Understanding your customers is essential for any business owner and is one of the cornerstones of the product manager role, as discussed in my last blog post. Building strong and long-lasting relationships is first and foremost about communication and nothing can beat face-to-face contact. With businesses spreading out around the globe, that’s not always possible, but new tech developments mean there’s never an excuse for allowing regular interaction with your customers to fall by the wayside.
As a minimum, you should have regular touch points in place, a review of what customers are saying about you online and what your app star ratings are. A big part of this is social media. Negative feedback on social media or bad app reviews may not represent the majority of users. But having said that, these comments are an invaluable source of feedback and a fast well-crafted response is essential to show that we are interested in what people have to say and we do act on their comments. I’ve often found that once the issue has been explained or a solution offered, naysayers will become the company’s biggest fans.
At Showmax, for example, we’ve set up a team specifically to respond to reviews. When a bug is flagged they work with our product and engineering teams to get it fixed and to communicate updates to customers. Many of the improvements we are currently working on are the result of comments and complaints from customers, because we try to address the biggest complaints we find on app stores and social media.
Apps with higher ratings do better in app store search and are more likely to be recommended for promotion by Google or Apple. That’s why one of our key KPIs is the star rating of our applications. It’s critical to monitor customer reviews and rapidly respond to improve the ratings of your application. If we see bad reviews from users on Google Play or the Apple App Store, we consolidate the feedback and address the issues to improve our ratings.
Going a step further, you might want to consider how you can draw reviewers into a wider discussion about your product or service. By building an online community of your customers and encouraging debate, you’ll be privy to a wealth of direct feedback that you can use to help in future iterations of your product.
At Showmax we have hosted customer sessions in South Africa and Kenya where we listened directly to user feedback about our product. It helped us understand user needs particular to these markets which enabled us to expand our service offering in line with our audience requirements. For example, we learned that bandwidth is hard to come by, so our apps need to be fairly light and we need to offer the ability to download content. We also learned that piracy is viewed as a legitimate alternative. In fact, in Kenya, there’s a prevalence of piracy that the government is in the midst of trying to prevent. In order to compete, we need a range of payment options to make the legal route more accessible and we need to make signup as easy as possible.
As a product manager, gathering and understanding customer data is essential to help me make the right strategic decisions when it comes to product development. Here are my top three methods for this:
- Try remote collaboration tools. Online tools like Hotjar or other survey and user experience tools can help businesses to understand what’s working and what’s not by allowing them to monitor user interaction with the product, remotely. When you can’t conduct product trials in person, these tools are invaluable. We extensively use Hotjar to track heatmaps on key pages of our experience, to survey customers when they drop out of our registration experience, and to understand completion of key pages in our product.
- Use all data at your disposal. Analyzing market trends and broad-brush user behavior will help you understand your audience’s needs. Comparing this to other qualitative and quantitative metrics and feedback will allow you to isolate aspects for further testing. In the case of Showmax, it’s key to know the user experience customers are used to and to build a product that meets and exceeds those expectations. As an example, when Airbnb first launched, the company quickly realized the importance of imagery and presentation. Only properties with well taken photos secured interest; those with “amateur” pictures just didn’t cut it, no matter their location or price. Many hosts were finding it difficult to secure bookings, so in the early stages Airbnb dispatched professional photographers to take pictures of accommodation.
- Don’t underestimate face-to-face contact. Whenever possible, on-the-ground focus groups in key markets are unbeatable as a source of qualitative data that you can feed directly into the product development team. One of my favorite methods for gathering feedback is simply pitching up a stand in a shopping mall to ask the locals what they think. This approach isn’t appropriate for all businesses but it can be adapted. Years ago, when Intuit was first developing financial software, the company would make visits to customers’ homes to see how they managed their finances. Intuit would then use this research to make its products more fit for purpose.
Your customer should be the first consideration in your business and should always be front of mind when developing your product. New technology has allowed businesses to disperse further than ever before, but it’s no excuse for reduced dialogue with your customers, wherever they are.