Turn the Negative into Focused Action

Did you know…

  • Americans tell an average of 9 people about good experiences, and tell 16 (nearly two times more) people about poor experiences. [Source: American Express Survey, 2011.]
  • It costs 7x more to obtain a new customer than to keep an existing one.
    [Source: White House Office of Consumer Affairs]

What is the number one reason your users speak negatively about your brand?  You probably have heard many reasons, but are you acting on the issues that will impact your growth most significantly?

Effective product managers always know what their top drivers of negative comments / pain.  As such they are making sure that those top drivers are known and are reflected in your roadmap and backlog appropriately.

Our experience shows that most product teams come across negative comments all the time but rarely understand how to act in a way that will impact the company in a positive way in the long term.  Instead, the team is reacting to as many negative comments as possible in the shortest amount of time possible.  The CEO says, “I just saw this comment on my twitter feed, we need to fix it.”  The division Leader comes to you and says, “My friend told me he hated this part of the experience, how do we fix it?”  Don’t even get us started on what your poor technical support team hear or online listening posts tell you.

Product managers are usually left with a plethora of negative comments and pain points coming in from colleagues, social media, customer support, and leadership team. It’s overwhelming!  You brainstorm around potential fixes,  juggle to get them into the backlog, and generally don’t have the justification necessary for why one fix goes in before the other…leaving the CEO, division leaders, and other “messengers of pain” left wondering why you’re not fixing their issue.  I, personally, used to feel deflated because I never thought I was doing enough.

Well, let’s re-inflate!  Let’s talk about a quick approach to building your confidence in making the most impactful prioritization decisions and keeping your “messengers of pain” abreast of the smart decisions you’re making!

Remember, this isn’t about being 100% accurate, it’s about having a practical approach to sorting and moving forward with a rationale your leadership can get behind.  You will never be 100% right…

  1.  Get Feedback:  Make sure you asking a summary feedback question through survey, interviews, and/or service calls, that helps you understand who’s happy and who isn’t.  We are huge advocates of the “likelihood to recommend” question (often referred to Net Promoter,) but if you ask “how delighted are you…” or “how satisfied are you…” or some version of those, you’re halfway there.  All we recommend is that you ask this question the same way across your key user listening posts (those with the highest volume and most representative of your primary user segments.)  No duh, you say?  Well, you’d be surprised…and hang on…There’s more.
  2. Ask Why:  Make sure you are asking “why” if they’ve responded negatively to that question…Do this through an open ended follow up survey question…a question at the end of an interview or service call.  Just get the qualitative reasoning behind the negative answer.  For those of you that don’t get this kind of feedback, you’re not alone and you’re still okay.   (Pssst… It’s never too late to get started.  We’ll cover that in future blog posts.) Instead, talk to people in your company that have firsthand conversations with your users.  Your customer service/support team, your marketing/social media team, your product management team, and your sales team are all listening to your customers at different phases of their experience.  Bring them together and listen to them discuss what they believe to be the big drivers of pain and negative comments.  Give them a chance to tell you what they believe are THE top 1-2 issues and why.  Then use the data you do have to validate and further prioritize…If your social media team is seeing a few comments a day out of 1000 followers vs. your service team seeing 200 support calls a day (many with clear negative feedback,) you can use your judgement in deciding which one to prioritize.  You’ll also find that you’ll get consistent feedback across listening posts.  Those are the gems!
  3. Categorize:  Take the open ended answers across all your listening posts and LOOK AT THEM!  We can’t tell you how many companies that have a boat load (technical term) of rich open-ended responses, but don’t know what to do them.  Take the data across different listening posts and dump it into Excel.  Categorize it. (Yes, this is very subjective, we realize, but unless you have deep pockets and years of runway before you have to make a tradeoff decision, this is all you got!)  Remember to remain unbiased through the process.  Your categories will change as you get through more data. So remain open and evolve your categories accordingly until they are most representative of the sample(s) obtained.  Make them as mutually exclusive as possible until you get to the end.  You can then review each mutually exclusive category and parse those into subcategories if necessary.   This is time consuming depending on how much data you have, but anyone can do it over coffee each morning for one week and have a very solid outcome.
  4. Turn it into Actionable Information:  Once you’ve summarized this data, get it ready for a discussion that drives shared vision with your teams.  Rank order the categories based on volume within each customer segment.  Provide a clear list of prioritized issues.  For those top issues, use the sub categorization (or create hypotheses) to clarify what the issue means in terms of root cause. Bring the data to life by bringing in actual quotes for each that represent that root cause.  Define the next steps for each major issue.  It might be further research into understanding an cloudy issue or taking action on those issue(s) that are clear cut.  Circle back to the pet projects from those messengers of pain and where they fit into this new found education on top pain points.  Will any of them neutralize or turn the most important negatives into a positive?
  5. Present and Discuss.  Bring your teams together, leadership included, and show what you’ve learned.  Help them understand the top drivers of pain and negative comments and why you have prioritized the product initiatives the way you have.
  6. Act.  Create the user stories, get them into the backlog, do the follow up research on those issues that aren’t as clear but are high in volume.
  7. Rinse and Repeat

This is scrappy and it’s also subjective.  But in most cases, we product managers don’t have millions of records of data, automated AI tools, or analysts laying round waiting on our every command.  And we have to make decisions quickly and effectively.  This is a practical way of developing an educated gut for tradeoffs we have to make every day.  It’s a way of enabling you to focus on the most important negative comments/pain points, neutralizing the negative or possibly turning it into the positive.  It provides air cover for the pet projects of the week.

Sitting in Your Customer’s Shoes at least 30 Minutes a Day

Sit in your customers’ shoes for at least 30 minutes a day.

Looking at customer satisfaction metrics is great, but isn’t enough. We also really need to hear their voice and/or see them in their own environments; using your product.  And this needs to be on a regular basis, not just saved for the periodic qualitative research effort.

Set time aside each day or a few days a week to sit in your customer’s shoes.

Here are some ways to think about it:

  1. Pick the customers that are most important (that could mean a lot of things depending on where you are in your lifecycle… newest customers, highest paying customers, angry customers, etc.)  Don’t make this a massive thought or analytical exercise.  Just be conscious in your choice.
  2. Pick a channel of communication where you’re most likely to find that customer.  Again, don’t make this tough.  If you only have one way to contact or find a customer, then you have your answer.
  3. Choose 2-3 questions you want to get answered.  Be thoughtful about what you want to learn.  This should take no more than 5 minutes.   Examples:  “What’s the one thing my customer would change to make their experience worthy of recommending to others?”  “What is the one thing we could do to get you to use our product?”  etc.
  4. Get started TODAY.  Here are scrappy ways to get connected:
    • Take a support call or listen into support calls over your lunch hour
    • Read a customer email or feedback note… read a bunch over lunch or coffee
    • Set up a “Follow Me Home” (more on this method later) that essentially has you watching a customer use your product…live.  You can do this remotely if you don’t have a choice, but actually traveling to their home or place of business to watch them use your product is invaluable.  Doing that at least 1X per month will make you a significantly more effective product leader!
    • Sort and read through your open ended responses from your satisfaction or Net Promoter surveys (a bit more time consuming but so enlightening.)
    • There are many other ways to do this…pick one and go with it.  Test a few different ones until you feel good about the feedback your getting.
  5. The goal is to get qualitative insights around the key questions you are dealing with around the product.  Adding the necessary context around your quantitative data.

Set an example for your team.  The better you know your customer, the more effective at problem solving, and therefore, delighting, you’ll be.

Keep delighting!