During the early days of company building, getting continuous feedback from the customers about the product and iterating on the received feedback is critical. This is what defines the product and business roadmap and pushes a start-up to that elusive ‘product market fit’. In this piece, we will talk about how to create effective customer feedback loops for the product teams.
Feedback from the customers is not even half as useful if the learnings and actionables don’t percolate to the product team. Additionally, it is also important to loop back to customers on their feedback/ issues after working on it. A ‘closed-loop process’ would be something like below and if done well, would turn into a virtuous cycle or a flywheel propelling the product forward.
Collecting the feedback
Any customer feedback loop has to start first with a tight feedback collection process. Most of the time customers give feedback to frontline teams like Customer success or customer support. In the early days of the company, there might not be specific teams for customer success/support and this might have been done by the sales/product teams directly. In both cases, collecting user feedback is a critical part of the frontline teams. Most of the time, user feedback can be bucketed into three channels:
a) Inbound feature request: This channel is the most obvious one and most companies should have a mechanism/structure around it in place from the early d Customer feedback can be a feature request, bug or something else. The channels for this feedback can be multiple, like Customer communication platforms (eg. intercom), email, helpdesk tickets, phone calls etc.
b) Proactive outreach: This is a mechanism that we strongly suggest founders to put in place from the early days. Best frontline teams do not wait for customers to give feedback but proactively reach out to them. The most efficient way to go about it is to do proactive outreach on the basis of product/feature usage. There are product analytics and customer health tools like Mixpanel, Gainsight, Totango which can be helpful for this. Our portfolio company Hiver, for example, keeps track of product usage through Gainsight PX and reaches out to customers where the product usage dips or is not in line with their benchmarks. The channel for communication here is usually Phone/Email Outreach.
c) Churned customers: Product feedback from a churned customer (or a customer who has stopped using the product) is a very important piece of information. Product teams in some of the more successful companies give a lot of weightage to the feedback from churned customers as it helps them shape the product roadmap and stop future customer churn.
Funnelling the feedback to product teams
The second and arguably more important step after the collection of feedback is to funnel it to the product team. This is a critical step as this is where the interfacing of the front line and product team happens along with the sharing of feedback. Value derivation of the customer feedback (as issue resolution or feature roadmap for the product) correlates directly with how seamless/organised the feedback funnelling to product teams is. At the core of funnelling to product teams is:
a) Sharing the feedback with theproduct team: Most of the time, frontline teams like support and CS get a lot of actionable feedback which requires some action from product/development teams. A good practice is to use internal collaboration tools where feedback can be put in front of the product teams directly. Our portfolio companies for example use specific channels on tools like Slack (customer feedback/ feature request) for this. This is the fastest and most efficient way to get the attention of relevant folks and loop them in on the actionable.
b) Involving product teams with customers: In quite a few cases, Support/CS teams need help from product teams to deeply understand a customer feedback/request. It is best to involve the product team directly to speak with the customers in such cases. Product teams proactively engaging with the customers helps in a more aligned product roadmap and also helps in resolving customer issues and queries faster. We have seen that the best companies have both processes and culture to actively get the product teams in the Our portfolio company Hiver, for example, has quantitative targets for the frontline teams to arrange customer calls with product teams. Another portfolio company, TranZact, for example, has similar targets for everyone in the company to ensure that they speak with at least one customer directly every month.
c) Organizing and actioning on the feedback: This is a part which, if not organized well, can break things the most. Goes without saying that unless the teams organize the feedback well and take action on them, it will not result in effective growth. It is important for the frontline teams, product teams and the leadership to have a clear process on how to organize and action the collated feedback. Best practices that we have seen include using tools which ensure that the feedback is recorded well. It is also important to have a clear process on how to segregate the feedback, rank it for importance and make sure that it is on record for action. We have seen Trello boards used quite well for something like this.
Looping back to customers
It wouldn’t be a feedback loop if you don’t go back to the source, the customers. What needs to happen is that you tell the customers about taking their feedback to the product team and keep them updated on how it is being worked upon.
This, while intuitively not the most important thing for a lot of back-end teams, is arguably the one that kicks the virtuous cycle in motion. It ensures that the customers are happy and tuned in to give more feedback, which shapes the organization’s product roadmap and growth path. Key things to keep in mind here are:
a) Frontline teams to be kept in the loop on actionable: The CS teams need clarity and have to be on the same page about what is being done about the customer request/feedback. This ensures that while they are empowered to close the loop with the customer, they don’t end up overcommitting/setting up unreasonable expectations with the customers. It is a good idea to keep the CS teams looped in the relevant Trello boards/Jira tickets (both are good products) so that they are on top of any updates on the product side.
b) Closing the loop back with the customers: CS teams should be closing the loop with the customers proactively and keep them posted on how the company is actingon their feedback.
In the cases, where the requested feature is put in the roadmap, to close the loop with customers, we have seen companies also giving the customer a peep at the internal product roadmaps. This helps reassure the customers and promotes transparency.
After the issue with the customer feedback is closed, it is even more important to close the loop. Best companies do it very proactively. In case a customer is fine even without using the feature that they had asked for, it is good to just inform them ‘Hey we worked on what you asked for and this feature is out, please go and check it out’. Customer education initiatives like webinars on new features or in-product nudges/guides are also very helpful for closing the loop properly.
A tight and continuous customer feedback loop is the foundation for the ‘Zero to One’ journey of a company. If a product is not getting feedback or not acting on the customer feedback, it is always going to be stagnant. A well laid-out customer feedback loop ensures that the organization collects proper feedback and that the product team doesn’t miss out on the feedback and actions on it. It also ensures that the customers feel that they are being heard.