How To Be A Good Product Manager

Tips on product management and product marketing for product managers. By Jeff Lash

Learn why customers hate you

Posted on May 1, 2007 by Jeff Lash · 6 Comments

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If you want to be a bad product manager, ask customers to tell you why they love your product. You want to know what you’re doing well so you can keep doing it. Make sure you understand your strengths and core competencies. Avoid discussing areas that might be weaknesses — you don’t want your customers to think about them. If they start voicing their discontent on specific aspects of your product or company, quickly defend yourself and change the conversation back to more positive areas.

If you want to be a good product manager, ask customers to tell you why they hate your product. While it is inspiring to hear customers describe talk about how great you and your product are, not as much can be learned from this as can be learned from listening to customers complain.

It may seem counterintuitive to ask customers to talk about things they hate. Product managers need to be helping to promote their products and make customers want to buy and use them, right? Of course, and the strange paradox is that by telling you about what they dislike about your product you can actually help keep those customers as customers. There’s a few reasons this works:

  1. It can help you improve your product and service. Customers are giving you great information (for free!) on what you can improve to be more successful. Take that information and use it to create better products, leading to happier customers.
  2. It can help calm upset customers. Sometimes people just want to vent. They just want to know that someone is listening to them. Even if you do nothing about their complaints (though you should), the simple fact of visiting a customer and listening to their frustrations will improve their opinion of your product.
  3. It can help to understand areas of confusion. Maybe they are frustrated because they think your product does not include a certain feature. You know the product includes a similar feature, but it is something that is not communicated well or not easy to use. There may already be a solution to that customer’s frustration — describing the feature, showing them how to use it — which will make them happy. Then, you just need to work on promoting and improving the product for the many other customers who may be having the exact same frustrations.

On ack/nak, Bob Corrigan relates a specific experience in asking customers what they hate about his product:

We visited two significant customers yesterday and asked them to tell us (I’m paraphrasing here) what we do that sucks. … The big take-away for me – the one that still has me blinking – was how happy they were about it. At the end of both calls, the sense was “there are areas where you can improve, but we’re glad to be working with you.” As hard as it is, being honest with your customers about where you fall short, what you plan to do to not fall short, and setting expectations for how you’re going to measure progress, these are all high-value activities.

Understanding why customers like you is always useful to learn — to communicate to the rest of your team and make sure you are continuing to deliver on your core competencies — but by spending most of your time understanding what can be improved, you will be better equipped to improve your product and improve your customer satisfaction.

Translations available:

How To Be A Good Product Manager features tips on product management and product marketing, written by Jeff Lash (@jefflash on Twitter), Vice President and Group Director for the Product Management and Portfolio Marketing research and advisory services at SiriusDecisions.

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6 responses so far ↓

  • Gopal Shenoy // May 1, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    While I agree with you that it is extremely important to get the bad things about your product (and not just the good news you want to hear about), I would prefer not to ask the customer what sucks about our product. I would rather rephrase the question and ask them about what important needs of theirs is not currently satisfied by our product.

    I have found that asking customers what sucks is almost equivalent to asking them what their pet enhancement request would be. You typically get the last problem they encountered.

    By focusing the discussion on their needs (and hence problems), you are essentially avoiding the above trap and also the trap of the customer telling you about solutions without explaining the real pain point.

  • bob corrigan // May 2, 2007 at 10:24 am

    Gopal, as the question however you feel comfortable asking it. The goal is to understand how you fail to delight the customer. Whether that leads to insights into their particular use case, the persona they represent, or their perspective on how your offering compares to alternatives (read=competition), it’s up to you.

    Ask questions, then listen. Then ask better questions. That’s success, I think.

  • Jeff Lash // May 2, 2007 at 6:35 pm

    Some customers will tell you why they hate you without you even having to ask. The tendency is to try to argue, dispute, or move customers off of the topic. (If you visit customers with sales or marketing peers, you’ll notice that they definitely want to — and are very good at — this.) Product managers need to encourage this type of discussion, not prevent it.

    As Bob said, if you have to ask, you can phrase the question however you want. The important thing is not what they dislike about your product, but why — that gets them away from discussing their pet enhancement and towards discussing what problem that pet enhancement solves.

  • Gopal Shenoy // May 2, 2007 at 8:36 pm

    I agree with both of you. Here is a flash presentation that I have done on doing on-site customer visits. The presentation also covers The do’s and don’ts on customer visits, which includes the points covered above and also some others.

  • Karthik Mani // May 8, 2007 at 11:12 am

    These are great points – understanding what you need to do to delight a customer is critical. On the other hand, at least in enterprise software, I have seen more of the reverse problem. The product managers can articulate very well what all additional features the customers need and why. But they cannot articulate why customers buy from them. They do not drive the road map to build that differentiation and drive the marketing to take advantage of that differentiation.

  • bob corrigan // May 29, 2007 at 10:54 am

    Ahh, the perils of feature creep – customers are as guilty of driving this as we are.

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