in Technology

Don’t use ticketing systems for product feedback

Sorting through customer feedback on your product is one of the main duties of a PM. Once your product is successful at scale, you will need to move beyond analyzing and responding to individual, discrete pieces of feedback, and trying to find patterns in that feedback: patterns that help you to discern users’ true needs (problems) and not their wants (solutions).

Unfortunately for you as a PM, customer feedback tends to come in the form of solutions. This isn’t to blame users, far from it: that’s the most tangible interface for them, so exhorting users (or even your technical sales team) to “bring problems, not solutions” is unlikely to solve the issue. Defining the problem is your job, not your customers or your SEs.

That job is made harder, however, by the fact that most systems for providing feedback are very ticket-oriented. And customer feedback and feedback requests are a poor fit for ticketing systems like JIRA, GitHub Issues, or even certain purported feedback management tools like UserVoice that also manage feedback like tickets. Treating feedback this way creates the perception by all parties involved (customer, field engineers, CSMs, PMs, etc.) that FRs are work orders rather than valuable but inherently messy inputs into what product should do next.

“Messy inputs”, or what I like to call high degrees of ambiguity, are a poor match for ticketing systems, because feedback-as-tickets:

  • End up representing multiple levels of resolution and effort (in Lean, this would be referred to as inconsistent batch sizes)
  • Have wildly varying cardinality, sometimes combining multiple distinct requests into one issue, and sometimes being a really specific nitpick
  • Lack sufficient context as to the why, the customer profile (segment, size, industry, etc.), and the impact (is this a major blocker or a nice-to-have?)
  • Mix-and-match customer needs and wants.

In the end, everyone, particularly the sales team, is sad because the feedback tickets are largely non-actionable in their current form, so they get ignored.

I have some experience architecting customer feedback systems that do work well and they involve practices like:

  1. Treating FRs more like entries into a virtual suggestion box. The feedback, like all feedback, will be considered but there is no expectation of a response to the customer.
  2. Aggregation of feedback into “hot topics” or potential investment themes by product, because PMs address patterns rather than individual items. I would also say that this aggregation need not be done just by PM. In previous roles I have had AEs bring me their hot topics, CSMs bring me their hot topics, SEs bring me their hot topics, which forces field teams to do some prioritization and aggregation themselves across all their accounts rather than just filing tickets.
  3. Hot topics ultimately have initiatives underneath them that have three possible states: under consideration, being worked, or shipped. But at all times, the definition of these initiatives is under the control of PM.
  4. Regularly reporting on the status of the hottest topics (no more than ten or fifteen) so that the field knows that feedback is being addressed, even if specific solutions don’t match the ones that customers envisioned.
  5. Periodically, PM exposes initiatives under consideration to customers and asks for their input on the ideas, thus creating a nice, er, feedback loop back to the original suggestions. Customers can and should see the heritage of their suggestion box inputs in the definition of the initiatives. That’s how PM is kept accountable to building solutions that customers desire.

The point here is to shift the conversation from “where is my work order” (a situation in which the customer is very much in control) to “let me solicit your input on a few initiatives that we think will address the feedback we’ve heard” (a situation in which the PM has agency to shape the narrative).

As to tools: ProdPad‘s “feedback forms” and feedback management system is what I’ve used in the past for this, but I realize it’s been a few years. If you are in PM or Product Operations & have other tools that you use for managing customer feedback in this way, I would love to hear about them in the comments!

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