Three Ways to Get Real Customer Feedback as a Product Manager

Originally published on www.Ben-Staples.com

A few weeks ago, someone reached out to me through the contact form on my website with a Product Management question (which I love by the way, please reach out if you have any questions, want recommendations, etc).

Alissa, an eCommerce Product Manager who is the very first Product Manager at her organization wrote:

“There isn’t much structure surrounding customer feedback right now. What has worked well for you in the past in re: to establishing new processes, customer feedback loops, etc. I don’t just want to rely on jotforms or survey monkeys. Are there any cool features/software out there that you’ve liked to obtain customer feedback? What is some advice you have for how I can approach this?”

I thought this was such an awesome question, I wanted to share my thoughts and see if others had ideas.

Direct customer feedback is the lifeblood of a Product Manager. If you don’t have an accurate sense of what the customer thinks or feels about your product or feature, how will you ever successfully reflect the voice of the customer in internal conversations?!

Literally anything you can do to get in front of the customer more frequently will be beneficial. There is no better way (besides direct leadership direction), to garner support for ideas or resourcing than clear and actionable data from the customer. Most importantly, this direct customer feedback fuels the creation of products that actually solve customer pain points.

Photo by Celpax on Unsplash

I would also add, providers like survey monkey, or google forms do have their place! They can be incredibly scrappy, inexpensive, and provide some great quantitative data. Survey tools can be incredibly important for the success of your user story discovery, and can be great to have in your toolbox. However Alissa brings up a good point, quite often things like these won’t give you the full picture.

Here are three tools I’ve used in my past that can help give you more rich data and content from your users:

1. Unmoderated (or sometimes moderated) user studies

In this remote world, the value of having a customer walk through your experience and record their thoughts out loud can be incredibly valuable. Two providers that come to mind (and no I’m not sponsored in any way) are www.UserTesting.com, or www.UserInterviews.com.

These two great resources are pretty light weight to set up and use. Being fully transparent, I don’t have too much visibility into how expensive they are as I’ve only used my company’s license. I’ve used these for unmoderated sessions where you provide a script and URLs or documents you want the participants to review. Then the target customers who have passed a basic set of screening criteria will allow you to record their screen and provide a voiceover for their thoughts.

You set up tasks for users, for example “go and buy this thing” and “what do you think about this step”. One downside is that because these are unmoderated, you can’t ask follow up questions or probe further with a call out for actions or responses.

Because these can’t be changed on the fly, you also need to make sure your script, steps, and questions make sense. I highly recommend doing a few trial runs with others outside of the project before spending money on a study.

While these tools do have pitfalls, as long as you make sure to protect against them, the results you can get can not only be ground breaking, but the speed you can get results in is incredibly efficient at a generally reasonable cost.

2. User data aggregators

Depending on the scale of your business, sometimes you can have way too much data at your fingertips which in itself can be overwhelming. The synthesis of that data then becomes absolutely critical, both for you to understand and inform your roadmap with, but more importantly in a way for your stakeholders to easily comprehend.

Two tools (again, not sponsored at all) that I’ve used in the past are CrazyEgg, and Fullstory. These are designed to move your organization from one-off pieces of feedback like unmoderated user interviews, to now aggregating a snapshot of basically all of your user data over a certain period of time.

Tools like Fullstory and Crazyegg among others can provide things like heatmaps that clearly show you how far users are scrolling down your page, and where the most user interactions or focus are happening. If you’re thinking about any Product Management role, this data can be really influential. If you get specifically into eCommerce optimization, the results are incredibly helpful.

3. Face to face interaction

I know, I know, DUH

This one is more for post COVID, but there are remote or socially distanced safe ways of getting customer feedback like this.

Post COVID, I’d try to find a way to get users in the office if at all possible, or to setup moderated live sessions. Live sessions are of course the most complex, but also generally the highest quality form of customer feedback.

I have the least specifics to recommend in terms of a solution here. Finding a solution for live customer chats can depend on screening criteria, requirements, and most importantly your geographic location.

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

For me, sometimes I’ll walk a few blocks to the nearest Nordstrom and talk to shoppers, or store employees to get their take on a new feature. Some of the providers mentioned in points 1 and 2 above offer live sessions that you can moderate yourself, and there are companies out there that professionally moderate sessions. Keep in mind however these can be pretty costly. There also can be a ton of survey bias for these (I.E. you are only going to get shoppers currently enrolled in those programs that may not be representative of an average customer).

In my past (way before COVID), some of my most successful direct customer interaction I’ve had was when I walked into the middle of town and went from storefront to storefront asking for feedback on new signage products we were looking to launch while I was in Product Marketing at Vistaprint. We offered people gift cards for their time, and uncovered some really telling pieces of information that better educated us about the true mindset of a small business owner.

No matter how you do it, you need to be getting in front of customers as a Product Manager. Direct customer feedback is crucial to developing a roadmap that optimizes for value. Lastly, having that direct user feedback is the best possible thing you can bring to the table in your organization to influence receptivity to new ideas.

Let me know if there are any tools that you’ve used in your past to collect some great user feedback!

About the author:

Ben Staples has over 7 years of Product Management and product marketing eCommerce experience. He is currently employed at Nordstrom as a Senior Product Manager responsible for their product pages on Nordstrom.com. Previously, Ben was a Senior Product Manager for Trunk Club responsible for their iOS and Android apps. Ben started his Product career as a Product Manager for Vistaprint where he was responsible for their cart and checkout experiences. Before leaving Vistaprint, Ben founded the Vistaprint Product Management guild with over 40 members. Learn more at www.Ben-Staples.com

I do Product Management consulting! Interested in finding out more? Want to get notified when my next Product article comes out? Interested in getting into Product Management but don’t know how? Want book recommendations?! Contact me!

Ben Staples has over 7 years of product management and PMM eCommerce experience from at Nordstrom, Trunk Club, and Vistaprint . Currently based in Chicago IL

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