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The product-user feedback loop

Discover how to get smart help from your customers and amplify your product team’s results.

Read the full document today and learn:

  • How product and users tie together
  • The product-user feedback loop
  • How to build the right product—together
  • Product insights from your user community
  • Practical advice & pro tips
  • Product adoption
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Setting the scene: the VP of Product’s challenge

VP of Product, Chief Product Owner, Product Owner or Product Manager: regardless of your job title, you’re likely facing a barrage of similar challenges when it comes to building an impactful, influential product—with features, functionality and iterations that your customers LOVE. What can seem a straightforward problem on the surface quickly turns into trying to deal with the myriad of feature requests your loyal users throw at you. It can sometimes feel like there’s never enough bandwidth at any given time. 

How can you figure out which updates and features are really the most important? What is truly going to bring your company to the next level? How can you communicate your product roadmap in a way that incites enthusiasm within your user base, whilst making sure your decision making is based on data and insights, not subjective opinion?

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Are you making the right decisions when it comes to prioritizing your team’s backlog? Is your roadmap really on track for the future vision of the company and product? And amongst all of this: Are you making enough room for the product improvements being requested by existing customers?

But your biggest, most urgent challenge? Prioritizing the right next step.

You can’t listen to all your customers at once, but it’s necessary to stay close to them to prioritize. In this whitepaper we’re going to explore how creating a more reciprocal, customer-centric relationship with your users and establishing a cadence between your product team and your customer community—via an online community platform—can really push your releases from “that’s cool” to “WOW! Nailed it.” 

How product and users tie together

No doubt you’re already using user feedback as a key data point in product development. But how are you capturing this information? Are you relying on anecdotal evidence gathered via ‘chinese whispers’ from your CSMs on a small scale? Or are you gathering user feedback on a larger scale using surveys or questionnaires that offer little-to-no qualitative insights—meaning you can’t actually rationalize the numbers?

Product usage tracking tools are hot—you’re probably already using an analytics stack with tools like Mixpanel, Google Analytics, Amplitude or Kissmetrics to profile users and track their digital footprints. The hard data these tools provide is highly valuable and gives you the insights you need to answer tough questions, even when you don’t know what to look for.

But facts alone never tell the whole story. They show what’s currently happening, but don’t necessarily point to the needs of the future. Other methods can help you get there—customer surveys, focus groups and innovation labs. But these can be tough to set up and complex to draw conclusions from.

What you need is a structured way to get these insights—both qualitative and quantitative.

The answer lies in harnessing the power of your user community, effectively 

The beauty of using a customer community is that it offers multi-way communication. Not only can you have a dialog with your customer—you encourage dialogs between those customers too.

Utilizing an online user community allows product managers to communicate effectively with and amongst your users to collect valuable qualitative feedback on matters such as how new features and updates are being received and key use cases that customers are facing.

Pair this with quantitative feedback like user questions in the community and feature request volumes and suddenly you see the ‘whole story’ as well as crunching the data that helps you rationalize the decisions you’re making.

While your user community has a broader lifecycle incorporating pre-sales, onboarding, training and Customer Success to afford your users maximum value from your product, let’s explore how to put this to work for a product team.

The product-user feedback loop

 

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As you can see, there’s a clear methodology when it comes to incorporating your user community into your product workflow. And it goes a little something like this…

The foundational element of the product-community feedback loop is communication. Communication is, of course, the lifeblood of your user community—and in the sections that follow in this whitepaper we are going to focus specifically on how communication between users can help your product team and wider organization, plus how an online user community can help you communicate news and updates more effectively with your end-user base.

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1. General insights

Having an active online community or product users who are conversing day in, day out about your product offers a whole host of insights into user behavior, use cases and needs on a scale that you simply can't achieve from any other source.

As an example, here are just some of the insights we've seen effective product teams (including here at inSided) gather through their online communities:

  • Quick, easily accessible and precise feedback on new releases

Nutanix, an enterprise cloud software solution for IT teams, posts regular product update articles to their community, Nutanix Next —as many as 5 a week. This allows their product team to keep up to speed with feedback they didn't necessarily anticipate.

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  • Insight into both popular and more surprising or creative use cases

It's really about keeping your ear close to the ground. What are the different ways your customers are using your product, and what problems are they trying to solve? Your product team can see surprising hacks or work-arounds which will help you to formulate your roadmap ideas.

  • The ability to share positive feedback

and quotes from users with your development team, raising moral and motivation. This one is tasks from our own inSided community.

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Your product team will appreciate seeing positive user feedback

One of the ways some of the most successful product teams work with their user communities is to bring product management and development to the customer every day.

At inSided, our product team is highly active on our own user community which fosters a real sense of collaboration between those building the product and those using it. Part of the team's daily workflow is to check in with the community and get a sense of any time-sensitive or topical feedback, and then allow this to shape how the product team gets to work.

💡 Pro tip: Set aside a regular routine for your entire product or development team spends 10 or 15 minutes reviewing the latest customer community posts related to your product. Establish this habit to ensure a continuous collaborative effect. The result? A product team that's building the best-fit product for happy, loyal users.

Your community also gives your product team a great way to prepare for customer meetings you may be joining with your Customer Success colleagues. You can search and review community activity on a user basis prepared for the conversation topics that are going to come up. For more information on how to get the most out of your community, download your free copy of our Ultimate Guide to Community Management:

2. Build the right product—together

When you enable the benefits of a collaborative and two-way communication between your product team and your end users, you can be sure you’re going a long way towards making sure you’re building the right product—together. 

Those valuable and unique insights help you to prioritize your roadmap.

You can also ask for users to help you validate or challenge new and upcoming initiatives and ideas. This can be as simple as upvoting new ideas or as complex as inviting users to give rationale behind what they believe should or shouldn’t be worked on as a priority.

  • Ideation

It’s also great to get insights and feedback from other customers on user ideation. B2B software company Infoland moved from a one-way communication method for accepting ideation from existing users to using their community-driven help center. What they see is now a great multi-way conversation between users and a vibrant discussion that helps them understand if a feature request or idea is really a good idea or not. 

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An example of an ideation board

How much direction should you give to users when it comes to soliciting ideas on your online community? Little to none, say our product experts. Whilst it can be tempting to give your users pointers on the kind of feedback and suggestions you’re looking for, this can actually have a negative impact on their creativity and comfort with proposing ideas. Neither inSided nor Infoland gives direction for this reason.

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inSided's ideation board
 

💡 Pro tip: Ideas are not always just ideas: Often, they’re actually a great indicator of deeper problem areas. Pay attention to where customers are putting their own emphasis. If users are submitting multiple similar ideas or there are tons of upvotes on a particular suggestion, take a closer look because users may well be identifying areas that need your product team to take a look at some serious improvements.

  • Feedback on design and functionality

Sometimes your product team might want to investigate on the feasibility and reception of new initiatives or functionalities. Sometimes, you may simply be looking for user input on new design elements. An online user community is the perfect tool to ask these questions:

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Getting user feedback on designs
 
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and these requests do get a lot of detailed user feedback
 
  • Community help on testing new functionality

A beta user community can also help you when it comes to testing and releasing new iterations and features. Rather than relying on external testing agencies and eating up that precious development budget, lean on your loyal and long-time active users to work with you on beta tests and early adoption initiatives. This helps you ensure that your new releases are workable for the use cases you’re targeting and will give you much faster insights.

Finally, you can also use your user community and the insights it gives you to explore product gaps that even your users may not have thought of. It’s possible to analyse the typical queries, use cases or feature requests that come in from users across different industries and extrapolate this to identify potential development areas that could bring a whole heap of value not only to your existing users but also allow you to grow into new markets.

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Simyo uses their online community to run 4G beta test

What we find most helpful is when other users call a request or idea actually, not being a great idea. This really helps our product team prioritize. It can be so subjective.

Koen Sterken

Product Owner at Infoland

Want more pro tips on how to build a successful community?

The Ultimate Guide to Community Management has everything you need to know to launch a successful community.

Read the eBook

There are numerous reasons for brands to adopt a community: some leverage their community to conduct customer research and others use theirs for marketing and engagement. By far the strongest use case, though, for customer communities is as a support channel - with the ultimate goal of increasing customer satisfaction and retention.

inSided

3. Product adoption

Successful product adoption is vital for growing tech companies. When you can lock customers in with an effective onboarding process, ensure they squeeze the most value out of your tool and create a workflow that without your product would be a real headache, you boost retention, avoid churn and build revenue. 

Here are a few ways that your online customer community can massively support your product adoption efforts.

Remember those beta test groups we mentioned earlier? They bring a product adoption benefit too: Those active and loyal super users that you select to be part of your early adoption programs or beta releases then become experts to lean on when it comes to the general release or features. What does this mean for you?

It is more likely that these early adopters will be better placed to help out new users when you do a general release. If you do this right, you will benefit from a ready-made group of user experts to take the heat off your support team when queries and questions invariably come flowing into the community about the new release. Your advocates will also be thrilled to be part of these early adoption programs - a chance to get their hands on features before others and feel involved with the development of the product are highly motivating factors. It's a real win-win result!

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The Nutanix NEXT community is a prime example of experienced users tutoring new product adopters

💡 Pro tip : Beta or power users are already experts when you launch a new feature or product. Benefit from less strain on your support by leaning on them.

  • Product announcements

As well as the more obvious, mainstream type or product announcements you're probably visualizing on your user community, you can also use this forum to make so-called 'pre-announcements' to your most active user base - helping them to prepare appropriately for any changes to their way of working. The two-way communication format also allows users to help you understand how much notice is helpful for them to get when you are releasing system updates, for example.

Feedback & questions on a new release announcement posted in the community allow you to quickly build knowledge. Positive comments and feedback from users about the new features are also an oft-underestimated benefit for your product development team - it's great for moral to be able to pass this on to engineers.

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At inSided we love to share product announcements with our community regularly

  • Straightforward examples from other customers

When new users join your community and are able to learn from peers that have been using your product with the same or similar use cases, they are typically onboard significantly faster and have fewer troubles when it comes to maximizing value out of the product. The huge benefit of this happening within your online community is that it allows multi-way communication we touched earlier, allowing multiple users to benefit from each story, example and best practice.

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User groups are a great way to group together with common interests or use cases

  • Answer questions and build knowledge

How many times has your product team been called upon to answer a question that has definitely been asked in some way, shape or form before? Utilizing a user community allows you to bypass these repetitive requests and let your active users do the heavy lifting for you. We've seen communities where users will answer up to 50% of questions. Once a great answer is given, it's new for the future. Once a great answer is given, it's new for the future.

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Deezer makes great use of their community-generated content and has a fantastic knowledge base that allows customers to self-serve

  • One central location for user guides, how-tos, tutorials and other content

Never wonder where the latest tutorial, how-to or FAQ is stored again when your community does double duty as an ever-growing, user-powered knowledge base.

This benefits the product team enormously; why? It not only supports a smooth onboarding process, but even helps with pre-qualifying user questions. By the time a question about the product team it's likely gone through previous answers, FAQs and other people's input, so you can be sure it's worth paying attention to.

  • Real scenario use cases and tutorials created by users

One of the intrinsic values of an online customer community is the sense of peer-to-peer collaboration that it fosters. Users share and discuss their real-life use cases and offer tutorials, best practices and how-tos for specific scenarios. This is a granular level of guidance that you as a product team simply don't have the capacity to offer (no matter how much you may wish you could!)

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Check out the eBook: Business value of online communities

Find out how using your community of customers can drive value and help you scale your customer success function.

 

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Practical advice: How-to establish a seamless product-community workflow

We've discussed the benefits that infusing your user community into your product team's workflow can bring. Now, let's take a look at some practical steps you can take to ensure that regular reviews or activity on the community becomes a natural part of your product team's way of working. 

1. Daily or weekly — set a regular review cadence

Only you can determine the right cadence for your team. You may decide that Product Owners should interact with and pay attention to trends on the community daily, while your development team only needs to check in a couple or times a week. The trick here is not to start too intensely — as we all know, trying to establish new habits are easier when they are introduced in steps. Start small and build up over time.

💡 Pro tip: The most important thing here is consistency, rather than 'actual time spent'. It will be much more valuable if your team can develop the habit of checking the community daily — if only for 5 or 10 minutes — rather than spending an entire hour browsing just once a week.

💡 Pro tip: You might want different workflows or routines for interacting with your community users, as opposed to simply reviewing and reading community content. This will depend on how active in the community you are because your product team to be.

2. Create a systematic internal meeting structure

Make sure your product team is in regular contact and collaboration with whoever is responsible for managing your community. You may have a dedicated Community Manager or this task may be within the customer support or success department. At inSided, our product team sits with our community management team on a bi-weekly basis to review trends in user feedback, ideation and feature requests and align on any announcements coming up for users.

Practical advice: How to say no to ideas & manage expectations

Or course: Your users are going to make a whole stack of feature requests, and it's your job to rationalize and prioritize these. You need to determine what makes sense given your roadmap and future plans, and what simply isn't worth investing valuable time and resources into. 

This inevitably means that you're going to have to push back on many, many feature requests from users — regularly — and often those users will be some of your most active, loyal customers.

How can you do this while retaining a positive sentiment and maintain a collaborative atmosphere so you don't discourage users from submitting ideas or requests in the future?

Here's how we respond to customer ideas or feature requests at inSided:

We always make sure that every idea gets a response—no matter how ‘out there’ it may seem. Our approach is always to ask ‘why?’. It’s vital that a product manager can get to the root problem. What is the user trying to achieve with this idea? What’s the problem they’re trying to fix? Once we get confirmation of what the problem really is, we’re in a much better position to solve it—and this way we can often find a much better solution than the original idea that was proposed.

Daniel Boon

Product Owner at inSided

And if you really have to say no? Transparency is key, says Koen Sterken, Product Owner at Infoland:

I always try to share the proper reasoning when we don’t accept an idea. Users invest a great deal of effort in sharing, and it can be daunting—especially for newer users—so I believe we should have the common decency to respond. Of course, sometimes a user doesn’t like or agree with our rationale for saying no to an idea. Sometimes we don’t run with an idea because the user group is too small. Sometimes there is too much going on. Sometimes it’s not the idea that’s the problem, but our planning. But it’s better to be open and transparent about this to foster a strong ongoing relationship with our users...

Koen Sterken

Product Owner at Infoland

💡 Pro tip: Remember, when it comes to ideation: You're not looking for feature requests, you're looking for problems to solve. Or what users think they want because is not what they really need.

Practical advice: Metrics to measure

While YMMV - Your Metrics May Vary; -) - some of the key indicators for a product team to pay attention to are:

  • Have you received feedback from enough people on a particular topic? Is there enough feedback to be considered significant, or representative of the 'current' customer landscape? Or does feedback mostly come from a specific industry, or even company?
  • Split feedback by user profile. Who is interacting with or reading the content? Who engages with it? What are the numbers?
  • When it comes to ideation, how many votes has an idea got? Are there multiple similar ideas or requests popping up lately?

In summary

There's a wealth of reasons for product teams to start using their user communities more effectively.

Use your online user community to get buy-in for your decisions, and harness the power of the community to defend the decisions that you take jointly.

It's an irreplaceable way to help your users - the most important people, in the end - understand where you and your company are taking your product (s) and make sure they're on board as an attorney for the journey.

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