Advocating for customer feedback

A good product designer relies on feedback. Feedback reveals what is working and what isn’t. It helps them decide what to improve next, and to measure the quality of their work. Here’s my account of how I helped a company evolve to embrace customer feedback like a designer.

Is your company willing to ask customers for feedback?

Feedback is useful for companies too, right?

While many companies value feedback in their business and culture, some do not. I worked at a company that ran software for five years without ever soliciting feedback from daily users. When I joined, one of my goals was to change that.

“We should start collecting feedback from our users”
- Me, at a leadership meeting.

While this seemed obvious to me, several leaders immediately push backed.

The sales executives worried that asking for feedback would conflict with their relationship to the customer. Customer success worried that letting clients complain in a new channel would put them on the hook. The support team worried that they would have more bugs to deal with in the system. One executive simply thought nobody would ever send us feedback. Others were afraid to actually hear from the customer. Why?

While there are deeper cultural values here that needed to be addressed, the lesson for me was that while the value of feedback was obvious to me, it was not to the rest of the company. My job as a leader was to communicate the opportunity cost of not collecting feedback.

I was so surprised that others in the room didn’t want feedback, I was initially speechless. Upon reflection, I found ways articulate why we need feedback as a business:

- As a designer, we effectively cannot design if we don’t have empathy and understanding for our clients needs.

- Feedback will help us discover blind spots in our product and deliver more value to our client.

- Feedback helps the daily user connect with us directly, rather than being filtered up a chain of command.

- Feedback gives us insight into our customers’ problems and use cases.

- Feedback helps us build empathy for the customer.

I wish I could say it only took one meeting to convince the team, but it actually took some time. Over time I communicated the case for seeking feedback, as well as a plan for managing the flow of incoming responses. I also committed my team to this plan and eventually it was approved.

And as it turned out we did get feedback. A lot. And we learned a lot about our products and our customers.

Sometimes we learned about something we didn’t know was broken. Sometimes we got good ideas and suggestions. Sometimes our users asked for features we were already working on, which helped validate our hypothesis.

As our company watched the feedback come in, the team evolved from a defensive position to a positive one. Eventually, everyone learned to enjoy the insights we gained, and how it can help us ship the best product.

As a design leader, I learned to advocate for a need that seemed so obvious to me, but was not to the rest of the company. By planning the process and clearly communicating it’s potential benefits, I was able to impact the culture of our company and improve our product for our customers.