“How To…” Get Customer Feedback and Input Quickly and Easily

At our recent brainmates Product Talks event, we discussed incorporating customer feedback and input into the product development and ongoing management process. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the attendees felt that despite the importance of this input, many product managers may not spend enough time actually talking with customers – the normal grind of day-to-day work, busy schedules, budgets and other administration means customer interaction often slips down the priority list.

All present though said that talking or engaging with customers was invaluable and it got us to thinking of different ways in which busy product managers can garner such input quickly, easily and for little or (relatively) low cost.

Before going out to get feedback it is important to determine what it is you’d like to know. Are you seeking information on your existing products and services and how these are being used? Do you want to review the problems, challenges and opportunities that your customers face? Are you planning new product development? (Check out our earlier blog about asking customers the right questions)

Think through your information requirements and prepare some questions around this before you go out to get feedback. Once you’ve done this it’s time to get the conversation started.

Here’s just a few ideas and thoughts on channels and methods in which you can gather information

  • Use the telephone: Old fashioned but effective, calling customers is a great way to gather feedback and needn’t be hard to do. Send off personal emails to 10 of your most important customers and tell them you’d like thirty minutes of their time in the next 2 weeks for a chat. Set a time and let them change it if they wish. You should end up with a few agreements. Try to keep the conversation open and allow them to say what they want to. They’ll appreciate it and you’ll gather invaluable information.
  • Web survey: Tools such as surveymonkey are very easy to use and are great to capture quantitative information and some qualitative feedback. This is more useful when you require specific information and given these sites are free and widely used you should have little problem justifying their use and getting it out to customers.
  • Site visit: Going out and meeting customers to talk face-to-face is about as good as it gets – you’ll really get a feel of what challenges and opportunities they face and see how they go about their work day-to-day. This may take a bit more organisation and have some cost involved, but the value of the feedback will be significant. See if you can set yourself a goal of seeing a customer once a month, or once a quarter.
  • Sales & customer service feedback: If your organisation uses sales and customer service teams, spend some time talking to them. Rather than ad-hoc conversations which can often be very specific or problem related, set a meeting and an agenda in which you want to discuss a topic – say a new product development or a review of what the customer’s challenges will be in the year ahead. Your colleagues will appreciate the opportunity to be heard and you’ll encourage a more open and constructive debate around solving customer problems.
  • Scour the web: With so many people blogging these days – competitors, customers, users – you’ll find a swathe of information out there of relevance. It can take a bit of time, but done effectively – e.g. searching for a specific topic and keeping well organised browser favourites of useful sites/blogs – you’ll be able to get important information quickly and easily. Sign up for RSS feeds of relevance to your products, services and market.
  • Engage Social Media: If you’ve not done so already, you should look into social media tools – these are much more than a buzz word and reflect a shift in customer-provider relationships. Proactive organisations are out there with blogs, twitter, facebook pages and other sites that encourage conversations to take place – getting your customers to provide input, feedback and suggestions. You can keep very sensitive information off these sites but you should focus more on the value you gain from being active rather than worry about competitors unearthing information or data from you.

How often do you speak to your customers? How does this benefit you?

Have you used any of the above channels and methods to gather feedback and if so what has your experience been? Are there other ways to gather feedback that we have missed?