What is customer feedback?
Customer feedback is about interacting with people to get their opinions about a product or service. Listening to their thoughts and feelings is essential for truly understanding their behavior and needs. It is especially important for product managers because you have to embrace your users and know the pain of their problems before you can deliver a helpful solution.
Gathering customer feedback has several benefits when you are building a product. You can discover how people feel about a potential feature or validate assumptions about user behavior and market trends. Speaking to customers also allows you to spot unmet needs and identify use cases you had not previously considered. The insights you gain from these discussions help you identify improvements, add functionality, or create new solutions to address people's challenges.
Giving people a way to voice their opinions can also help you foster a positive relationship with them. When customers know that you care about what they have to say, they are more likely to feel invested in your offering and be willing to help you improve it. This is how you build a community of folks who are loyal to your company over the long term.
So how do you collect actionable feedback that leads to product innovation? It starts with listening. Many teams engage with customers by asking questions about how they use the product and what they would change about their experience. Some companies also use an online ideas portal to empower their users to freely share their suggestions for improving the product. This gives you clarity about what people are requesting and how you can deliver it.
But asking questions and listening to answers is just the beginning. You need to dig deeper. Go beyond a customer's initial comment or request to uncover exactly what they need. Doing this requires empathy — the ability to experience another person's pain as your own. When you can empathize, it is easier to create meaningful solutions.
What should you consider before collecting customer feedback?
Before you pursue a specific feedback method, it is useful to define a clear objective. Outlining what you want to learn helps you focus your research and determine which potential or existing customers you want to engage with. This is especially needed if your product or service appeals to a diverse group of people. This is because varied customer segments can have dramatically different experiences with your offering. So it is important to be clear about who you want to talk to and what you want to learn about their needs and expectations.
Once you set your goals and decide which groups you will speak to, it is time to determine the right feedback methods to use. A combination of methods can help you gain more well-rounded insights.
Related guide: Introduction to idea management
What are some methods for gathering customer feedback?
There are many different ways to deepen your understanding of the customer experience. How you choose to collect feedback depends on your company, the type of product or service you are delivering, and which phase of the product development lifecycle you are in.
Feedback fuels innovation. Regardless of your product or customer, you always need an influx of ideas. So collecting ideas and feedback should be an ongoing process, both for a brand new product and an existing one.
Here are some of the ways that product managers gather customer feedback, grouped into qualitative, quantitative, and methods that are both:
Individual interviews give customers the opportunity to tell you about how and why they use your product. You can gain important insights about how your product is working (or not) and validate or disprove your assumptions about customer behavior. Ask open-ended questions (that start with "who," "what," "when," "where," "why," or "how") to encourage people to give thoughtful and detailed responses.
Focus groups consist of interviews in which a small group of prospects or customers is asked about their perceptions, opinions, or attitudes towards your product or service. Groups should be demographically diverse to ensure unbiased data. The goal of the discussion is to determine how a larger population will react to a new product or change to an existing one.
During the session, questions are asked in an interactive setting where customers are free to talk openly with other participants. Product managers or other researchers take notes or record the session for later analysis.
Customer advisory boards
Customer advisory boards are groups of existing customers that meet periodically to share their observations and insights with a company. Typically these customers are C-level executives at other organizations who offer strategic guidance on the product, market, and broader industry trends. The ideas that come out of these conversations can inform the product roadmap and help the team prioritize what to build next.
Virtual research sessions
Virtual research sessions are online, chat-based conversations between product teams and customers that typically occur in real time. They allow you to develop rapport with your users and notice patterns in what people request. At Aha! we hold empathy sessions — designed to help you capture insights about what people truly think and feel about different topics.
In-app community feedback
In-app community feedback gives people the ability to engage in an online chat with a member of your team. You receive direct and immediate feedback from customers while they are actually using your product. You can respond to them in real time, when their question or need is most urgent. This helps you discover what users think and how they are experiencing different parts of your application.
User forums are online discussion sites where members can post messages about your product or service. User forums can reduce support costs because customers will often answer each other’s questions. People may use forums to make feature requests, share ideas for how to improve your product, or talk about how they have used your product in a unique or unintended way. Ultimately, by actively reading and engaging with these discussions, you can better understand who your users are and the problems they are trying to solve.
Engaging with customers in an Aha! Ideas empathy session
Polls enable product managers to obtain quantitative feedback about customer sentiment. They typically consist of a specific question followed by a few multiple choice answers. Poll data can validate an assumption or give a glimpse into how different groups of people feel about your product.
A/B testing is used to identify changes to a webpage that increase an outcome of interest. For example, two versions of a web page are compared. They are identical except for one variable, such as words, images, or other layout aesthetics. The results of the test give you insights into which messages and designs people prefer — so you can make better decisions about what will appeal to customers and iterate quickly. You can use A/B testing to gain immediate insights during beta testing or even after a launch.
Product analytics tracks user behavior. This data helps product managers understand the path each customer takes and how they are using the product. Typically, this lets you look across aggregate data sets or break information down to individual users.
Both qualitative and quantitative methods
An ideas portal is a web-based interface that enables your customers to submit their suggestions for your product. A portal provides a continuous feedback loop — customers can describe their current pain points and share ideas at any time. You can then communicate directly with people who have submitted feedback.
Capturing ideas in one place lets you crowdsource feedback, identify trends, and analyze the business value of each idea. Some idea management software also includes voting capabilities, so participants can view and vote on ideas submitted by others. This gives everyone a voice and provides clarity on what matters most to your users.
While customer support teams interact closely with users to answer their questions and troubleshoot issues, sales teams speak with current and potential customers to learn more about their needs. Because they talk to prospects and customers on a daily basis, both teams have valuable insights into the user experience.
Regular cross-functional communication is essential for maximizing these insights. Product managers can tap into this knowledge by shadowing help calls, answering support tickets, or attending discovery calls. In turn, customer support and sales teams can participate in the ideation process with proxy voting. This allows them to vote for an idea on behalf of customers — so they can represent and share the feedback they are receiving from users.
Usability testing measures a product’s capacity to meet its intended purpose. It usually involves creating a realistic situation where customers perform a list of tasks using your product. Product managers and other observers watch and take notes as participants complete the assigned tasks.
The purpose of usability testing is to observe how customers actually interact with your product. This helps you identify problem areas within your offering, spot design features that need to be changed, and capture metrics such as task completion rates.
Surveys allow product managers to ask customers questions in order to obtain their opinions. They are a low-cost, scalable way to capture feedback on a wide variety of topics. Survey data can help you turn your assumptions into facts and support or disprove hypotheses you have about customers and the product.
Customer ideas and votes captured in an Aha! Ideas portal
What should you do with the findings from your customer feedback?
After your research is complete, it is time to analyze your findings and take action. But it can be easy to get lost in all the data, especially if you are using multiple methods to gather feedback. So how do you decide which ideas to pursue and when?
Start with strategy. You need to score the business value of each idea against your overall objectives. Prioritize the requests that support the larger company and product goals. You can then promote the best ones to your product roadmap. Be sure to share what you have learned with the rest of the team. This will align everyone around the "why" behind the work you are planning to do.
Customer feedback is a valuable tool for learning what people think and feel about your product. But even with the best research in hand, the feedback you collect only reflects one moment in time. Customer needs evolve and understanding what people want is an ongoing process.
Increasing your understanding of what people really need is key to delivering a product or service that they love. When you allow customers to become active participants in the product development process, innovation can truly thrive.