Whoa! Product Manager: Your Customer Despises You

boy in orange pants with slingshot in the forest

I remember the first time a customer yelled at me. I was a senior product manager and the company was working on a new network optimization device — one we promised would save costs and reduce network congestion. Unfortunately, we hit a couple of roadblocks in the process. The first was that we delivered the product months late. The second (and worst) was that it crashed the customer’s test network.

Fortunately, it was just a sandbox environment, and the issues were eventually resolved. But in that moment, the customer was irked. Big-time angry. Sure, the verbal blows stung. They also taught me an important lesson — an angry customer is a valuable one.

If a customer is hurling complaints your way, this is good news for a product manager. It means they care. They feel invested in your product and want to see it improve.

Another reason to embrace the criticism? It tends to be rare. In fact, one researcher found that only 4 percent of dissatisfied customers actually speak up. The majority are stewing in silent frustration.

Quiet customers are the ones product managers should be worried about. If there are no critical emails, no frustrated phone calls, no riled-up comments… you have to wonder if they have grown apathetic.

Customer apathy is a troubling sign. Because even if your customers do have issues, they do not feel it is worth the effort to speak up. And you cannot fix problems that you do not know about.

So if a customer “despises” you — awesome! Here is what you should do:

Respond immediately
Do not make your customers wait — this will only add to their frustration. Instead, respond while the problem is still fresh in their minds. At Aha! we follow The Responsive Method, which is centered around the belief that interactions with urgency move people and organizations forward. So when our customers ask for help, we get back to them as quickly as we can.

Get details
Great product managers ask questions. Lots of them. And if it is software related, get screenshots if you can. You cannot really help the customer until you understand the issue at hand. Once you gather the right details, you can pass them on to other teams that might need to jump in on a fix.

Stay open-minded
It can be hard to admit, but you do not know everything about your product. That is why customers are so valuable — they offer a unique perspective. So lay down your defenses. Be open to their criticism on what is missing and what needs to be improved.

Be flexible
Sometimes a customer issue can throw your whole day off. And that is okay. Do not be so tied to your to-do list that you cannot move on an urgent request. If a customer is speaking out about something important, it is worth prioritizing.

Say “thank you”
Your customers deserve a sincere “thank you” for speaking up. After all, they are the reason you are in business. Be appreciative of their feedback and the opportunity it presents — the chance to improve your product.

An angry customer does not equal a lost one. They are speaking loudly because they want to be heard. Address issues with speed, thought, and kindness — and these customers will stick around.

Harsh words may sting at first. I know it did for me. But there is usually constructive feedback within those critical comments. And if you are willing to listen, it will push you to create a better product and company.

How do you respond to tough customer feedback?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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  1. Bryan Holt

    Great advice! My method is: 1. Listen, listen, listen without interrupting. 2. When they stop talking completely, pause and ask if there is anything else I need to know before working on the problem. 3. Listen some more. 4. Ask what I need do to help them recover from the problem. (Many times at this point there suggestion is much less than you might feel they would need.) 5. If I can’t offer a solution on the spot according to their suggestion I promise to dig into immediately and get back to them shortly and give them an appropriate time. 6. Deliver on the promise making sure they know I’m glad they brought the problem to my attention as that is one way we improve. I don’t think I have ever lost a customer when using this method. I do believe I have secured a number of long time accounts this way.


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