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.

You want a resolution that guarantees results?

Now that it’s a few weeks past New Year, and we’re back heads-down hard at work – let’s sneak in a new year’s resolution that will make a real difference. Commit to talking to your customers at least once a month. That might not seem like a lot to those of you who are planning customer interviews weekly, building them into your sprints and calendars. However, for many of you, we know months can go by without reaching out. We’ve worked with a lot of company’s last year – some large and some in very early stages, and we’ve been shocked at how many don’t talk with customers regularly. It doesn’t matter how established the company, the attitude towards interacting with customers, getting their feedback and acting on what you learn is a habit that’s formed and established by the product leader. If the discipline isn’t introduced, then customer interaction doesn’t regularly happen and acting on customer feedback becomes an ad-hoc activity, usually something to consider when things go very wrong. The start of the new year is a great time to hit refresh and think about how you’d like to establish new important habits. For your product and team, there’s nothing that will make more of a difference than creating a new practice around regular customer interaction. Whether you’re testing a new idea, building a prototype, or launching a new feature – make sure that a customer test gets built in. Put it into your planning, write it into your calendar, make this a resolution that you can commit to.

Influence & Talking to Customers

Recently, we gave a talk at a big product conference. We talked about influence – how product managers need to exercise influence more than most. After all, we are usually individual contributors, accountable for a product -needing everyone to align and work together, but not directly managing anyone. This conference was in Eastern Europe so we were particularly interested in hearing the questions – was it the same situation for product managers across the seas, as we’d experienced in the US? Who were they most trying to influence? Our biggest surprise was where the majority of the questions centered – the frustration for product mangers to be “allowed” to talk with customers. The area where product managers most wanted to exercise influence was with their managers trying to getting access to customers!!

This wasn’t a one-off question, the majority of people who asked us questions during the talk, and then after at our booth – was all centered around this critical need. One that we take for granted – the ability and access to connect directly with customers. We wanted to share some of the tips & ideas that came out of these conversations because perhaps more people than we realize are in the same situation. Wanting to follow best practices in iterating and getting customer feedback, but finding themselves unable to do so. Here are a few of the ideas we discussed.

  1. Use a proxy. When your customer is 5,000 miles away, watching what they do is not a readily available option. For one PM, they were building a system for a library and really wanted to understand behavior and interaction with their app. Our suggestion? Find a local library and talk to the people who were working and using library services. After accounting for cultural changes – what are the main questions? What were the surprises? How could you use your findings to show the importance of understanding local behavior.
  2. Start with a Hypotheses: When you can’t get to customers, it’s really helpful to form a strong hypothesis – one that is very specific, measurable, has an outcome that can be tested. Rather than continuing to write user stories in a vacuum, figure out what you believe to be true – force yourself to confront the biggest unknowns you have, and then look for ways that you can quickly and cheaply test your assumptions.
  3. Use remote tools: While we don’t like surveys very much – it’s better than nothing. Can you put together a more comprehensive survey that gets to people’s attitudes and beliefs? Recently, we conducted a large survey that was based on earlier market segmentation. In that, we looked for people who were lapsed members. Adding a question at the end to see if they were open to a quick conversation, is an easy and cheap way to find customers who will talk with you. Then use skype to connect with them – fast, cheap!
  4. Get scrappy. When you can’t find your exact type of customer, in the same industry – getting any feedback is preferable to none. This is where you rely on friends & family to give you their perspective. Still go through the process of writing a learning plan & have your objectives…see what surprises come up. Don’t dismiss their feedback too fast if they don’t “get it” – this could be an indication that there’s an issue or gap in your thinking about your product.
  5. Seek forgiveness not permission. This isn’t an option we readily recommend, and our least favorite…but in some cases, when you are just not given time to do customer research – you may have to resort to some stealth interactions. Go outside your regular working hours to talk to customers – slowly start feeding ideas from customers into your meetings. In particular, share insights that came directly from a customer interaction to show value. Sometimes you need the proof before you get the permission.

Tell us what you’ve done when you’ve struggled with getting customer feedback. We want to hear more tips & methods – what’s worked and what’s not? Leave us a comment now.

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!

Stop the feature madness.

So, your product is out in the wild – and now you have a long list of product features just waiting to be built, and they’re all good ideas. Some of them even great! But that list is overwhelming and depressing – because it’s years and years of work – and your development partner is rolling his eyes. So you prioritize, and then you try and squeeze in that one extra feature, that one extra option that you just know will make a difference. Sound familiar? We all do it – we want the best product that’s possible – and we’re built to maximize our offerings.

So, when is enough? Everyone talks about elegant products – but when do you know it’s right? We want to give you three steps to put into practice today.

  1. Ruthlessly focus. Pick one feature, the top idea and commit. And don’t cheat – don’t combine 2 (or 3…) ideas into one.
  2. Figure out how you’ll test this feature without a single line of code – that means you need to figure out how to communicate your feature effectively.
  3. Talk to your target consumer – and learn what they think of your brilliant idea. Good results? Start building as small as possible, release and test. Surprised by what you hear? Figure out what it means and go back to step 1.

That’s how you stop the feature madness.

Love is all you need

Do you love your customer? Do they love you? Think your relationship will last? It’s valentines day tomorrow, send a little love towards your customer – reach out, connect, check in.

Want an easy way to start? Pick a customer, any customer and send them an note – maybe it’s an email, maybe you know your clients well enough to address a real letter. Tell them they matter, you’re listening, and are ready to hear what’s on their mind. No strings, no offers, just a genuine way to say you care.

Happy Customer Love day.

Don’t hide from your customers

Product managers can make it really hard on themselves to connect with customers. If you really want, you can go through a ton of hoops, create meetings, send emails, read spreadsheets, schedule meetings a month out because it’s sooo hard to get together. All for the sake of learning more about customers.

Or, you could just talk to someone now. If you’re with a big consumer brand, go to where you sell your products and hang out. Wait until someone picks up your product and just talk to them. If you’re launching a new product, do the same thing for a competitive brand. If you with a b2b company, figure out how you talk to a user. Buy your favorite account manager a coffee, and get setup to talk to client.

If you’re going to be a product rebel and make a difference, you’re going to have to get scrappy about how you learn. Figure out the fastest, easiest way to connect with a real customer (or prospect) today. Don’t setup a meeting to think about it, do something today. It will make all the difference.

Customer Loyalty – do you have it?

We just started working with a client on customer loyalty, and the metric we always use is Net Promoter Score. We know there’s lots of differing opinions on the effectiveness of NPS – but we haven’t yet found a super-simple alternative that allows you to take immediate action. So here’s why we always use NPS and why we think you need to take a stand and bring it in your company if you’re not using it – and if your company is using this – then make sure you’re doing something with what your customers are telling you!

NPS asks just one question – and it’s all about recommendation. Think about how interesting a question that is – we find ourselves recommending products we love without any hesitation. In fact, we can’t wait to tell someone if a product delights us. On the other hand, we are just as quick to tell everyone when we have a terrible experience. And then there’s a sea of mediocre in the middle where we struggle to remember the experience. So understanding the likelihood to recommend gives you a particular insight into how your customers are feeling about your product.

Implementing NPS means you just have to add one question – there are even API’s and company’s that will do it for you – but it’s SUPER simple. Getting the score, and understanding why can give you real insight and allow you to take customer-driven action that will increase loyalty. Figure out how to start using NPS today.

What problem are you solving?

Sounds like a pretty easy question right? Should be able to rattle it off fast. Try it now – write it down. Then ask another product manager, or if you’re in a startup, ask a colleague – to do the same thing. Did they write down the same statement that you did? Chances are, you came up with different answers – maybe subtle differences, maybe major ones. We gave a workshop last year to 35 founders. One of these company’s had two co-founders. They wrote completely different problem statements. They had spent the last year assuming they were working towards the same goals. You’ll be amazed at how many product teams and company’s go about never actually stating the exact problem they are working on.

Your problem statement should cover who has the problem and why it’s happening. In one (or two) short sentences. You get bonus points if you explain what the customer is experiencing because of the problem. And the aim of your product (or feature) is to overcome that problem. Simple, right?

If you’re struggling writing your problem statement, and want more guidance, this is one of the first areas we teach in our Customer Foundations course. Step-by-step instructions to get you facing the right direction. Head over and take a look.

The Rebellion is here.

We thought we’d start with our story. We are two product leaders who are tired of seeing product managers struggle.Tired of watching YOU struggle to do the right thing. Tired of product managers being mistaken for project managers. Tired of you not having the support you deserve. Yes, we’re speaking to you – the product manager who’s smart, capable, driven – we know you. We know that you’re working way too many hours, juggling way too many tasks and catching everything that’s falling through the cracks. We are here to help.

We’re also speaking to the managers out there – those of you who have risen up the product ranks. We’re one of you. Being pulled in multiple directions. Working on a product that’s not growing and the team is looking to you. It’s time to go back to the fundamentals. We are here to help.

That’s what our Product Rebellion is all about. Our jobs are to wave that customer flag – every day. Join us.

We commit to giving you ideas, tools, examples that will help in your fight. Join us.

We want you. Your customers need you. Let’s get back to doing the jobs we must, and creating products that customers love.

Join us.