If you want to be a bad product manager, make it hard for customers to give feedback. If you publicize that you want feedback, you could potentially overwhelmed with hundreds or thousands of inquiries, so don’t even go down that path. Don’t put your email address online because it will likely just bring in spam. Don’t set up surveys because people won’t respond unless you offer them incentives, and it takes too much work to figure out the legal aspects of holding contests or giveaways for respondents. Don’t go to trade shows because time you want to spend selling your product might be taken up by customers who want to give feedback. If you do get feedback, then it’s going to take up too much time to collect it, organize it, and respond to it. When you want input from customers, you’ll go out and get it, but feedback any other time just gets in the way.
If you want to be a good product manager, make it easy for customers to give feedback. The easier it is for customers to provide you with feedback, the more feedback you get; the more feedback you get, the more likely you are to create a product that meets customer needs. Simple as that.
Many companies and products, though, make it difficult for customers to give feedback. Afraid of being overwhelmed — or afraid of what they might hear — they try to limit feedback or funnel it through a few hard-to-reach channels.
Luckily, if you really want to know what your customers think, it’s pretty easy. Here’s just a few of the things you can do:
- Set up a customer advisory program
- Conduct regular surveys
- Encourage responses to your email newsletters instead of having the reply-to address go to an unmonitored or nonworking email address
- Publicize email addresses and phone numbers– customer service, technical support, and even your own personal email address
- Better yet, make those phone numbers toll free
- Hand out business cards at trade shows
- Start a blog and allow comments
- Add a feedback link on every page on your web site
- Monitor and post to relevant discussion lists and message boards
- Encourage your sales staff to provide your contact information directly to customers who want to provide more input
- Contact people who are talking about your product already — in blogs and on mailing lists — and follow up to get more feedback
- Every time you talk to a customer, ask them to refer you to someone else who can give you additional feedback, and encourage them to pass your contact information along
There’s much more to being customer- and market-focused than just encouraging feedback, but it is a major first step. In order to meet customer needs you have to be able to communicate with them. Shutting yourself off from unsolicited feedback because you are afraid of spam or potential deluges is likely to do more harm than good.
In addition to obtaining comments that can help improve your product, the IdeaScope blog notes that making it easy for customers to give feedback can also drive loyalty. If customers feel like you are listening to their suggestions, they are more likely to be loyal to your product, even if you only act on a small number of their suggestions. With so many companies that do not listen to their customers, people genuinely appreciate the companies that do.