Talking to your customers is the best way to improve your product. You already do it — but not often enough. The problem is that it’s a pain to reach out all the time and gather that feedback.
It doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, you already talk to your customers all the time and probably aren’t taking full advantage of it.
My very first job was at Gateway Computer. Though well past its prime when I started, in its heyday, Gateway took a unique approach to its customer support that helped them gather plenty of user feedback.
The stories I heard back then helped shape our own approach toward support at my current company, Onepager. Here’s one that stood out in particular:
Some Personal Attention from South Dakota
At the South Dakota factory where Gateways were built, every custom system was assembled by hand. When people finished building a computer, they took the time to handwrite a personalized note thanking the customer. At the end of the note, they provided their own phone number for customers to call in case of any problems with their new Gateway.
Building computers with one hand, taking support phone calls with another, and writing thank you notes with a third (they must have wished they had a third!) couldn’t have been easy. But it was the right thing to do in order to encourage quality and customer satisfaction.
The people who built those computers did everything they could to ensure quality by doing one more important thing. They conveyed suggestions that they heard from real users back to the product team.
Gateway’s computers were top-rated, they kept improving, and customers loved buying them.
But times changed. After much success and leadership change, manufacturing moved overseas to save costs. The quirky yet effective user feedback system was lost. Quality dropped, sales suffered, and today, Gateway is just a logo slapped on a generic computer. The company lost touch with its customers.
The Customer-Product Connection
The lesson from that story helped shape what we do at Onepager. We leverage customer support by using it as a simple way to collect user feedback with three simple steps.
1. Understand the root of problems to solve in the long-term.
People contact firstname.lastname@example.org with questions that are important to them. Taking care of their needs quickly is a priority, but to truly improve your product, view support issues as potential catalysts for important long-term fixes that benefit all your users.
2. Turn support into user research.
If you’ve helped customers with their problems, they’ll naturally feel gratitude and a desire to reciprocate. It’s the perfect time to ask for them to help you.
On our team, when we complete a support request, we often ask the customer for feedback on something unrelated. It could be, “If you don’t mind us asking, we’re doing product research and were wondering what you like most about Onepager?” or “What would you most like to see us do in the future with Onepager?”
3. Dive into detail.
Don’t be afraid to go into detail with a user. If someone is having trouble finding where to edit their billing information, you can put together some mockups of improvements and ask them for their preference. Obviously, it’s a very small sample, but it can help set you on the right path.
You can even kick it up a notch, and ask customers to set up a time to discuss your product — whether it’s a new feature or a whole new version. It’s amazing how receptive people can be to simple requests for their feedback and help. Don’t forget to say your own ‘thank you’ by doing something nice, like sending the participant a T-shirt, and you’ve made one loyal, and rather invested, customer.
Early on, we asked new customers in our automated “Welcome” emails if we could schedule a fifteen-minute call with them. This helped us learn how they found us, why they chose us, and if they had any problems getting started with our product.
You can continuously make your product better by taking easy steps to engage more with your customers. It’s easier than you think.
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Image source: Kevin Trotman/Flickr