User Feedback: Why We Need to Drill Down into Feature Requests

December 19, 2013

No matter how much they ask, you can’t give your users everything they want this holiday season. Learn how to prioritize and make a bigger impact by sussing out the “why” behind the “what”.

When Central Desktop began to verticalize its product strategy almost three years ago, the collaboration software company did what a lot of expansion-stage businesses do — it tried to do more with less by allowing the sales process to drive the company’s product enhancement prioritization.

In other words, Central Desktop’s salespeople were doubling as user experience researchers.

So, when an existing customer told one of the company’s salespeople that it wanted to see new features or functionality, that feedback would often reshuffle Central Desktop’s product strategy in a particular vertical. If a prospective buyer asked why the software didn’t include a feature that a competing solution did, that insight tended to fuel product prioritization.

“That might sound like good customer service, but it really wasn’t a great product prioritization strategy,” McKnight says. “It was a very reactive way to collect and incorporate user feedback, and that sometimes made it difficult to understand what the users in a particular vertical really needed from our product.”

You Need the Why as Much as the What: The Importance of Drilling Down into Feature Requests

For Central Desktop, the company’s product prioritization strategy evolved for the better once it established an official product function and began to evaluate the needs, wants, and pains of the users in each of its target verticals more objectively.

That decision paid off almost immediately, McKnight says. By examining user requests in greater depth (as opposed to immediately reacting to them), the company discovered details that could more holistically impact the product strategy for each of its target verticals.

McKnight says the company’s qualitative research also uncovered user trends and habits that made tailoring the product to the needs of each target vertical much easier and efficient. For instance, when Central Desktop began studying creative agencies (one of its target verticals), it found that, while every agency had its own unique way of handling project management, most agencies generally organized their work the same way.

“That was a big ‘Aha!’ moment for us,” McKnight recalls. “At the time, our system was pretty flat and not at all tailored to how those agencies worked (although we did already have a lot of agencies using our platform). As soon as we made adjustments to address their needs more specifically, it made a huge impact on user experience.”

The key lesson from that experience, McKnight says, is the importance of not just understanding what a customer wants (new features that make the software more customizable) — but also why they want it.

kristy-mcknight-vp-product“It’s not always the specific request that would make the biggest impact. You could layer on feature after feature, but that may not address the bigger, underlying issue. In fact, it may just make your software more complex and confusing than it was before.”

— Kristy McKnight, VP of Products at Central Desktop

The Product Person Seeks Two Things: Context and Simplicity

As a product person, McKnight says she’s used to have a lengthy backlog of feature or functionality requests from customers. But instead of reactively addressing them one-by-one, McKnight prefers a different approach.

Targeting multiple customer segments?

Image provided by: {link:}llee_wu{/link}

How to Stay Focused While Expanding into Vertical Markets

“What we like to do is go on site with customers and spend a couple of hours or days observing how they use the product and understanding what they’re trying to accomplish with it,” McKnight says. “By doing that, we can get a first-person view of the functions that could make a customer’s life easier or better.”

Surprisingly, McKnight says that such proactive user engagement often leads to Central Desktop simplifying its product in some way, rather than adding to the complexity of it with additional features or functionality.

“I think that’s where a lot of product people get tripped up,” McKnight says. “They think that by building everything a customer wants, they’re making the product better. In reality, they’re probably making it more complex than it needs to be. Ultimately, qualitative context is critical when it comes to building and improving a product. You have to know why you’re building something and why implementing it will make the product experience better. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in this never ending game of catch-up.”

Do you ever have a hard time determining which feature requests to prioritize? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo by JD Hancock


Vp and GM

<strong>Kristy McKnight</strong> is the VP/GM of <a href="">Veritone, Inc.</a>. Previously, she was the VP of Product Management at Age of Learning, Inc. and previously was the VP of Products at <a href="">Central Desktop</a>, where she was responsible for the company's product strategy.