Black accents or aluminum? That was the last industrial design decision we had to make when nearing the launch of our Movband 3 fitness activity tracker. Our design team was split for months, but now we needed to make the call quickly.
We wanted just a bit more feedback before we could feel confident about our final design. But hunting down that feedback within a day? It seemed tough, if not impossible — and it was integral to our launch.
As product managers, we know that customer feedback is a key ingredient in building great products. But taking the time to gather customer wants and needs can be a painfully slow process that is hard to prioritize against other work. In some cases, you may not have many opportunities to reach out.
But no matter what type of product you are building, there really is no excuse not to include customers in your process.
The good news is that you actually can get customer input to use in product decisions. (And quickly, at that.) Although you may feel stuck, consider one of these proven approaches to get your product in front of customers and users.
If you find yourself time-crunched and in need of feedback quickly here is what I recommend:
Put on a headset with customer success
Many product managers already have colleagues that talk to customers every day — sometimes dozens of times. Customer success teams exist to support and advocate for customers, and can be extremely valuable and knowledgeable. Ask them to take you under their wing for a day. Answer calls. Provide support. You’ll immediately have a direct line to your customers and will have the opportunity to get whatever feedback you may need.
Hang out with the sales team
Do you have a team of colleagues selling the product you’re building? This team is reaching out and communicating with potential customers daily. Sitting in on these conversations can be a telling experience in itself. But perhaps you could try selling that new product concept. A real measure of whether a customer is actually into that new product or feature is whether they’re willing to pay money to access it. If so, you may be onto something.
Send your customers a message
If your product serves many users on a daily basis, there may be tools that can help put you inside your platform with users. Okay, not literally inside — but close enough. Live chat tools such as SnapEngage, Olark, Intercom, and other in-app messaging platforms allow you to install a simple snippet of code. You’ll soon be able to interact with users in real time when they are using your product. This type of feedback can be especially helpful, as it’s not just user feedback — it’s contextual user feedback. You’re connecting at the very moment they have relevant input to share.
Ask the internet for help
If your company doesn’t have dedicated customer success or sales teams — or your product is so early that it doesn’t have high volumes of daily users to tap into — you still have opportunities to get customer feedback. Consider blocking off time to invite people who match your target user/customer persona to engage with your product. You can post a request on LinkedIn, submit to message boards and forums, and even offer a small reward. You may be surprised by the number of people willing to help — sometimes on a moment’s notice.
Get lunch at the food court
If all else fails, go to where your potential customers are. When faced with the “black vs. aluminum” dilemma, it was a trip to the shopping mall that helped me get the product feedback I needed. For my product, a mall food court happened to be a common gathering place for our target customers. Think about where your customers may gather. Perhaps it’s a coffee kiosk at a local office building. Perhaps it’s a coworking space popular with startups. Wherever it is, be sure to bring your product (even if it’s a slide deck on an iPad, if necessary) and a notebook. You’d be surprised what people will share with you in the name of product research.
While the hectic work of building your product can seem to get in the way, there are always ways to put yourself closer to the customer and quickly take in critical feedback.
Do you have stories about how you were able to think creatively to get customer feedback quickly? Feel free to share your ideas and experiences in the comments below.
This was a guest post by Mike Belsito. If you are looking to be a great product manager or owner, create brilliant strategy, and build visual product roadmaps — start a free trial of Aha!
Mike Belsito is a startup product and business developer who loves creating something from nothing. Mike is the cofounder of Product Collective and co-organizer of Industry 2016, a summit for those who build, launch, and scale world-class products. He previously led technology companies such as eFuneral and Movable, prior to them being acquired. Mike also wrote the book Startup Seed Funding for the Rest of Us, which has been featured in national media outlets like The Atlantic, Inc., CNN, PBS, and The New York Times.