How To Use Feedback to Build Better Software At Every Step in Your Development Process (With Examples)

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Use customer feedback at every stage of the product development process

It’s actually kind of scary being a product lead, isn’t it?

You decide what to build.

Other people review it, sure, and there’s almost always input from others. But it’s really you who usually makes the call. Maybe you haven’t thought about it like this, but you essentially spend the R&D budget: you allocate how a group of Devs use their 8-hour day. They come into the office every day, put hands to keyboard, write a bunch of code, and build this thing that you chose.

If you don’t feel at least a little trepidation when making those product calls, you must have nerves of steel.

That feeling of fear is real, and it happens because making calls on product decisions is risky.

PMs don’t typically use that word—risk—but we should. In many ways, the job of a PM is to de-risk the product... to make it really unlikely that it’ll flop. You’re trying to minimize the costs that come with building the wrong thing (and the other side of that coin: minimize the opportunity cost of not building the right thing).

The risks we take aren’t just on which features get built, although that’s obviously part of it. There’s also a risk in deciding how those features get built. Yes, it’s the product roadmap, but it’s also all the micro-decisions that pop up about how a feature will actually look.

In the discussions I’ve had with hundreds of software product leaders, I consistently hear that the key to effective product management and to a low-risk product is this: having a clear understanding of what your customers want.

That’s the real reason that being customer-centric pays off. If you build customer feedback into the entire feature design and build process, you’ll end up with a product that people want to buy.

So this article is about that: how to use feedback to build better software that people want to buy. And how to do that not just when you’re deciding on your roadmap, but at every step in the development, marketing, and sales process.

So here are the 12 different ways that you can use product feedback to build really great software that people will actually pay for. And how we do it at Savio.

1. Use Feedback To Deeply Understand Your Customer’s Problems

The core of software development is solving a problem for your customer.

The better you understand that problem, the better you can aim your product at it. Your feedback tells you about their problems and can give you ideas about how to solve them.

How we do it at Savio:

  1. First, we read every piece of feedback. Every single one. That gives us a good base understanding of what people are saying. We pay attention to which customers are saying one. Are they big accounts? Small ones?

  2. Then we dig down into the details to see not just what the feedback is, but what the underlying customer problem is. When we’re not sure, clarify.

For example:

Our feedback told us that our customers are having trouble sorting feature requests along some dimensions. Segmentation is key for drilling down into feedback data and we know that helping our customers solve this problem would add real value for them.

One of our customers noted that it would be useful for her to add custom fields like customer value. We clarified with her. Our product team reached out and asked if she really needed custom fields, or if it would be enough to hard code additional fields in. If she wanted custom fields how many would she need? Three? Five? An unlimited number?

That conversation helped us understand her real problem and possible solutions.

2. Use it to choose what to build—and what not to

Your customers will have a lot of different problems and you only have a limited Dev budget. Your feedback can help you choose what you’re going to build, and what you’re going to build next.

We’ve written a big guide on how to prioritize feature requests based on feedback, so if you want to improve your own process, give that a read.

How we do it at Savio:

  1. We use Savio—surprise—to track the requests our customers ask for. When we decide what to build, we segment the requests to figure out which features are important to the customer segment we are focused on.

  2. Then we figure out which of those align with our product strategy—some features aren’t ones we’re looking to build in the short term.

  3. Then we talk through what an appropriate investment would be for the feature, and after any necessary speccing and wireframing, we put it in our development queue.

For example:

In a previous sprint, we saw that some of our most important customers wanted to be able to easily “close the loop” with their customers. They wanted to be able to email everyone that had asked for a feature to let them know that the feature was now built. 

We used our prioritization process to take a look at all the features that were on the table. The close-the-loop feature came up near the top, and it was very much aligned with our product strategy, so we decided to build that. 

3. Getting buy-in from stakeholders on the proposed product roadmap.

Teamwork may make the dream work. But it’s not always easy. 

Product managers know that a big part of their job is rallying the team together around a single product vision. Feedback is an immensely powerful tool for getting buy-in from important stakeholders.

Sometimes your customer success, customer support, and sales teams have different perspectives about what your customers need; your feedback can help you get leaders from those teams to agree on what the primary needs of the customers are. Sometimes devs are suspicious about what you’re asking them to build if it doesn’t immediately make sense to them; feedback is a powerful way to get devs on side. 

And sometimes your CEO just wants their pet feature. You can use feedback to gently shoot them down.

How we do it at Savio:

  1. We share feedback data with all our teams. Product leaders even schedule individual meetings with each customer-facing team. In those meetings, we share our feedback data. That helps everyone understand what our customers want.

  2. Then, when we make product roadmap decisions, we’re all on the same page. We make sure that those are based on, and consistent with, our feedback data. 

For example:

The following is exactly what it can look like when you advocate for one feature over another based on feedback.

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4. Use it to highlight specific use cases, scenarios, and goals

Once you deeply understand the problem and you’ve decided to build a particular feature, feedback can then be used to help you model what it looks like. It can help you think about the goals of the new feature, and the specific scenarios that your customers would use it for.

How we do it at Savio:

We use our feedback to develop a set of use cases for each feature. That helps us deeply think through what the feature needs to do. When we build it, we can be confident it solves our customer’s problem.

For example:

We were thinking about how to build more dimensions into our sorting feature. We created a set of particular examples of how users need to sort feature requests, including the dimensions that we don’t support right now. For each, we asked ourselves, “How could we fix their problem?”

For example, maybe Lisa just wants a built-in algorithm that sorts feature requests only by the MRR of the customer who made the request. But Dave wants to customize his algorithm and assign specific weights that he chooses.

We go through this for each specific use case. That way, we’re sure the feature we build actually does what our customers need. 

5. Use it to select customer champions

Being customer-centric means involving your customers in your decisions. 

Some of your customers may be willing to do that in a big way. These are the people leaving very detailed requests and have a nuanced, articulate understanding of their problems. Get these people on side and use them throughout the process. 

How we do it at Savio:

We’ve identified several of our customers as customer champions. These are people who are representative of our customers, who really get the product, and who are thoughtful about what they need.

We call these people up throughout our product development process and invite them to tell us what they think. We might say, “Hey, we’re thinking about solving your problem in this way… what do you think? Would that work for you?” or “Here’s a mock-up. What are your first impressions?”

Example:
One of our “customer champions” is Mike. When we were figuring out how the Close the Loop feature would work, we reached out to Mike. We shared wireframes and ask for feedback:

Here’s an example of the type of valuable feedback you can expect from your customer champions. Mike responds:

Feedback like this is incredibly valuable so we know where to invest. Notice, Mike offered to be a beta-tester. We made a note of that and now make sure we contact him when we’re about to go into beta testing new features.

6. Use it to drive feature design

Now you’re in the feature design stage. You’re going to be drafting up specs for your feature. You might also be creating wireframes, a prototype, or a rough mock-up. You’ll revise this several times, but the idea is that this is, roughly, what you’re going to build.

Now use your feedback to guide the micro-decisions that come up. 

How we do it at Savio:

We usually draft specs and make a low-fi prototype simultaneously. As soon as we finish that, we send it to our sales, customer success, and support teams. Then we have a meeting to discuss and revise. 

Those initial specs are heavily based on what customers have said they need. 

For example:

When we designed our close the loop feature, we knew that sometimes our customers wanted to close the loop with some customers before others. So in our feature design process, we made sure that there was a way to note who had been emailed and who hadn’t so people who had been notified wouldn’t be notified again:

7. Get input from your team

As soon as you get a quick cut done, share it with your customer-facing teams. 

They can act as proxies for what your customers need. This helps you get more brainpower on the problem from people who regularly talk to customers. It’s much cheaper to change in the wireframe stage than it is later. 

How we do it at Savio:

We work hard to involve our customer success, sales, and support teams in all product decisions. We’ve created a step in our feature design process to ask for their perspective on whether the feature would be helpful to customers, from their perspective.

8. Vet a beta version with your customer champions

No feature survives first contact with the customer.

Share an early version of the feature with your closest customers. Ask them what they think. Better yet, if they let you, watch them interact with the feature over Zoom in real-time. If you care about customer experience, there’s nothing as good as watching your customer use your feature. 

Revise as appropriate. Then do it with a larger set of customers. Get their feedback. Rinse and repeat. 

How we do it at Savio:

We use customer champions as user testing guinea pigs. As soon as we have a feature ready to be explored, I’m often on the phone with customers as they use it to get their first impressions. 

Example:

For example, one of our customers, Abbey, was trying out the search function in Savio as a beta test. We were in close contact with her as she used the feature so we could figure out what the user experience was like. Having her initial reactions was really useful to us as we tested and shipped that feature.

9. Make the micro-decisions based on what you know about your customer needs

Ultimately you’ll settle on a design and put it in your development team’s workflow.

But it’s not always a straightforward build—things come up. You’ll have to be agile, making calls about tradeoffs on the feature design as you go. You might have to decide if a nice-to-have is going to make it on this release. Or, if you’re going to make a simpler version and ship a fancier version later. 

If you’re steeped in your customer data, those micro-decisions about feature design will be easier to make and you’ll feel more confident about them.

How we do it at Savio:

When we need to make a quick decision about a feature, we schedule a short meeting. We quickly review what our customers asked for and the use cases. Then we share opinions about what we think the best option is. 

We try to find a solution that’s acceptable to everyone at that table. But when there isn’t consensus, the person who's accountable for the decision takes all the internal feedback into account and makes the decision.

10. User feedback as a marketing gold mine

Ultimately, someone’s going to have to write a landing page and email copy. Your customer feedback is useful here too. It’s as good as it gets for marketing copy ideas.

Sure, you can use it to obtain testimonials. But more crucially, it lets you see how customers themselves talk about your product in their own words. Using their language in your marketing materials makes it easier to connect with them.

And, it helps you understand what they’re going to type in Google. Using your customers’ own words in your marketing copy is a critically undervalued SEO strategy. 

How we do it at Savio:

We use our bank of feedback almost as a reference library for marketing copy. 

Example:

We used to refer to Savio exclusively in terms of a tool that collects and organizes customer feedback. But then we noticed several of our customers called what it did “tracking feature requests”. 

It was so blindingly obvious, but we had missed it in our initial marketing efforts. We still talk about tracking “customer feedback” but “feature requests” features very prominently as well. For example, it’s now the H1 and the first thing you see when you go to our home page.

We took “track feature requests” directly from feedback we had received about our product. It features prominently in our marketing.

11. Use feedback to educate your support and customer success teams

Earlier, you decided what features you would build. When you did that, you also decided which features you wouldn’t build. 

You know some of your customers are going to be disappointed. So give a heads up to your customer success and support people. And give them some workarounds if appropriate. 

How we do it at Savio:

We call these “escape hatches”—ways a customer can get around a problem. We always provide our customer success teams with these escape hatches so that they are able to help our customers do what they need to.

For example:

Some of our customers would like to be able to have reports that our tool doesn’t support yet. As an escape hatch, we made it possible to export the data to a CSV file so that they could at least do their own analysis outside of Savio. It’s not exactly what they want, yet, but it at least allows them to solve the problem. 

12. Use feedback to enhance loyalty, drive sales, and reduce churn

You have relationships with your customers. Like all relationships, they require nurturing. 

A quick and very effective way of building the strength of relationships with your customers is simply to get credit when you build a feature they asked for. If you check in with your customers and say, “Hey, you asked for this feature and we built it!”, you’ll get immediate brownie points.

Just like closing the loop can earn you credit with your existing customers, it can also help you convert prospects or with back your churned customers. 

Imagine the customer that decides not to upgrade because you don’t have a particular feature. Or the customer that churns and chooses a competitor. Contact them when you build what they wanted. It might convince prospects to convert. And your churned customers might come back.

How we do it at Savio:

We make sure that we close the loop on features that churned customers ask for. Then we reach out and ask them if they are still looking for a feedback tracking solution. 

Example:

My previous business was an engineering management tool built on top of GitHub Issues called Codetree. We had a number of our free customers asking us for Epics, which is a way to group together related issues. 

When we built Epics in Codetree, we reached out to those customers and let them know. Several of them became paying customers. 

Pre-requisites for a killer feedback process

So that was 12 ways you can use customer feedback throughout your development and sales process—not just to prioritize requests. 

To do it, though, you need to have a few things in place. 

  • A way to track feedback. You need to have an effective feedback collection process that collects data from all customer-facing teams. We’ve written a guide on how to build that process.

  • A way to organize the feedback. Sure, you can dump all your feedback in Trello or in Slack, but it won’t be easy to use it to draw useful insights. Instead, make sure you develop a system where you can segment the data, slice and dice it, and ultimately learn which of your customers are asking for what.

  • A way to prioritize the feedback. Finally, to make good product decisions, you need to ultimately decide which features matter before others. Prioritization is as much an art as a science. But feedback is at the centre of prioritization. 

Get truly customer-centric

Being customer-centric isn’t just about asking your customers what they think or want. It’s about listening to what they say and then using those customer insights to inform your product at every stage of its development. 

That’s how to build better software. 

Savio can help. It is a purpose-built tool for tracking and organizing feedback. It lets you segment the feedback data so you know exactly which of your customers want what. 

Using Savio will give you insight into your customer needs so you can delight them, improve sales, and improve retention.

Last Updated: 04-11-2021

Kareem Mayan

Kareem is a co-founder at Savio. He's been prioritizing customer feedback professionally since 2001. He likes tea and tea snacks, and dislikes refraining from eating lots of tea snacks.

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