Hint: it doesn’t mean always saying “yes”.
For well over a decade, client feedback has formed the cornerstone of everything we do at SnapEngage. We’re passionate about building successful products that bring value to our clients, and we deeply believe that the only way we can accomplish this mission is by listening to client feedback. As Scott Miraglia writes, “Customer feedback is the fuel that will help you connect the dots between design, technology and business to create amazing products.”
At the end of the day, we believe what matters most is how real, everyday users perceive, feel and interact with our product.
Like many product companies, we routinely receive high volumes of product feedback and new requests from all kinds of clients. Some of these requests are little enhancements, some are massive requests that would take months and an entire team of engineers to complete, and most fall somewhere in between.
Upon hearing this, your first instinct may be to assume that our #1 goal as a customer-obsessed product company is to approve and ultimately carry out as many of these customer requests as possible. After all, isn’t this the next logical step in the process? Isn’t the customer always right?
Yes. And no.
Customers are always right in the sense that their perceptions and requests are an accurate reflection of what they are experiencing and what they are trying to accomplish in their day-to-day lives. And, like everyone else working on software products, we have limited resources and time. To be successful, we must achieve a core mission that focuses on helping a core set of constituents realize maximum value. Put another way – every customer has slightly different needs, problems and processes. We can’t possibly satisfy everyone, or even most customers, individually.
At SnapEngage, we avoid blindly saying “yes” to incoming feature requests at all costs. This isn’t because we don’t take customer feedback seriously or don’t have our clients’ needs in mind. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. We undergo a rigorous evaluation process for every single request, and we do this because it’s the only way we can ensure we’re constantly serving our clients’ needs and best interests and continually building a product that will deliver the highest value to the greatest number of clients possible.
So, what are the critical conditions that need to be met to give that elusive green light? We ask 5 core questions of each enhancement, feature or request:
Does it generate measurable business value for our clients?
Will it generate growth for SnapEngage?
Are the benefits to clients and SnapEngage greater than the costs and complexity they introduce?
Is it aligned with the product vision?
Has it been validated by many clients?
Each of these is a complex question that requires more exploration. Let’s break them down.
1. Will the new feature or enhancement bring measurable value to our clients? Will it solve real problems in their business?
This may seem glaringly obvious, but it’s far too frequently overlooked and may be the single most important factor to consider. It’s paramount to understand whether or not the request will have a measurable business impact for our users. Will it positively impact our clients’ critical metrics like sales revenue, profit margins or customer acquisition costs? What about metrics like customer adoption, customer churn, customer satisfaction and customer engagement? We also consider secondary metrics like productivity or efficiency. Product companies such as ours won’t be able to retain customers if the product is not able to help customers impact top-level metrics like this.
We consider the many stakeholders that were involved when purchasing our product and each of their individual roles and responsibilities. Does the proposed feature or enhancement solve for actual problems that our customers and their teams face on a day-to-day basis? Will it positively impact our clients immediately post-launch? In three months? What about three or even five years from now?
We ensure that we’re constantly assessing the perceived and actual value of product updates by performing extensive market research, collecting usage data and gathering honest client feedback on an ongoing basis.
2. Will the new feature or enhancement grow our business?
If a new product enhancement will bring clear value to our clients and solve real problems for them, we’re off to a great start. But what about our own business? We carefully consider whether and how much the new feature or enhancement will grow the very business that serves as the foundation for our product.
Business growth comes in all kinds of forms. Of course, one of the most obvious is increases in the sales and marketing realm. If the product enhancement will translate to outcomes such as increased qualified lead volumes, improved conversion rates, increased deal size, etc — then we likely have a favorable candidate for our product roadmap.
Business growth comes in many other forms, too. For example, new features might lead to increased usage, or improve customer retention or reduce customer churn. Features may increase the way our clients engage with the product, making it more “sticky”. All of this translates into growth of the product and business.
Growth buys us the time and money to further enhance and improve the product. It is a virtuous cycle that benefits us and our clients. Changes to the product that don’t drive growth are not sustainable, and in the long run, are a disservice to our clients.
3. Will the new feature or enhancement’s benefit outweigh the internal effort it takes to launch it? What about the user’s reward vs. effort?
Another critical factor to consider is a classic cost-benefit analysis. We think carefully and realistically about how much time, effort and resources will it take to launch a particular product enhancement. It would be wonderful if all product managers (ours included) had endless amounts of engineering resources at their disposal and boundless time in which to craft beautiful products, but they don’t.
We must also be mindful that the initial cost of development is rarely the full cost. Every change and addition we make has the potential to make the product more complex, and carries maintenance, support and other obligations with it.
Another key question: Will the new feature’s eventual benefits and value brought to our company and users measurably outweigh all the effort that needs to happen up front to eventually pull off the launch? If we hesitate when answering this question or the analysis is too close to call, we’re going to think twice before putting it on our roadmap.
4. Does the new feature or enhancement align with our product vision?
Every successful product-oriented company has a clear company vision and a clear product vision, and each serves as an internal compass and provides a sense of purpose. When considering incoming feature requests, it’s critical for our team to honestly assess whether or not the new enhancement actually aligns with our product vision.
A lot of people mistakenly think that a product vision is simply our team trying to build what we want. In reality, product vision is about understanding a core group of customers, what their challenges are, and how we can help solve those problems in a uniquely valuable way.
SnapEngage is one of the most customizable digital conversation platforms for companies with complex technology ecosystems. A central theme of our product vision is that we see conversations as a key to amazing customer experiences and valuable customer insights. This overarching vision guides our product work day in and day out.
Like any other product company, we routinely receive hundreds of incoming feature requests from all types of clients and other key stakeholders. We evaluate every single incoming request against whether or not it will uphold and align with our product vision. We operate under the mindset that anything that does not fit this vision would only serve as a distraction and therefore does not receive a coveted spot on our product roadmap.
5. Has the new feature or enhancement been fully validated?
Even if we’ve said yes to all of the above questions, we know that our work has barely started if we have not yet validated a feature request with extensive quantitative and qualitative research.
Extensive market research consisting of everything from surveys to focus groups helps us uncover key insights about our target markets/personas and the problems they’re trying to solve. We also carve out time to stay aligned with our own team members, such as front-line sales and customer service representatives, and participate in their meetings and calls with clients. They’re able to provide a wealth of valuable information because they’re directly interacting with our buyers and customers every single day.
We layer in additional user research in the form of field visits, participatory design sessions and UI/concept testing to further identify gaps within our products and uncover user insights and needs. This type of research helps us understand how the incoming request fits in the larger picture and whether it’s actually necessary and going to solve a specific problem. We’ll often discover that the initial feature request will not fully solve the original problem the client experienced or instead requires an entirely different solution. If we can’t solve a problem well in a way that is useful to most users, and in a way that is obvious and unobtrusive, it becomes a burden to us and to most clients.
Building a successful product is an incredibly challenging (and rewarding) experience. It’s pivotal that we keep these five questions in mind when evaluating every single incoming request. These are a few key evaluation questions that guide our product work at SnapEngage, but you may find that there are different or additional questions that serve your business and product vision best.
Most importantly, we hold our teams accountable to avoid the trap of making exceptions for requests that don’t check all the boxes. Saying “no” is difficult in the moment but ultimately paves the way for building a lasting product that will fulfill our most critical user needs and delight our clients long into the future.
If you as a client suggest something or request a particular feature, and we say “no”, or “not now”, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. MOST ideas are good ideas. But, being a good idea is not enough to justify building it.
We hope this article expresses how we make these decisions.