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An effective product management process is at least informed by listening to customers. Customer feedback should be collected by two of the forms of data.

  1. Qualitative
  2. Quantitative

A thorough understanding of what they like and don’t like about the product and why will be invaluable, and will help you accomplish many things like for example:

  • It can increase the likelihood you find product/market fit.
  • It can increase the percentage of users who get to the proverbial “aha moment”.
  • It can improve retention and increase the frequency of use.
  • It can help figure out how to grease the wheels for a referral.
  • It can help determine how to get more users to engage in revenue-generating activities.

You can use many of the assessment forms to evaluate customer feedback data.

Accomplishing business objectives

At the same time, customer feedback is not gospel. There can be very good reasons from a business perspective for why you make a certain product decision even though customers don’t necessarily prefer it (monetizing through ads is a great example).

What you’re always trying to do is balance the business case with the needs of users – effective products figure out ways to do both in a way that delights (or at least satisfies) both sets of stakeholders.

It’s important to note that this can be further complicated in marketplace businesses that have two sets of users – it can be tempting to listen to the side that is monetized more than the other since they are the ones giving you the money.

In that case, you’re accomplishing both a user and a business goal. But in doing so you might risk alienating the other side of the marketplace, which is why the folks giving you money are there in the first place.

Maintaining Product Integrity Over Time

Everyone has interacted with a product that has tons of functionality, but as a result, it doesn’t do anything particularly well.

Software often follows a cycle – it is simple and has clarity of vision, partially because of team and money constraints. The simplicity turns out to be part of what makes it work, so it gets customers.

To “keep the product competitive” or in an effort to improve metrics, the team feels immense pressure to continually add new features – to cater to power users, or to solve for edge cases, or to penetrate new customer segments.

Before long the clarity of vision gets lost and the things that made it great in the first place become less and less effective. The product becomes a Frankenstein.

Eventually, a new startup comes with clarity of vision, positioning the incumbent as too complicated and clunky. And the cycle begins anew.

Ensuring that the team understands what the “core experience” of the product is and protecting that core experience is of critical importance. It doesn’t matter if you bolt on new stuff – if you break the core experience in the process you’ll frustrate customers and get them to leave.

This can be hard to do, particularly if you embrace the first point about taking customer feedback seriously. But it’s often wiser to prioritize iteration and optimization of the core experience overstuffing the product with new features. And any new features that are added should ideally add value to the core experience, not detract from it.

Product management is about keeping all of these things in tension, and it’s critically important. Your customers won’t do it. The people watching the bottom line won’t do it. Designers likely won’t do it, and neither will developers. Product management is about making sure all these stakeholders are heard, and that decisions are made that effectively balance all of those needs without comprising on the product’s vision.

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