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For many companies, especially those in the startup space, being able to set up and stick to a fully fleshed-out product roadmap is far easier said than done. There are new situations and circumstances that arise every day that throw wrenches in the plan, and it’s product managers’ responsibility to maintain focus and keep the product (and company) cruising along as seamlessly as possible.

That means that product managers need to heavily prioritize some product-related issues over others, and can’t act on their customers’ every whim. It’s therefore up to customer support managers to communicate the most pressing problems, and effectively work with the product managers so that the whole team gets on the same page. This requires both innovative and established processes, which is why we put together a full three-participant panel on the subject for our July Meetup: Getting Product Managers to Effectively Listen to Customer Feedback.

From left to right: Mikayla Welborn (Clever), Hilary Stone (Mixpanel), and Stephen Hsu (Directly) (a customer engagement platform). These are some of our top learnings from the panel.

1. Transparency, Transparency, Transparency

If you aren’t able to fix or address your customers’ issues, make sure the customer understands why. Directly’s Stephen Hsu says that from a product manager’s perspective, it’s always a good idea to share the product roadmap with the customers and let them know why their feedback doesn’t fit in. Divulging this information may be a bold move, but may also be vital for evoking empathy in customers so that they truly understand where the company is coming from, and why they should respect the company’s decision regarding the feedback provided. From the customer support side, the bottom line is to make customers feel heard and respected, and to be as transparent as possible in all communication.

2. Get Creative with Feedback Format

Product managers’ inboxes can be filled to the brim with issues, and sometimes there needs to be a better way to communicate feedback than through digital channels. That’s why Mixpanel has a ‘Product Expert Council’ to provide additional context about the feedback that the support team is providing. Mixpanel’s Hilary Stone says that these panels are often organized by a product manager and product marketer, and are intended to more thoroughly discuss challenges that happen across both customer support and sales. These panels are designed to be helpful for product teams, as well as the sales and success side for a comprehensive understanding of new products and features that are being released.

3. Showing, not Telling, is Key for Turning Negative Feedback into Positive Feedback

Simply saying that your team is ‘working on an issue’ often isn’t enough to appease an unhappy customer. Clever’s Mikayla Welborn says that really showing customers you are there for them, even if it’s taking time, can make all the difference. Welborn provides the example of a customer identifying a bug in Clever’s system, and the support team going the extra mile to get the engineer on the phone with the customer to explain how they are working on and actively fixing the problem. She says the customer was thrilled that they took the time to communicate in that way.

4. Let other Teams Take a Test Run

When there’s a new feature coming out, Mixpanel encourages its support team to play with that feature before it’s rolled out to customers. Stone says that this is a great way for the team to get comfortable with the new features, and proactively report bugs and other issues to the product team. That way some issues will already be incorporated into future specs before customers can find them.

Published July 25, 2017
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