One of the biggest complaints we tend to hear from end users is that they submit a piece of feedback into what feels like a black box. No one wants to feel as if they’re shouting aimlessly into the ether, especially if they’re committing time or money to the effort. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the feedback process feels like for customers when submitting feedback to many companies. Fortunately, there are a few very simple behaviors we can adopt to avoid this common shortcoming. 

Proactively explain the feedback process to users.

During the first stage of the feedback process many teams confirm receipt of customers’ feedback at the moment of submission, but this typically takes the form of a generic “Thanks for your feedback.” message. You can certainly make this auto-response feel less generic by messaging it using more informal, personable, and tonally warm language. This is a good start, but it does nothing to assuage the concerns of customers who wonder if the time they spent proactively submitting feedback will result in anything of value for them. 

The best way to address this is to be descriptive in how your team will handle this item of feedback going forward, as well as what they can expect to hear from your team in the future. The goal isn’t to obligate your team by committing to a specific timeline for prioritizing every single piece of feedback. The goal is to commit to transparent communication with your users as their feedback progresses, whether or not you’ll eventually address it at all. Most people are reasonable; they understand that you’re busy, are having conversations with many customers simultaneously, and simply can’t work on everything at once. 

Frustration typically enters the equation when there appears to be no hope that their needs will be addressed or feedback considered. By being overly communicative up front, though, you can often bypass this risk by making the process feel more empathetic, personal, and reliable. Sometimes, this level of communication alone is enough to satisfy a user. People just want to feel heard. By proactively detailing what they should expect next, you can score an easy win for your team. 

Don’t address every piece of feedback, but do explain why.

It’s time for Honesty Hour: you simply are not going to be able to build every single thing your users ask you for. Fortunately, the vast majority of users are okay with that. User populations are increasingly tech literate; they understand what it’s like to use a software platform that improves over time. They also understand the competing interests and resource constraints that teams are constantly navigating. They don’t expect you to be able to address every single problem they have, but they do expect you to treat them like adults by being honest and forthcoming about why you won’t be addressing their personal needs. Similar to the last section, proactive over-communication is key. 

You should get as comfortable saying “We won’t be addressing this.” as you are saying “Thanks for your feedback!”. But in the same way you should be deliberate in explaining to users what comes next, you should also be deliberate in explaining to users why you are not considering addressing their needs. Sometimes this can be as simple as saying, “We’re going to be reviewing this need next quarter. Please sit tight until then.” Or: “This is the first time we’ve heard this request. We typically prioritize the most requested needs from our customers, which right now is [NEED]. If this changes, we promise to let you know.” 

However, there are also going to be times in which you disagree with their suggestions, or have previously considered them yet ultimately chosen not to proceed. In these instances, it behooves you to be candid about your perspective. At Parlor.io, we will occasionally have highly-opinionated and important customers request product enhancements which we fundamentally disagree with. When this happens, we commit to providing in-depth explanations (i.e. 1-2 paragraphs) for how we arrived at our decision. To this day, we have yet to lose a customer due to being forthcoming about why we will not address their feedback in the way they want. 

Be transparent about what other users want to crowd control expectations.

And now, it’s time for the second hour of Honesty Hour: most users believe that their needs are shared by a large number of other users. This is one reason why some users come off as exasperated when your team chooses to not quickly prioritize addressing their needs. But this isn’t their fault; they just don’t have visibility into the mountain of feedback your team is most likely receiving. But we can change that (and we should).

By providing your users with insight into other users’ feedback and needs, you essentially introduce a mechanism for automatically expectation-setting your broader customer population – without you having to always be the bearer of bad news. How do we actually do this? Simple: put popular ideas up for a vote, and provide users with a way of reviewing the results of that vote. 

This doesn’t have to be a completely open system where every user can see every possible user request. Idea portals like this are very 2010s. Instead, even putting a small collection (3-5 items) of the most common pieces of feedback up for a vote will send a powerful signal to all users and help temper their expectations by tethering them to reality; you’re receiving a lot of feedback, some of that feedback is shared broadly across many users, but their individual items are not part of that short list. Giving users a glimpse into other users’ needs ensures that they’re more likely to understand why their requests might not be at the top of your list.

Share your priorities, even if they’re not what users are requesting.

Similar to sharing what other users need, we also recommend that teams proactively share what’s coming soon from their roadmap. Again, this doesn’t need to be a completely open roadmap. The goal here isn’t to share everything you’re working on or to commit to specific timelines. The goal is to provide users with a bit of insight into a small list of improvements you’re actively working on in order to pacify them in lieu of addressing their individual needs. 

Being so proactively transparent can genuinely make your life easier in a variety of ways. First, it will ground users’ expectations by helping them understand the value of the other things you’re focusing on. Second, it will build anticipation and excitement for the improvements you are focusing on, often to the extent that they replace the desires users originally thought they had. Third, it gives you a meaningful reason to communicate with the users again in the future.

Each user has needs and ideas for improvements, but no single user has all of the possible ideas. In fact, it’s likely that you may be working on new functionality that a user has never considered which is ultimately more interesting to them. This happens at Parlor.io quite frequently. We will often reply to users requesting something new by previewing the items that we’re prioritizing instead. Very rarely do we encounter users who dig in and argue that their needs are more important. 

One note on communicating your priorities to users: if possible, we recommend allowing users to follow, like, or “star” the short list of items you choose to share. Not only does this act as an additional feedback collection moment, but it allows you to effectively build a list of users with whom you can proactively communicate as the priority makes progress. Instead of sending out a mass, generalized message about the new functionality, you can craft more personalized messaging and send it only to the folks who have marked that they’re interested in it. 

Conclusion

Communicating with your customers across every stage of the feedback management process goes a long way towards building lasting relationships. Taking the time to thoughtfully articulate what you’re addressing and why shows customers that you care and their needs are heard. To learn more strategies for closing the feedback loop, get your copy of our free, in-depth guide!