When GSoft began building products 16 years ago, listening to our customers was easy. We started out with just one. Then, 100 more came along. And before we knew it, we were up to 1,000. Now, we have more than 15,000, all over the world. It’s a whole new ball game.
The subject of customer feedback is vast and fairly relatable. Because who doesn’t want to listen to their customers? At GSoft, our mission is to build products that people will love. That’s part of our product-led approach: at checkout time, we want our products to stand out from the rest. And that involves building incredibly strong product experiences for our end users so that they don’t look back. To reach that level of wow, understanding them to the core is a must.
Break out your boots and gloves, folks, because we’re about to dig into how to harvest and use feedback to build the best products effectively.
At GSoft, many people are in direct contact with our customers. Reaching out to each one individually is, as you can imagine, a daunting task. That’s why it’s up to our product team to determine how to best go about connecting with them.
Feedback all around…
In a product-led company like ours, any and all feedback can have an impact on the direction our products may take, whether it’s coming from a potential buyer or a customer who’s been using our products for the last five years. It’s all equally valuable.
And that’s why it’s so important to get other teams (marketing, sales, customer success, etc.) involved in the harvest and aligned when it comes to processing the information received.
If you ask me, harvesting feedback requires an all-hands-on-deck mentality. I know of multiple companies that have built a so-called “Voice of the Customer” team. That may seem like a good first step to get the harvest going, but what typically ends up happening is that, by the time the product team gets their hands on the feedback, it’s already been interpreted through a single lens (sales or support).
That being said, it’s not exactly easy to get the entire company to take part in the harvest. And, quite frankly, it’s not all that practical either. At GSoft, we’ve simplified the process of gathering feedback with a product management tool called Productboard.
Ask, and you shall receive
Feedback doesn’t always fall from the sky. You really have to take the time to put in place mechanisms to automate your harvest:
- Measure customer satisfaction at regular intervals (NPS) or survey users on an ad hoc basis.
- Harvest win/loss reasons (even in self-serve mode).
- Understand why your customers try your products. Or not.
“Eat your own dog food”
If you build products that your own company can use, don’t forget to harvest feedback internally as well. At GSoft, all of our employees use our product Officevibe. With a click of a button, everyone can share feedback, a bug, or a product idea directly via Slack. A feature that strikes up conversation internally is often a good indicator of what customer reactions might be like.
Now that we have loads of feedback coming in daily, the product team is faced with yet another challenge: how do we process the feedback in order to improve our products?
Build a ritual
Many product managers have never had the chance to work for a product that harvests a lot of feedback. To facilitate early adoption at GSoft, we’ve built several key rituals around the process:
- Mission “empty inbox”: the feedback is assigned to a product manager and must be processed within a maximum of 30 days.
- Monthly review: some feedback can touch on several aspects of a product and thus can’t be attributed to a single “swim lane.” Each month, the product team gets together to discuss these cases.
- Top learnings: every quarter, we compile our most memorable learnings on our products and on our customers.
Keep it simple and swift
Considering that it’s practically impossible to work on every single request at once, we aim to reduce the time it takes to process each feedback item. The processing step is a bit like a sorting centre:
- For feedback that’s clear and easy to understand, we simply create a feature (or we assign it to an existing feature).
- For feedback that’s a little more vague, we assign it to a component (or team), which allows us to track it down at a later date.
Follow up. On everything.
Sometimes, our customers share ideas with us that aren’t exactly in line with our product strategy. That’s completely normal, but just a little more challenging to process.
At GSoft, we monitor this type of feedback via a component called “Out of strategy,” in our backlog. We don’t want to dedicate too much time to processing it, but who knows when our strategy might change?
Using concrete examples to fully understand our strategy also helps us to better align our teams and pushes our product managers to ask themselves the really important questions.
Integrating & prioritizing
Now that the dirty work is out of the way, it’s time to use the feedback to adapt the product road-map! Because at the end of the day, feedback is only as valuable as the product team’s ability to interpret it and put it in action.
Customer feedback has become a tool that product managers use to prioritize more efficiently. Previously, at GSoft, we would prioritize features using the RICE model – Reach / Impact / Confidence / Effort.
Now, we take a new element into consideration: the User Impact Score. The score compiles the number of feedback items we’ve received from customers, weighted by the relative importance assigned by each.
This new indicator allows us to see whether there are various users waiting in the wings for a given feature, which in turn enables our product team to launch the feature in question to those users.
Keep digging…if you must
Sometimes the feedback we harvest simply isn’t clear… or worse yet, it’s contradictory. Oh, humans! 🤷
When product managers get to work on a new opportunity and run into this situation, chances are they will have to contact the customer directly and validate the solution they have in mind. This is where our research practices come in…
Set aside a budget for continuous improvement
One of the major dilemmas a product team faces is this: when to continue working on existing features and when to start fresh. As a rule, the majority of feedback received is about existing features. That’s why it’s so important to improve our products on a rolling basis, because why else harvest the feedback?
To facilitate the decision-making process, each product “swim lane” gets its share of attention in the form of continuous improvement. Considering that all teams contribute to the harvest, changes simply have to be implemented, because if customers (or even internal teams) don’t see any improvements made based on their feedback, they’ll stop giving it.
Good people who listen
It goes without saying, but when it comes to harvesting feedback, people play a crucial role (as they do in most company matters 😁).
Build IRL visibility
One of the bigger challenges we come across when working on products is that of losing contact with our customers. It’s always nice to see the numbers go up: signups, MAU… but after a while, that human touch kind of vanishes.
To remedy this issue, we’ve put in place a few important rituals at GSoft:
- Every month during Product News (a company-wide monthly meeting to discuss product advancements), we invite a customer to join us for 10 minutes to talk about their experience with our product (distributed work has made this so much easier).
- We always share ambassador feedback with the team on Slack. The more specific and human, the better!
- We share stories from new and renewed customers, as well as the reasons why they chose our products over the competition.
Recognize team member contributions
Harvesting feedback can be somewhat repetitive for teams who work with several dozen customers every day. So we make sure to highlight our “Top Contributors” during the monthly product meeting.
Support from the company
Over the years, I’ve realized that listening to our customers comes naturally to mostly everyone at GSoft. However, when I recruit product managers, I notice that that isn’t necessarily the case at other organizations.
I’ve thought about it a lot while writing this article, and I’ve realized that we’ve essentially built products with that in mind. At GSoft, one of our core values is “listening to understand,” and our business strategy directly reflects our ability to “Deep customer understanding: continuously learn and build with our customers”.
I remember when we were only a few product managers on the team, and we would prioritize backlogs and try to guess our customers’ most pressing needs. At the time, feedback harvesting was practically unheard of. Then little by little, we started doing research, building more organized rituals…and here we are today, all proudly listening to our customers as a team, one way or another.