Successfully gathering and sharing customer feedback is a must for any business looking to make informed product decisions. But how do you decide if feedback is actionable?

Customer feedback plays a big part in roadmap prioritization here at Help Scout, but feedback takes many forms and not every idea can (or should) be shuffled from the support queue to the product team.

This system of recording, organizing, sharing, and using customer feedback is the lifeblood of growth for the product. Here’s a look at how we turn feedback and feature requests from kernels of potential into actionable assets.

Deciding What to Curate

Writing about this can feel taboo. We’ve been conditioned to latch on to customer feedback as if it were divine revelation. When a customer takes time out of their day to send us their thoughts, we have a duty to act on all of it, right? Not so.

Every email deserves a response, but not every request requires serious consideration.

In Essentialism, author and business consultant Greg McKeown says, “Today, technology has lowered the barrier for others to share their opinion about what we should be focusing on. It’s not just information overload; it’s opinion overload.” Opinion overload can affect support, too.

When you’re in tune with product expectations, you're better equipped to pay attention to great feedback and ignore the underwhelming stuff. When looking at feedback, we keep the following in mind.

With great power comes great responsibility

The queue is a wellspring of unsolicited feedback that would be lost if left unorganized by support. But without the autonomy to make simple feedback-gathering decisions, it’s tough for the support team to help themselves and for the product team to get what they need.

Clear product goals, a purpose-driven mission we can all get behind, and good intuition guide our decision-making process when sifting through customer feedback.

Our support team has access to all of our product roadmaps as well as initial design mock-ups and product specs. With this kind of knowledge, they have the freedom to decide what bits of feedback should (and shouldn’t) be plucked from the queue and pushed down the pipeline.

Look out for roadblocks

Anything that stops customers in their tracks or prevents them from using the product as intended is a roadblock.

When a customer writes in about a roadblock, it’s a lose-lose situation.

The customer is rightfully frustrated, and the support team is losing time apologizing for things that just need to be fixed.

The only way out is to fix the problem. This solves a product problem, which then solves the support problem. Since support is often the first to hear about roadblocks, these scenarios should make the share-with-product-team shortlist, no questions asked.

Consider who is giving the feedback

Are you hearing from a long-term product user or a VIP customer who's using every feature available? Or are you hearing from customers at the other end of the spectrum, who are only using the basics? Product experts give the best feedback, and if anyone knows your product well outside of your own team, it’s customers who are already extracting a ton of value.

Don’t shrug off the small wins

“This should be easy for you to code” is a phrase we’ve all heard before. But what may seem like simple-to-execute suggestions may not be so simple or necessary after all. When a customer suggests something that would have a meaningful impact and there’s room for a fast change, make sure those ideas get to the right person.

We call these updates “CANIs,” or “Constant and Never-ending Improvements.” Over time, little changes go a long way.

Organizing Customer Feedback

We love email, but it’s not the best channel for organizing feedback across teams. There’s no immediate visibility as to what happens with feedback after the email discussion ends. Who is responsible for keeping tabs on action items? How can we check in regularly on progress? Accountability can disappear, which is why we’re big on keeping all customer feedback in Trello.

Customer feedback in Trello

We have a dedicated Customer Feedback board that serves as a table between the support and product teams. Feedback is pulled from the queue and added to the board throughout the week. When we create a card, we leave a summary of the request or idea, link to the original conversation in Help Scout, and close it out with some of our own thoughts.

At the end of the week, someone from the product team sorts through the Good Ideas and Discussion lists and leaves us comments or sends actionable cards to other boards for prioritization.

comments and actionable card

Trello is already a part of everyday life at Help Scout, which makes it a natural outlet for organizing and discussing anything related to the product. There’s nothing complicated about this process. It’s easy to add cards on the fly, it’s easy to see when somebody has commented or archived a card, and most importantly, it’s transparent.

Sharing Feedback with the Product Team

Judging the value of feedback and requests is half the battle; the other half is communicating that value properly to your team. Here’s what to bring to your next product meeting.

Keep your emotions in check

Saying support is a role centered on empathy is “eat-your-vegetables” levels of obvious, but passion for solving customer problems can leave you forgetting about another group who need your empathy: the product team. Support is a tough gig exactly because you want to champion both sides.

When you’re arm in arm with customers, it’s easy to get too passionate about solving every problem or pushing to get things fixed and deployed as quickly as possible. But your company is your home team.

When you bring your emotions from the support queue to a product meeting, it’s not good for business. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring heated feedback from customers. Sometimes a few lively lines from a customer can start a fire in all the right places.

Bring the numbers and talk about trends

Data is useful for solidifying your case on both ends. “The Numbers” help you offer a grounded argument with supporting evidence to your product team, but they also bring clarity to the fog that is your own memory. Without data to validate your hunches, you might remember things wrong—that issue you could have sworn you heard 100 times this month was actually mentioned a lot less, the support equivalent of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon affecting your perception.

A meaningful number attached to feature requests, bug reports, or specific use cases helps prevent ambiguity. We use tag counts alongside our own reports to keep track of what customers are talking about. Whether it’s a feature or a non-urgent bug, tags are attached to Trello cards so we have an accurate count of how many people are talking about the same thing.

tags in trello cards

Volume alone isn’t everything. But if you’re hearing the same beat from different places, listen closely.

Talk about sentiment

How do your customers feel about something? When reflecting on a feature release, you should be able to say that for a given time period, sentiment was positive or negative. Categorize the good, the bad, and the ugly comments that trickle in after an update. We do this by tagging and copying feature-specific feedback to a mailbox folder via a workflow. These folders are visible to key people on the product and engineering teams.

workflow

Deep dive on customer use cases

It’s easy to prematurely form an opinion based on how you think your product should or shouldn’t be used. Instead of rolling in with a chip on your shoulder, let your customer research and feedback build the case first, then form your opinions. This is important when pushing for significant changes that you feel should be higher priority but are still further down the line.

There’s often a difference of opinion on how important a change is or why it makes sense in the first place. When you’re telling a true story based on use cases, it’s easy to paint the whole picture. It’s fine to argue and bring the full court press if you feel strongly about something, but make sure you’ve clearly communicated what needs to happen, along with the why. Clear, concise feedback along with action items goes a long way.

Are Your Customers Being Heard?

Your support team may well know more about what customers are struggling with than the people building the product, and it will negatively affect development if they’re stranded without a means of regularly sharing feedback with the product team. A fierce commitment to gathering, organizing, and sharing feedback plays an important role in pushing your business forward.

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Justin Seymour

About the author: Justin Seymour is the customer support team lead at Help Scout.