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DevOps / Software Development / Tech Life

How Listening to the Customer Can Boost Innovation

By considering both customer feedback and product metrics, organizations can find balance between features they move ahead with and those they don’t.
Sep 28th, 2023 8:54am by
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What do our customers actually want from our product or service? It’s a question that is constantly asked in development meetings. But answers are often lacking because many organizations haven’t integrated the voice of the customer into product development.

Driving a deeper connection between product and customer can be the difference between success and failure in today’s uncertain market. New features, capabilities or even entirely new products that have been influenced by customer feedback will pay off by giving customers exactly what they want.

But getting this insight into what the customer actually wants from SaaS platforms or digital applications isn’t as easy as it sounds. It involves input and support from customer support, success and services teams to gather the feedback required, and then the right methodologies to balance feedback against product metrics.

Listen and Learn

Today’s development teams must ensure that products aren’t being developed in isolation. Listening to the customer can help to dramatically influence product roadmaps. Ultimately, customers are the ones signing the checks, so not listening to them can be fatal if you don’t build what they want. Equally, listening to the customer too much could result in solutions that are too tailored to a specific customer’s use case.

Finding a balance is critical. To do this, organizations must gather customer input. This can come from several sources, such as customer meetings, recurring issues or problems flagged to customer support groups, and even ad hoc conversations and anecdotes.

Organizations should strive to collect this feedback into a centralized repository. This could number hundreds of thousands of suggestions. Field CTOs and customer teams can add to this list, or they can flag which suggestions already on the list other customers have asked for. The challenge for development teams is to narrow this huge list down to the top five things that match the roadmap, or areas being flagged by multiple customers on multiple occasions.

From here, development teams can categorize suggestions into the mission-critical items they should be acting on, the suggestions they could do (but not yet), and then what they might never do. This helps sharpen the focus and prevents teams from deviating or delivering something that goes against what your core product offers.

Once the focus has been decided, organizations should then seek to get customers engaged with potential new features/services as early as possible. Customer advisory boards can help quickly determine whether an idea is a good one or not. Development may think they have a killer idea, but customers may point out that it could be unworkable or impractical, or offer ways to make it better. This process helps to validate ideas before committing resources.

Early-access programs can also get practical feedback on the customer experience, and they show you have listened. If 100 customers requested a specific feature, then giving those same customers early access provides an engaged group of users to test whether new features have hit the mark. These testers are more invested and therefore will give richer feedback and suggestions.

Working backward on product development is becoming more typical. But to benefit from the voice of the customer, organizations need a better process for collecting and evaluating customer suggestions, as well as validating and testing ideas.

Metrics Can Paint the Rest of the Picture

However, product development should not rely solely on customer input. Development teams should also take product metrics into account. Most, if not all, SaaS products today track a wealth of product metrics that show how customers use and engage with products.

These insights can drive product development and strategy. For example, by providing insights on how individual customers are interacting with products, development teams can see what features customers are and aren’t using, or perhaps struggling with. This can validate whether customer requests to improve certain features are correct.

Metrics can also show whether new products or services are performing well and having a positive impact on business outcomes. From a business perspective, you want new services to improve engagement, retention and sentiment, and metrics can show the benefits of listening to the customer by demonstrating how new services are helping to improve revenue growth.

But when considering future product development, organizations should not rely solely on metrics. Data doesn’t tell the whole picture. For example, the data for an incident response platform may show that customers’ mean-time-to-resolution (MTTR) metrics are strong. Meanwhile, there may be multiple anecdotes from customers reporting a drop in MTTR. If this is the case, then the data is probably wrong.

How to Drive Customer-Led Innovation

By considering both customer feedback and product metrics, organizations can find balance between what features they move ahead with, and which ones they don’t. Because while it’s important to listen to the customer, it’s just as important to be able to say no to things you are unable to deliver.

To start driving this tighter product interlock between customer and product development, there are three key questions your organization should address:

  1. How do you currently get customer feedback? Consider the processes in place and whether a new process is needed to collate it all into one place.
  2. How are you listening to customers? How often are conversations with customers happening and how often do requests or frustrations get sent back to development?
  3. How are you validating ideas with customers? Consider the processes you have in place to validate and test new features and collect feedback on how to improve them.

Working through these questions will put you on the path to creating a product interlock that enables development teams to deliver new features and services that customers actually want. This can be the sink-or-swim difference in today’s uncertain market.

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