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I. Introduction

Organizations looking for fresh product ideas need to include feedback from their customer base as part of the product development process. Often this valuable information is not collected or is ignored because of the difficulty in turning it into something useful. Fortunately there are a number of strategies and software tools that allow organizations of all sizes to collect and harness this information . . .


 I. Introduction

 II. Standard Collection Methods

 III. Survey Do's and Don'ts

IV. Other Ideas for Product Feedback and Ideas: Tracking Product Issues and Complaints

V. Tracking Ideas Too Complicated? Software to the Rescue

VI. Finally, Good Product Development Ideas

VII. Conclusion


II. Standard Collection Methods

Most companies attempt to collect information and data from customers, but few know how to collect it properly .  The most common approach to soliciting customer feedback is through the use of a survey.  However, most surveys are poorly constructed with too many unimportant questions, and only serve to frustrate customers and prevent them from participating in future survey efforts.  It is important that organizations realize that customers are not employees and cannot be expected to answer more than a few well-organized questions .  The key is to identify only a few metrics and devise questions that specifically provide the information and feedback your organization needs. 

III. Survey Do's and Don'ts

Many customers may be willing to participate in short surveys, but many have been burned at some point in the past trying to help. Many of us have had telemarketers who ask for 3 minutes and keep on going 20 minutes later!

After experiences like this one, it is far less likely that a customer would be willing to agree to participate in a survey unless there is something in it for them, like a prize or award for participating, or it really is a short 3-minute survey.  Ultimately, it is up to your organization to build the trust with your customers and for them to learn that your organization will not abuse their generosity and willingness to help.  If you respect your survey participants, they will be more likely to participate the next time you ask.

Prizes and awards are often used as incentives for finding participants willing to help with surveys and focus groups.  Gift cards to coffee shops, online retailers, or cash can be used to find participants.  Be aware though that some of your participants may only be after the award or prize.  The best participants will be customers who are loyal and interested in helping to improve your product .

IV. Other Ideas for Product Feedback and Ideas: Tracking Product Issues and Complaints

Most customer service teams track of calls or emails regarding product issues and complaints.  Beyond the basics of helping customers resolve product issues, customer interactions are valuable opportunities to engage and mine for additional details and feedback. Customer feedback is invaluable because customers are using your product or service, have discovered a problem with it and  truly are interested in its success.

For example, recently I participated in silent auction for a worthy non-profit organization.  As luck would have it, I ended up winning more than one of the items.  One of the items is a touchscreen thermostat for my home.  I called the company and scheduled an appointment to have them come out and install the thermostat.  The customer service representative was easy to talk to, friendly, and created an overall good impression.  As we went through the basics of name, address, contact information, he began to ask me questions about our home: how many heating and air units did we have, was it a one story or two story, and so forth.  Our conversation eventually led to him asking me if we had a service plan on our units and when I answered that we did not he began telling me about their program.  Although it is essentially the same as his competitors, he did a good job of explaining how the technician would take the time to clean, inspect, and maintain our units.  Further, he asked me if there were any other services that I might need or want that went beyond the HVAC maintenance program. They also offer maintenance programs on hot water heaters, carbon monoxide systems, dryer vent cleaning, tankless water heaters, whole home surge protection systems, and energy efficiency remote control systems for the home.  Clearly this company has asked their customers for feedback and suggestions on additional things they can do beyond HVAC service and sales.

Technical support or Customer Service representatives should be trained to ask questions about the product because customers may have suggestions for ways to make the product work better  or easier.  In my case, the representative in my example did a great job of engaging with me and going beyond the basics of a customer service script.  Recording and tracking these suggestions can lead to valuable improvements to the product experience and greater company success.

V. Tracking Ideas Too Complicated? Software to the Rescue

Most organizations begin tracking product issues through white boards, email, and spreadsheets.  Eventually this gets too time consuming or, worse yet, issues begin to fall through the cracks in the system.  Fortunately there are many help desk software programs on the market and most are very good at managing this task.  A popular one is Get SatisfactionTM, but any database will work if it is modified to track a new category called "Ideas".

Ideas can include product suggestions and enhancement requests  (think of a section of the database dedicated only to tracking ideas that the organization can implement in the future).  This special category also should separate “problems” from “suggestion.”   Ideas can be tracked and ranked based on popularity or severity. 

Forums also are an excellent way to collect unsolicited customer feedback.  Adding a private forum that only customers can access provides a source of qualified feedback.  Forum moderators can and should visit frequently and monitor the various chat rooms and provide feedback, answers, or direct customers to resources to resolve issues or questions.  In doing so, the moderators build goodwill with the customers who choose to use this venue for support.  Customers also often willingly provide ideas and suggestions for new products or ways to enhance existing products.  Moderators can capture these ideas and suggestions and move the content into the Ideas system described above.

Finally, organizations can take some of the top ideas and suggestions and move them into a separate chat area and allow customers to vote on which new features or new products they would like to see first.  This virtual focus group provides additional sources of insight and feedback to the organization before it must commit time, money, and resources to create products customers are asking for.

VI. Finally, Good Product Development Ideas

Once a company has a system for collecting new product ideas and suggestions, it is critical that the business provide for reviewing them on a regular basis and providing feedback to customers so that they know their voice matters.  If suggestion boxes and ideas are never reviewed or if people think that they are never reviewed then the suggestions will dry up and the company will be back at the starting line. 

These software tools also can provide feedback via the ideas section provided the customers have access to it or via web-based suggestion forums, the company blog, twitter feed, and so forth.  Social media outlets are great ways to publicly broadcast high-level information to customers and prospects.  Starting the conversation can generate comments that may lead to greatness .

VII. Conclusion

Customers are a great resource for product development feedback.  Whether standard tools, like surveys, are utilized or newer tools, such as social media, asking questions and listening to the answers are a proven method for improving existing or creating entirely new products. 

In summary:
  1) Ask questions and listen.
  2) Train employees to ask questions and engage customers.
  3) Respect customer’s and participant’s time; follow up interactions may be invaluable and should not be afraid of being engaged or turned off by future communication.
  4) Track customer feedback with database technology so that ideas do not disappear with employee turnover or forgetfulness.
  5) Provide feedback to customers in a public forum (if possible) so that they can feel like they are being heard and are part of the product development team.

Please let us have your feedback or the opportunity to speak with you about your company and product development efforts, or for more information please contact us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call us at 301-915-0950.

© 2013 Emerging Strategies, LLP ☎ 301.915.0950