As a Product Manager, communicating with customers and users on daily basis is a prerequisite for making smart product decisions. Regardless of the channel these communications take place on, my goal is the same: understanding the customer.

What does understanding the customer actually mean? I like to break it down depending on what stage in the lifecycle the customer is currently in:

For prospective customers, I want to know...

  • Which key features are the deal makers/breakers
  • If the prospective customer is has signed up for the trial, I want to know:
    • The most common concerns or difficulties the customer is having
    • Is the prospective customer inactive? If so, why?

For current customers and users, I want to know…

  • How they’re using our product
  • What they dislike (or like) the most
  • How they feel about certain beta features

Sure sounds like a lot of “understanding” to understand! UserVoice helps me do my job effectively be enabling me to do the aforementioned with ease. Here's how:

Understanding prospective customers

As a project manager, I rarely attend conferences, demos, etc, so I usually get introduced to prospective customers by my Sales and Marketing teammates.

UserVoice ticket layout

Here’s a common scenario: Danny Bloomfield, head of accounts for UserVoice, has several phone and email conversations with Company X, which is currently evaluating UserVoice and has some questions and concerns about the best way to adapt our product into its workflow and vision. Danny includes me on one of the emails with the customer, introducing us to each other and suggesting we chat. This particular email thread is handled via UserVoice Helpdesk.

As mentioned, Danny has already exchanged several other emails with Company X, possibly via our CRM (SugarCRM, which we have a handy integration with). He also logged all his phone conversations in SugarCRM. The good news is that once I view the email in UserVoice, I can see all the SugarCRM activity in our Inspector feature: calls, emails, tasks, etc. I can also see if Company X exchanged any other emails via UserVoice, or if someone from Company X created ideas on our forum, or voted on existing ones. All this information helps me paint a picture of what the customer has been communicating so far and makes me better prepared for our call.

Having one-on-one conversations is great, but they’re also time consuming and not always possible (time zone differences, conflicting schedules, etc). Most of the time, I’m only interested in two things:

  • The prospective customer’s top three no-sale reasons (why the customer doesn’t want to use UserVoice)
  • The top three questions/concerns the prospective customer has before or during the free trial period

No-sale reasons come from our Sales department. This data is usually based on our account managers’ phone or email conversations with customers, which they might or might not log via UserVoice.

As is the case with most SaaS products, UserVoice sends out emails to customers during their free trial, and all the responses are forwarded to our Helpdesk system. We’ve created several custom ticket fields that we use to label these responses. For example:

  • Campaign: “Week 1 email,” “Week 2 email,” “Inactive accounts survey,” “Trial expiration email,” etc.
  • Type: “Custom design,” “Pricing,” “Ticket settings,” etc.
saved searches

We also have custom ticket rules that automatically assign the campaign value to these responses based on the subject line. Type is usually assigned by the person handling the conversation in UserVoice. To make sense of all this data, I use our Helpdesk report in combination with custom ticket searches. For example, I discovered that the number one reason customers are inactive during the trial is because they’re still waiting for their product to launch. As a solution, we now offer trial extensions in those circumstances, ensuring we don’t lose customers once they’re ready to rock’n’roll.

Understanding active customers and users

How does one make smart and informed product decisions? I’m certain that knowing what your customers’ top requests are at any given time can only help, and so does knowing that you never have to worry about a vocal minority when analyzing customer feedback. At UserVoice, we have several feedback forums set up to collect feedback from our customers and users. Each forum has a limited number of votes per person. Vote scarcity ensures votes will be spent on ideas that matter the most. Also, at least one vote is used up every time a user creates an idea, so the number of requests per customer is well balanced.

idea voting

All of our product development starts with a customer story (and if you don’t have a story our CEO will tell you you’re wasting his time). Luckily, our UserVoice feedback forums are a treasure trove of user stories! Here’s how it works:

  • Ideas are organized. Stories around the same feature are neatly grouped together, thanks to UserVoice Instant Answers. So whenever I’m ready to pitch an idea to our CEO and the engineering team, I’m armed with a handful of stories.
  • Communication is easy. In cases where I need further clarification or feedback from customers, I can simply send them a private message via UserVoice or update an idea status with my questions.

Once the feature request is approved and under development, I also have a list of qualified beta testers in UserVoice: all the users who voted or commented on related ideas. My experience so far has been that nothing makes customers happier than seeing the company act on their suggestions while including them in the development process and giving them early access to help with further improvements. Occasionally, we set up private forums for beta testers and use their feedback to ensure we’re on the right track towards delivering solutions that work for the customer.

status update

Typically, I update idea statuses several times during the development cycle: first to let users know we’re considering an idea and to ask any follow-up questions; then, to let users know if we’re declining the idea or starting development. Next, I like to keep users posted on time estimates and any changes that might have come up during implementation. Finally, I mark the idea as completed so that all participants can receive their votes back and use them towards our next project.

Why does understanding customers matter to Product Managers?

We all know it does and say this all the time, but it’s rather meaningless unless we truly understand what “understanding customers” really is. And as we all know, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. This is where you get to use your skills to decide what it is about your customers that will help you build the best product. A magic 8-ball can’t tell you what your customers are thinking (note: don’t take my word for it, I have not conducted any research in the area!), but there are many tools out there that can help you connect with your customers and collect their thoughts in the format that helps you walk away with actionable items. UserVoice is one of those tools. Is UserVoice the right tool for you? Drop me a line and I’d be happy to help you decide!