Close the loop

6 Min Read

Customer-centric ideation at inSided

Last week, we talked about how Customer Success and Product teams can work together to close the feedback loop.

Today it’s time to put our money where our mouth is.

In this week’s post in our Close the Loop series, I’ve set out to explain how the inSided Product team works together with our Customer Success team to close the loop on product feedback and make our customers happier – and more successful.

It covers where we started, how we got to where we are now, and how our teams, company, and most of all – our customers –  have benefited as a result.

First, let’s head back to the year 2017.

Where we started – lack of execution

Four years ago, ideation was already up and running on our inSpired community. At the time, our Customer Success team was encouraging customers to submit their feedback and ideas while the Product team was in charge of handling the feedback submitted.

But there was a slight problem: We hadn’t really worked out how to balance delivering towards our product vision while providing quality-of-life and platform improvements for key user segments on our platform.

So what happened? Well, Product of course wanted to work on these ideas, and we even communicated that we’d added a bunch of them to our product backlog, but they got consistently pushed behind work towards the product vision.

This was far from ideal. Because, as mentioned before, if you’re not going to actually act on customer feedback, it’s essentially useless.

Internal friction

Soon, our Customer Success team started to feel awkward about pushing customers to our ideation portal, since there was nothing happening. Or well, plenty of ideas were submitted, but none came to fruition.

There was a lot of mutual frustration and a few heated meetings between our Product and Customer Success teams around certain top-voted (and not super complex) ideas in the community, e.g. manually awarding badges.

These ongoing conversations (at times, arguments) made it hard to have focused and productive discussions about product strategy and achieving bigger outcomes for the business.

Things had to change.

But that change didn’t come from the teams – it came from our own community.

Customer-driven change

Everyone reaches their breaking point. So did our loyal and idea-submitting customers. After submitting a certain number of ideas, and patiently waiting for updates on top-voted ideas – our customers had had enough.

The most engaged customers spoke up about it in the community. And we’re forever thankful that they did!

Presentation slide from our 2019 inSpired customer eventIt’s this kind of transparent feedback from our community members that triggered a much-needed shift in thinking among the Product teams.

That said, let’s fast forward to 2019.

How we got to where we are now – A shift in thinking

We realized that our existing approach was unsustainable and we had to either drop ideation or dramatically step up our game.

But it really wasn’t much of a choice. Given we were recommending customers to use our own product to do ideation – we had to lead by example.

Previously we had only worked on ideas when they fit with a roadmap theme towards our vision. But even then, they were often treated as nice-to-haves, not essential needs to solve.

So what did we do? We started looking at customer ideas as a primary source of opportunities for our roadmap.

This was the beginning of a new era: Customer and Product collaboration.

Customer and Product collaboration

The product team collaborated with customers who had submitted and voted on the ideas throughout product discovery to make sure we nailed the solutions.

Here’s what we did:

  • We delivered some of the top ideas to the community within a year (e.g. file attachments, draft articles, the ability to manually award badges).
  • We linked back to the ideas delivered in our community product updates to make it transparent when an idea came from our own user base.
  • We @mentioned beta customers/users who helped us discover the best solutions when announcing delivered ideas.
  • We were transparent with customers about how we had done a bad job, and hoped they were starting to see the difference.
  • We surprised our customers with a feature launch (team notes) at a customer event.

inSpired 2019
Internal impact

The Customer Success team was of course delighted as ideation re-established itself as a valid place for customers to submit their feedback.

But it wasn’t just Customer Success who loved it. Our engineering team was thrilled as new ideas were referenced directly in JIRA tickets. This way, they could go and check out the context and understand how many customers had a certain need.

Gaining momentum and increasing collaboration

Encouraged by the progress we had made so far, in 2020, we started setting OKRs around delivering customer votes for particular segments and areas of the product. This was not only a motivating factor for the product engineering teams, but it strengthened our relationship with Customer Success as we collaborated on our plans to ensure we maximized value delivered.

This is when we also started getting stricter on closing ideas. Now, ideation is mostly about managing expectations, and in doing so, you need to be transparent. For us, that meant:

  • We aimed to close ideas that didn’t receive many votes, are older than a certain age, and didn’t get many views or replies.
  • Closing an idea means we’re unlikely to work on it unless the situation/opportunity dramatically changes.
  • Customers are disappointed, but generally understand that we can’t do everything, or that an alternative solution to their problem will solve issues for more customers.

Where we are now – Customer Success Product

While we still have a long way to go and we’re always looking to improve, 2020 marked a huge milestone in our ideation efforts. We reached over 1000 votes delivered (40% of all cumulative votes delivered as of Feb 2021). We share our Quarterly Ideation Reviews with our inSpired community and they’re packed full of ideas.

As for our Customer Success team, they keep pushing customers to our ideation section to give product feedback. This happens both during onboarding and on an ongoing basis.

But, and perhaps most notably, we’ve become accomplished at delivering on the “long-tail” of product feedback. Product and Customer Success now finally have room to spend time debating the bigger and more impactful problems for the business.

What’s next?

  • Keep improving how we manage our customer expectations by using our ideation moderation tools to close the loop faster.
  • Track our % votes delivered, open, and closed on a monthly basis, to better collaborate with CSM by ensuring we manage expectations (and as a predictor of NPS).
  • Strive for even more targeted customer segmentation of ideas/votes that we deliver, to have a more measurable impact on NPS.

And there you have it! Remember, maintaining an effective collaborative relationship is ongoing work, just as collecting and acting on customer feedback. How do you collaborate with your Customer Success/Product departments? Drop me a note on LinkedIn and let me know!

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