How to Collect Customer Feedback for Product Teams

Olivia Clyde

Chase Clemons, the Principal in Customer Support from Basecamp, has championed the communication process between support and product teams.

His process centers on gathering key customer insights that he then sculpts into effective customer feedback for the product team. His process helps increase the product team's receptivity to customer feedback and therefore more likely to act on it.

Watch Chase’s presentation here, or read below for details on the well-oiled process he uses at Basecamp.

Chase Clemons, Principal in Customer Support at Basecamp

Why is Customer Feedback important for Product?

Support and product teams work together to deliver quality products to customers. They exchange valuable customer feedback that indicates areas where a product can improve. Since support representatives are on the frontlines of customer feedback, their ability to gather and position feedback in a powerful way can be the difference between maintaining a satisfactory product and honing a great one.

Read on to learn about Chase’s process!

Step 1: Collect Customer Feedback

Become a Support Detective

Chase believes support teams often don’t dig deep enough into customer situations. Instead, they take customer feedback at face value and send it over product teams in a slipshod fashion. When feedback continues to amount, product teams feel less inclined to address it. In order to break past the surface of typical customer feedback, Chase came up with the concept of the “Customer Interview.” It is an efficient way to understand what a customer actually needs by giving context to their situation. This process will turn you into a support detective.

Conduct Customer Interviews

Conduct an interview with your customer! Set up phone interviews for each feature request that aligns with the goals of your product team. Filter out feature requests that product isn’t likely to consider (no hard feelings). Be inquisitive throughout each interview. Aim to understand the customer’s specific situation. Customer feedback Take lots of notes in a centralized location to give your team a good starting point. Chase’s team posts their notes in Basecamp. Learn all contextual details that factored into a person’s situation when they first submitted feedback.

Get to the root cause of what they are looking for. Customer is telling me “X”, but X is not the whole story.  You have to get into the root of things. Get into the mindset of curiosity.

Chase’s favorite question to frequently ask a customer is “why?” It requires customers to provide reasoning and give context to their requests. It also helps product managers and product teams determine whether specific feedback is applicable to a broad range of customers, or only relevant to one individual. Then the product team can use better judgement on whether to act on that request.

Step 2: Organize Customer Feedback

You gathered all that customer feedback, now what do you do with all of it? Some feedback is for product issues, while other parts are feature requests on customer wish lists. Read below to learn how Chase organizes customer feedback.

Improve Your Tagging System

Chase says that most teams seem to have an “all or nothing” approach for tagging. One side of the pendulum is the “tag everything” approach. Teams tag every single feature request with the expectation that they will eventually find time to address them. Sometimes there are hundreds of different tags from people requesting the same feature. The opposite end is the “tag nothing” approach. Some teams are so inundated with requests that they give up tagging altogether.

The first approach leaves teams overwhelmed and disorganized, while the other suggests that customer perspectives don’t really matter to the company. The best approach is to prioritize according to product impact.

Aim for High Impact

Chase focuses on features that will have the most impact on the product. The feedback you share with product must fit into the product team’s agenda. Everything else falls into place when you align with their priorities. Chase notes that this can be pretty tough for support representatives who can spend up to forty five minutes with a customer during an interview. The support representatives are bound to be more vested in those requests! Since the support team does not determine what the product team focuses on, it is important to distance yourself from those conversations. It is important to balance customer expectation with product’s calendar. Sometimes you will have to tell a customer "no."

Remember that in general, the answer is a “no” until it’s a “hell, yes!”

Sometimes customers who do not pay for your product will offer feedback. Feedback from someone new to Basecamp will not be the same as a customer who has used Basecamp for a few years. Customers who are newer cannot assume that all product changes are considered equal. It is the job of a support agent to balance team priorities with customer requests.

Outline Your Product Pitch

The pitch they use at Basecamp is a document that establishes a customer’s situation and outlines a potential strategy to solve it. Customer examples and stories provide details to further illustrate a customer’s need. A product pitch is strengthened by fine details gathered during customer interviews.

Check out this Basecamp example for how to set up a Product Pitch:

Pitch Part 1: The Situation

Describe the current situation to accurately set the scene for the product team. Write each situation from the perspective of the customer who submitted the feedback.  

Pitch Part 2: Negative impact

List out potentials ways that this situation could affect other parts of your team’s product.

Pitch Part 3: Potential Solutions

Draw out sketches for a potential product feature. Visuals will make a concept easier to grasp.

Outline an overall strategy for a potential fix.

Step 3: Pitch to product

Meet your product team in the middle. Simplify the customer feedback process from support to product.

Communication Tools

Instead of researching the latest communication software, Chase says to use your product team’s preferred communication tool. Whether Slack, Trello, Confluence, Github, etc. The product team will be more inclined to address your requests if you make it easy for them to understand.

Chase’s team has ongoing conversations with the product team once customer interviews have been posted in Basecamp. They continue to use the comment thread to go back and forth with product on each idea.

Have a Conversation

Talk with the product team about a customer's specific situation. Show the product team specific examples and what you have been hearing from customers. Share the document that you have created so the team can easily digest feature prioritization. Make each situation as easy to grasp as possible.

If product does not address a certain pitch, you know that your part is already done.

Step 4: Set Customer Expectations

Keep your customers posted on progress.

Maintain Customer Trust

Chase says that customers rely on support representatives to set expectations. In favor of being realistic and dependable, transparency is an important part of caring for the customer. While it may be an aspect that people shy away from, it can be the quickest way to foster trust.

When Product Says “No”

Is it wrong to tell the customer “no”? Chase says that empathy as sales reps makes it hard to say no. When in reality, support people will have to say 'no' more often than 'yes.' Sales representatives only have so much bandwidth to be able to address every concern or every feature request. You have to reach the point where your team decides a request is a “heck, yes” in terms of priority level.

In the past, customers have requested that the Basecamp interface be translated into a different language. For the foreseeable future, the product team had no plans to create a UI in Spanish, so the feature request was not considered.

Be honest since your answer to a customer will more often than not have to be ‘no.’ The vast majority of customers are happy with that response because they understand that support and product teams can’t work 100 hour weeks.

Customers are grateful that the Basecamp team carves quality time out of their schedules to gather feedback. Not every company does that. If their support team does not have the answer, they point customers to other products that have the features they might need.

Basecamp’s typical timeline for this process is to work on projects in six week cycles. They wipe their slate clean for each new cycle.


Bonus Basecamp Example: When Customer feedback turned into a feature

A Visual Dot-Grid Calendar

Chase and his team recently created the dot grid calendar feature. It is similar to agenda views and lists at other companies. The reason for this feature was that customers like to see visual organization in their to-do lists. Basecamp’s team needed to make information easily digestible in ways that Google calendar had already done. At the same time, it is no small task to create something similar to Google or Apple Calendar. Chase’s team had previously tried to create a solution, but the process had taken three months before they abandoned it. This following time, the entire team dove into the project with new resolve to live up to the standards of other apps. So, they decided to start with the customer.

Their Customer Interviews

The team conducted several customer interviews over the phone. The feedback they heard often was that people wanted design that could convey the time and space necessary for each of their projects. Basecamp then designed something called a dot-grid, or miniature version of a calendar that is simple and clear. It uses only big dots to symbolize events taking place that day. If a day is completely void of dots, then people know it’s wide open and okay to schedule an appointment.

Chase says they worked with one designer and two programmers. “We were able to plan it, build it, and ship it all within six weeks.

Chase has done much to hone a systematic approach to gather and share customer feedback at Basecamp. Perhaps his process could give a boost to your support team’s communication with product. Your product team and customers will thank you!

Learn more tips to improve Customer Support here!

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