Leading product teams requires an appreciation of the customer journey. Product managers must think about their product from their customer’s perspectives, especially when things go wrong.
Additionally, heads of product need to balance ad hoc requests and a disciplined product roadmap. They can take several steps to ensure that the product org is customer-centric and laser-focused.
Reaching out to influential customers
Have you spoken with your top customer (defined by MRR), heard their pains, and directed your engineering team to solve them? And some of these clients are less likely to accept vague “down the road,” commitments, too.
If not, eventually, you will get “the call” from a top stakeholder, and they’re going to hold you accountable to ship an update or else. It might even be a forwarded email from a board member or chief executive.
Handling critical customer product feedback
I’ve worked with a number of founders and tech leaders who have one of three responses:
- Agree to everything: Agreeing to address everything that also halts other development with the aspiration of earning that renewal.
- Add it to the backlog: Inform the customer their development team has no additional capacity but will “add it to the backlog.”
- Add it to a satisfaction queue: Add the customer’s request to a customer satisfaction queue. You explain that you have a priority customer request queue alongside the regular product roadmap. You mention that it won’t be done overnight but can ship their request within the next couple of months, and you’ll be in touch when it’s ready.
Of these three responses, the third one is best. But I want to elaborate on the other two.
Agreeing to do everything a top-paying customer asks for is equivalent to a customer holding their bank hostage to open a HELOC. They are valuable, yes, but is the request worth impeding other product features? Not necessarily.
It’s unfair to the rest of your customer base, who are also patiently waiting for new features and capabilities, too. Ideally, SaaS founders shouldn’t be too financially dependent on a top customer, but it happens more than you might expect.
The second and most common response is to “add it to the backlog.” We’ve all heard that before. This token phrase is where genuinely great product ideas go to die. And what usually happens a few months later? The account flees to a competitor who has already solved its pain point or has an integration that does.
It’s one thing to say you love your customers; it’s another to practice it.
I encourage product leaders to develop a VIP or a “satisfaction” queue to place high-priority customer requests. This way, they won’t be as disruptive to the engineering roadmap and still delivers value to the most valuable customers.
You likely won’t need a ton of engineering resources here. The way to show customers love is to be proactive in finding these opportunities. If you have a customer success or support team, identify high-value customers with measurable dissatisfaction.
You can revisit plans to build a product feature in-house and opt for a technical partner. For instance, why engineer email delivery infrastructure if you have services like SendGrid and AWS available for fractions of a penny per message? The same goes for landing page tools.
When customers feel heard, they will stick around and even refer others. That’s the holy grail of product management. Showing customers love is easier said than done. With a culture of customer love and the right feedback loops, it’s achievable.
Communication is key. Don’t over-promise or underdeliver. Honor your relationship and commitments along the way. And be sure to celebrate your enhancements — likely, a handful of other accounts had similar friction along the customer journey.