There are certain phrases that make a product manager cringe. For me, it is when customers refer to the process of submitting feedback as throwing ideas into a “black hole.” Ouch. I never want a customer to feel this way. This is one reason why our team at Aha! created a new goal this year: zero unreviewed customer ideas. Seriously.
Looking at every single feature request has not been easy but we are dedicated to being responsive. It is a core tenet of The Responsive Method, the framework for success that powers our work. But responsiveness was not the only thing driving our goal for customer ideas.
Yes, we want to hear ideas from customers — but more importantly, we really want to understand who these customers are and what they need.
Our team gets roughly 30 customer feature requests each week. So we set aside time each day to review them. We commit to reviewing (and responding) to every single one and doing so quickly.
As we look through each idea, we ask ourselves, “What is this person really asking for?” Sometimes, it is straightforward. But other times, the idea is a reflection of frustration with something that is not working the way a customer thinks it should. Or a desire to see a new functionality that would benefit a few but not the majority of customers.
Our job is to uncover the truth of the idea. And then decide if it aligns with our long-term goals for the product.
Although we have broken down the process into clear and actionable steps for this blog post, the review process actually happens rather quickly. So far, we have reviewed a whopping 1,452 ideas. And 2017 is not quite over.
Here is how we did it:
There are lessons to be gleaned from every type of idea. It does not matter if an idea is solid gold or a total stinker — we want to hear each and every one. After all, sometimes what a customer asks for is not really what they need. So, we make it easy for customers to share feedback and requests through our Aha! ideas portal. Our goal is to put every idea through our review process (outlined below) within eight hours of submission.
After an idea is submitted, it gets categorized into a theme or area of the product (e.g. “reports” or “integrations”). Filtering each idea into a category helps us stay organized and it allows us to identify larger themes of feedback across large groups of customers. We also try to layer in tags for quick reference. For example, an idea within reports might be tagged with a specific report type.
This filtering process makes assigning the ideas to a product manager a simple next step. After the idea is categorized, groups of ideas are assigned to the product manager who is responsible for that area of the product or work. Once the group of ideas is assigned, the product manager can quickly review and move on to the next step.
This is where the decision-making comes into play. The assigned product manager makes the call on what happens next. Are the ideas likely to be implemented now or in the future? Is an idea duplicative of something else we are working on and should therefore be merged into one idea? Or do the ideas simply not fit into our long-term vision for the product?
We never want to leave customers hanging, so we respond to ideas as soon as possible. No matter what the decision is — even if it is “no” or “not now” — customers will hear back from us. When ideas are marked as “not likely to implement,” the ideas are retired and the reason why is explained to the customer. We also share workarounds for the customer’s issue (if one exists).
Now, this is the part our team loves: promoting great ideas. When an idea is aligned with our strategy, we get excited and promote it to a feature! Since all requests are submitted through our ideas portal, we can immediately prioritize those new features on our roadmap.
Lastly, we update the customer. If the idea is not going to move forward, we close the loop with the customer who submitted it. If an idea is prioritized and the status changes in Aha! to reflect its progress, the customer who created the idea is notified. This ensures that customers feel heard and that we take their input seriously. And of course, that we want to hear more.
Responding to customers — even when it means saying no — helps to encourage even more ideas, so we can make Aha! better for every user. It is a virtuous cycle.
Setting a goal for idea management was one of the most important things we did in 2017. It helped us to be wildly productive this year, all while gathering valuable customer feedback.
This is also exactly why we plan to do it again in 2018.
How do you review customer ideas?