Guest Post by: Eric Kiang (Mentee, Session 6, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Paul Hurwitz]
A product manager has a tough role, there are many responsibilities and arguably all of them are important. However there is one thing every product manager must do, but often times it gets overlooked or forgotten. A product manager needs to talk to their customers, period. This doesn’t mean sending out surveys to users, getting secondhand feedback from your sales or client services teams, or even listening to recordings. These channels are valuable and a product manager should use these types of data, but none of these can replace the value and importance of one on one customer conversations. There is no quicker way to understand the user and begin empathizing with them.
Speaking with customers might seem obvious as something all product managers should do, but it doesn’t happen as often as it should. In fact a survey of 150 product managers by AlphaHQ showed that only 3.5 out of 10 PMs consistently talk to customers. Why is that? Here are some common excuses that arise:
- There isn’t a process in place to talk to customers, I’m not sure what to do. The worst thing to do is nothing. As the Nike slogan goes “Just Do It.” It gets easier the more you do and the insights learned from even the initial conversations can be very eye opening.
- I don’t have time, there is too much to do. It’s true product managers have a lot on their plate, but time is fluid. Tasks with high importance somehow always gets done. Talking with customers should have that importance and be at the top of every product manager’s to-do list.
- Afraid to hear criticism, they don’t want to hear their past decisions were wrong and their current product is frustrating users. This might be hard to hear, but it’s exactly what product managers need to hear so they can learn and fix it.
When you get past all the excuses and start talking with customers and getting feedback from them you’ll soon realize there are many benefits from it, here are a few:
- Learn and understand their goals, needs, and problems
- Helps build empathy and intuition to make better product decisions
- Discover trends to help build out a roadmap
- Prioritize items based on what’s important and valuable to the customers
- Get a moral boost when you hear about how the customer loves your product
- One thing you hear might give you an insight on building the next great improvement to your product, or “even something brand new.”
Ultimately all of these insights help you create a product that provides value to the customer that you hope they will spend money on. Speaking to customers is not a silver bullet where you instantly know what to build and how to do it, but the more customers and users you speak to the closer you get to creating that awesome product.
As mentioned above, one reason product managers don’t speak with customers is because there isn’t a process in place, or they aren’t sure how to do it. The easiest way to get started is to just do it; call a customer and have a conversation. Be curious and interested in what they do, why they do it, what’s important to them. The more conversations you have the easier it is and the more you learn. You’ll be amazed at what you hear.
To help you get started, here are some tips to keep in mind when you talk with customers:
- Make them comfortable, start out with some small talk.
- Make sure you listen more than you speak. After all, you want to hear what they have to say, not to listen to yourself speak.
- Don’t ask yes/no questions, ask open ended questions. Typically questions that begin with “do…” end up being yes/no answers. Questions beginning with “how,” “what,” “where,” “when,” and “why” lead to longer and more detailed responses.
- It’s very important to go into the conversation with a goal or objective in mind. It could be discovering what’s important to the customer, or what their challenges are. It helps focus the conversation and gives your conversations purpose.
When speaking with your customers, here are some basic questions to help get the conversation started. As the conversation flows, be curious, ask for more detail, why they do certain things and just explore.
- What sold you on our solution/product?
- How do you typically use our product on a daily or weekly basis?
- What features do you use the most? Why?
- What’s the hardest part about being (their position)?
Now that you have an idea how to talk with customers and get the conversation started. Here are a few ways to talk to your customers and get feedback:
- Pull a list of user emails and send out 25-50 a week and ask for their help in designing the next product and if they are willing to spend 10-15 minutes to talk about their experience. Everyone loves to hear themselves speak, especially if they feel their opinions matter.
- Get out of the office, there is nothing better than seeing first hand how your users use the product in their everyday environment. If you’re a B2B business then go to your customer’s office, some clients love that. If you’re a B2C product, go to a coffee shop and ask people to try out the product and see their actions and reactions.
- Sit with your Sales reps and hear first hand what clients are looking for. Same goes for your account managers or customer support teams to identify challenges they are experiencing.
Now that you are collecting and learning all of this great insight on your customers, what do you do with it? It’s time to share it with your team and organization. There isn’t a right or wrong way to share the feedback, you have to find what works for your team. One approach is to summarize the feedback and create a deck to present what you’ve learned, trends you’re seeing and challenges your users are facing. For a smaller organization you might have a slack channel that you post any feedback to so everyone in your organization can see and comment in real time. For others a wiki page with all the feedback and insights might be sufficient. You should try and see which approach resonates with your team and company the best.
As an added bonus, when talking with customers you’ll find that some are very enthusiastic about your product and giving feedback. You can ask those users to be advocates for your product. You then will have a list to test any beta products or to get feedback from when building prototypes or creating new product concepts.
For those of you who haven’t yet made it a habit of talking with customers, I hope this has eased some of your fears and hesitations. There is so much to gain, you just have to get the ball rolling. Happy chatting!
Eric has been in product management for over 5.5 years and enjoys creating well designed, user centric products. When he isn’t helping to build products, you can find him staying active or finding the next best food spot. Let him know if you have any recommendations!
More About The Product Mentor
The Product Mentor is a program designed to pair Product Management Mentors and Mentees around the World, across all industries, from start-up to enterprise, guided by the fundamental goals…
Better Decisions. Better Products. Better Product People.
Each Session of the program runs for 6 months with paired individuals…
- Conducting regular 1-on-1 mentor-mentee chats
- Sharing experiences with the larger Product community
- Participating in live-streamed product management lessons and Q&A
- Mentors and Mentees sharing their product management knowledge with the broader community
Check out the Mentors & Enjoy!
The Product Guy