In this article:

  • Communication is key
  • Listen to your clients and allow their feedback to help shape your roadmap
  • Use the people who gave you feedback to run usability and beta tests

Business owners are often tasked with managing countless customer requests. They should also be keenly aware that they need not allow their business plans to be driven solely by these requests — or at least not by requests which they haven’t done their due diligence on. So, if you are a business owner wondering how to deal with the constant stream of customer requests and feedback, this one is for you.

What is the role of customer feedback in formulating your business strategies and how do you transform qualitative customer requests into actionable data to inform business decisions? How do you know which requests to act on, which ones are high-priority and which ones to simply ignore?

A story Jeff Bezos told about the early days of Amazon might be a helpful starting point.

The role of customer feedback in Amazon’s early days

During his talk at the Economic Club of Washington, Business Insider reports, Bezos explained that by 1997, Amazon was ready to expand into new markets. In its first three years, the company sold primarily books, music, and videos online. The question was then: Which markets do we expand into next?

Bezos simply emailed 1,000 random Amazon customers and asked what other products they’d like to see on the online marketplace. The responses were quite astonishing, as the survey group seemed to want 1,000 different items.

“Basically,” Bezos recalled, “the way they answered the question was with whatever they were looking for at the moment.” One customer responded that they wished Amazon sold windshield wiper blades. Reviewing the responses led to an epiphany for Bezos. “I thought to myself, ‘we can sell anything this way.’”

2 big lessons from Jeff Bezos’s 1,000-email survey

From that anecdote about how customer feedback drove Amazon’s business model, you can derive a couple of valuable lesson for your business.

  1. For strategic direction, there’s no substitute for hearing directly from customers. You need a data-driven product roadmap, not one driven primarily by gut instinct.Perhaps the most important type of data you can gather and analyse is what your customers are telling you directly. Customer requests and feedback — whether you like what you’re hearing or not — are invaluable business intelligence and customer feedback is a necessary ingredient for crafting a balanced business strategy.
  1. You have to learn how to read into customer requests to identify the strategic truths behind them.Jeff Bezos learned from his customer survey that customers were interested in buying all sorts of things online. In the hands of a lesser-skilled entrepreneur, the survey results might have seemed confusing and inconclusive. Should we get into electronics yet? Phone accessories? Consumer goods?Business owners, however, need to learn how to filter out signal from noise within the never-ending stream of customer requests and demands. Then they need to figure out how to think both critically and creatively to discover the most important product insights in the signals. These are some of the most valuable skills you can develop as a business owner.

Qualitative customer feedback is not objective

So yes, you must listen to your customers’ requests, encourage their feedback, and regularly review and analyse what they’re telling you. But it’s equally important that you apply filters to this data. You need to see beyond the ‘What’ — the surface-level comments and requests from your customers — to uncover the ‘Why’ behind those requests.

Product managers often use a matrix, or scoring framework for weighing which features to implement, based on the company goals, customer value, and development effort. You can employ a prioritisation framework, but you can also use a spreadsheet to accomplish a similar prioritisation exercise.

3 Ways to identify actionable customer request

  1. Ask yourself if this request represents an opportunity to bring in new customers.

    Sometimes a feature request represents a logical extension to your existing product, but not enough of an improvement to the overall offering to entice new customers to buy.

    You, of course, need to factor in the value of continually improving on your existing product as a strategy to maintain relationships with your existing customers. But at the same time, you need to remember that you are operating with finite resources. Therefore, you need to balance this retention strategy with an acquisition strategy as well.

  1. Ask yourself if acting on this request will serve your core persona, or if it’s spinning out to a new persona (possibly the wrong one).

    You also need to do your due diligence before putting this new functionality on the product roadmap. You need to filter customer requests from these tangential personas. And you need to vet them carefully to make sure you’re not wasting time and money.

  1. Ask yourself if acting on this customer request will yield new functionality that people will actually pay for.

Finally, run customer requests through a filter that asks, “Is this something people would be willing to pay for?”

Often customers ask for functionalities, enhancements, or entirely new products that they sincerely believe they would use—even love. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they would pay for these products.

Final words

As a final piece of advice, one would argue that you should never act on a customer request—no matter how logical or even inspired that request seems—without first doing your due diligence.

Customer feedback can be helpful. Your intuition can be helpful, as well. But you need to support it all with strategic, thoughtful research.

Finally, be willing to let go. Be willing to let go of your ideas. Be willing to let go of your preconceived notions. Be willing to let go of that product that sustained the business, but will ultimately become an anchor that drags down your business. Stay focused and stop chasing unicorns and rainbows.

1 COMMENT

  1. Many thanks for this write up, found it very insightful. It is very much in line with the standards of the Quality Management systems of ISO 9001:2015. Well done!

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