the heft of a product manager — like for renewal conversations or when they need to close specific deals. In exchange, request to follow up for discovery calls with those customers during non-critical points during the buying cycle.

Having empathy for your customer goes beyond what you build — it is about understanding the best way to interact with them too.

Do not be discouraged if the response rate is low or if the conversations do not immediately yield insights. Over time, you will start to see patterns emerge that can help you get a better sense of trends that you can incorporate into your roadmap.

After all, this is why you are a product manager. You are driven to deliver something that makes a real difference in the lives of real people. And that requires interest in others and a desire to deeply understand.

How do you get to know your customers better?

Focus on building products that matter. Start your Aha! trial — free for 30 days.

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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