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Your customers are your finest product developers

01 Sep 2008

We all know that customers are the lifeblood of any business; it’s our job to provide a service that helps customers fulfil a particular need. While each organisation has a ‘core’ offering or service, every customer has unique requirements, and business success is based on the ability to refine your offering to meet those needs.

It’s a simple concept that was driven home for me at a recent launch, where end users and partners discussed how their feedback had been successfully incorporated into a product roadmap. What better way to satisfy customers and strengthen relationships than to identify and fulfil their needs and wants?

Critical to businesses of all sizes is having a formalised process for taking customer feedback on board. I’m consistently amazed at the ability of our customers and partners to find applications for our devices that we’d never dreamed of, and in turn how this insight informs our product roadmap.

Harnessing customer and partner feedback should be seen as a constant process, but within that we can identify three distinct phases:

The formalised process

A formalised process for gathering feedback is a great way to gain insight into market trends and common issues that can link into the development of products and services. Global organisations should assess and compare feedback from customers all over the world, because you’d be surprised at how trends and issues identified in one part of the world can inform the way you think about servicing another region. Formal processes also demonstrate to partners and customers that you are serious about taking their insight on board.

Structured testing

There’s no point incorporating feedback into the roadmap only to launch unrefined products. Giving customers and partners the opportunity to work jointly with the business to test and refine products furthers relationships and allows for critical feedback. The success of beta or pilot programs is dependant on having a formal structure with the scope for fine-tuning new features, so that they really do meet end user requirements.

On-the-ground communication

There’s a very simple key concept behind harnessing feedback, which many businesses overlook. Outside of formalised processes it’s essential to talk regularly with end users and partners about their experiences with your products. What are they finding useful? What issues are they experiencing? How are they using the product? What would make their job easier?

Gaining constant feedback doesn’t mean businesses need to release refined products every other month, but this process often highlights important on-the-fly feedback that’s overlooked in more formalised approaches.

Allowing partners and end users into the business

In summary, what we’ve been talking about comes down to developing the relationship between you and your customers. We all want to give the best customer service possible, but the only way to achieve this is by communicating with end users and partners, and acting on what they tell you.

Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Technical constraints can mean it’s not always possible to provide customers with what they’re asking for. However, if customers see that you’re working to provide them with an alternative to achieve their needs, they’re likely to maintain their relationship with you.

Perhaps the most important point to make regarding customer feedback is to ensure that your analysis of what customers and partners are telling you is a critical one. There’s no benefit in taking on board only what you’d like to hear and throwing the rest in the ‘too hard’ basket. You’ve got to follow through with what they’re telling you if your aim really is to meet their needs and wants.

All of the above does not only apply to larger organisations. Businesses of any size depend on customer satisfaction. Demonstrating to end users and your partners that you’re committed to helping them do their jobs better, puts you on the right path towards business success.   

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