Strategies, Best Practices and Thought Leadership

FinTech Customers – Use Your Voice!

A mature product-focused tech company that claims to listen to its customers likely has some type of online forum or community that facilitates communication between its product management team members and its customers. The unfortunate reality for many companies is that these forums are considered black holes where customer ideas go to die rather than to be reviewed and discussed. The primary reason is because product managers simply don’t take the appropriate time to engage with their customers in these forums. This leads to customers losing value in participating and results in less forum activity. Often, the product manager reacts by spending even less time interacting since “nobody seems to care.” Both sides rationalize their apathy, and nobody wins.

I’ve been in software product management for nearly 20 years and earlier in my career I was guilty of neglecting these forums for a variety of reasons that I can rationalize, but the main reason is I simply didn’t give it the priority and attention that it deserves, despite me fully knowing how extremely valuable they can be. After all, customers are THE source for our best and most innovative product ideas.

The Cost of Silence

There are real business costs to both customers and to organizations when these online customer forums don’t get the attention they deserve and are poorly executed.

Product teams will get pulled into the trap of reacting to the requests of the noisy few rather than the silent majority. This can have disastrous results, since one of the most dangerous decisions a company can make is to act on feedback that doesn’t accurately represent the majority of customers. New features that don’t satisfy the greater customer base can often pull a product in a misaligned direction that can’t be recovered. Product managers should crave the interactions and insights that come from these communities, since the residue of a ready-fire-aim approach can create damage control and cleanup tasks for years – that’s definitely not how I want to spend my time!

For organizations, the cost to you is that you are left with a product that appears to have no cohesive approach and the usability of the product can hinder your productivity or even become outright unbearable. With most B2B software contracts running several years, you won’t have any relief in the near term unless your company has the stomach (and budget) to do a rip and replace effort in order to improve your situation.

Define the Pain

So how can both sides change their behavior in order to avoid this doomsday cycle? For organizations, not only do you need to be an active participant in your vendor’s user communities, but you need to be prepared to devote a few minutes to expanding on your ideas so that the vendor’s product teams fully understand the pain you’re trying to communicate. When you post an idea, here is some basic information I recommend including so that the vendor has a running start on understanding what you’re trying to achieve:

1. Define your role at your organization
2. I use your product today to help me with doing ____________. It would help me more if it could also do ____________.
3. If it did #2, here’s why it would be valuable to me: ____________.
4. Here’s how frequently I have this problem __________________.

Offering just this limited bit of additional information provides a nice start for a conversation with the product manager. Expect the product manager to ask you to eventually walk her through it in more detail, since product people know that it’s often true that what customers say they do and what they actually do often aren’t the same. They want to see the problem through your eyes.

Customers should really view these forums as a way to build a backlog of ideas that the broader community can review, discuss and prioritize. Items that seem to build a pervasive problem that other members say they want solved too can then “graduate” to the vendor’s product backlog where the vendor’s product team can begin to commit research to identifying and estimating potential solutions. On the flip side, items that don’t get any engagement or interest from other customers are highly unlikely to ever make their way onto a roadmap. As Mr. Spock says, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

Product teams need to do their part and commit to actively reading the posts and engaging in customer conversations to further. Product managers should be the department of “why” instead of the stereotypical department of “no.” Ask “why” as many times as necessary in order to make sure you understand the problem the customers want solved. Product managers should understand that guessing can be very expensive. Use the forums to get better at making smart bets rather than bad guesses.

Push your Peers and Product Managers!

Like most online communities, a user group or forum becomes more useful when more people join AND participate. Push your peers to engage and further conversations (and vote on ideas if applicable). Don’t overthink it, just get things started by seeding a discussion and see where your peers take it.

Most importantly, don’t forget to push your product managers to respond. It’s their job to be the customer advocate! Sometimes you won’t like what you hear if a request is quickly shot down, but the product manager should provide details that will help educate you further on how the process works (popular reasons: it’s not aligned with business objectives, nobody else wants this, it takes the product in a direction we’re not interested in pursuing, it’s way too large a technical effort to justify doing it). This lets you see behind the curtain a bit and make you more informed about how the vendor’s prioritization process works.

In 2020, Baker Hill has a renewed focus on making our user community and user groups fertile destinations for customer ideas and conversation. To learn more about our plans in these areas, please reach out to me directly at matt.sifferlen@bakerhill.com

Topics: Uncategorized

Matt Sifferlen

Written by

Matt is a product manager with over 19 years of practical experience managing revenue generating software products. Matt is a Certified Product Manager (CPM) and has held senior product management and product marketing roles for digital products in financial services, team collaboration, consumer services, automotive and education. At Baker Hill, Matt focuses on our portfolio management capabilities and on ensuring we listen to the needs of the market.

Matt’s banking experience includes several years as a commercial portfolio manager and branch manager. Matt received his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Xavier University and received his MBA from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

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