Feature request or the car built for Homer? The Customer Success Dilemma

“We need this new feature and we need it now! My customer has been asking for it for weeks and they can’t use our product the way they want to without it.” This was a fictitious conversation but conversations like this happen each and every day between those that work directly with customers and those in charge of building out products. Remember the car that Homer built? What did it do to his brother’s company? Don’t make this same mistake.

One of the main weaknesses of a poorly run customer success team is that they can be too accommodating to their customers. There, I said it. The customer isn’t always right. What good customer success teams do is listen to their customers and ensure that their customers are achieving real value. I’ve seen a number of happy customers churn not because they didn’t receive great service but because they didn’t see enough value. A new feature doesn’t necessarily equate to value. Customer facing teams should dig deeper before committing to proposing product changes to the product team. Ask this question: Will this new feature really have the impact that the customer expects and will it be more impactful than other features that are already on the immediate roadmap?

There will always be tradeoffs when it comes to feature requests and the customer success team needs to be ready to accept them or risk stalling future enhancements that could have a greater impact. In addition, accommodating all feature (which is impossible) could result in a product monstrosity like “The Homer”.

You don’t need three horns

homer_15Customer success teams that are only focused on making the customer happy can have blinders on and miss what the customer really needs to be successful. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do all that you can to make your customers happy but if you don’t understand what their real problem is, you can waste valuable time and resources and not solve the underlying issue. In Homer’s case, he didn’t need to include a car with three horns that played La Cucaracha. Especially if the car itself would never sell due to it’s over inflated price, ugly design and useless features. While he was making the car for the everyday person, he didn’t understand what they really wanted.

5 ways to be better ambassadors between your customers and the product team

Here is how you can ensure that you’re putting forward the right customer feature requests to your product team:

  • Meet with your customers regularly and provide them an opportunity to give product feedback. Use the “5 whys” method to fully understand the reasoning behind the feature request that is being made. if it isn’t clear. You don’t need to ask “why” five times but you get the point.
  • Visit your customers in person and look for trends in the requests you hear from across your customer base.
  • Prioritize the items that you think customers need within the customer success team so you send a clear message to your product team on what needs to be worked on first.
  • Provide customers with a forum to post feature requests and allow them to vote on features that they see as more important. Ensure that you are responding to their comments and indicate when a feature has been implemented to encourage additional feedback.
  • Meet regularly with your product team and understand what their goals and priorities are.

Remember that no one will care about that super awesome sounding horn if it didn’t move the dial enough to help customers achieve their stated objectives for using your product. As a customer success manager you need to pay close attention to what is really needed, take a step back and then decide if what is being asked is really necessary or if more information is needed. You also need to consider if what is being requested should take priority over other new features that are already in the works. That’s why having your customers vote on feature requests is impactful as it can provide a clearer picture on the common stumbling blocks that your customers face.

This isn’t an easy process and you won’t always be right but the more pragmatic you are about what is really needed, the more you will help your customers and your company in the long run.

Have you confronted a similar dilemma? How did you tackle it?

Chad H.

PS: As an additional tip, do your best to communicate to customers as to why a feature request has stalled or will not be implemented. Be honest and be direct. Most ideas submitted are great ones and they should all be acknowledged.

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