Our product roadmaps are already defined by our company’s ethos — our customers are just waiting for us to recognize it. Their pain points, frustrations, and repetitive tasking are our infinite roadmaps. The world of technology is full of opportunities, innovation, and demand, and when we solve one customer’s problem, another will arise before we can finish bug-fixing the first.

Airplane WiFi is my favorite example of this. Is there a technology hardship worse than trying to browse the internet on an airplane? It’s excruciatingly slow compared to our office WiFi and 4G connections! But while we complain in between the lethargic page loads, we forget that 15 years ago, WiFi on an airplane was an idea that could be best described as ‘wishful thinking.’

This is a perfect example of how a solution can immediately lead you to the next problem. We were all so excited when we boarded an airplane and saw the WiFi light glowing for the first time. But within a short few years (or maybe months, for you heavy travelers out there) we were no longer appeased with just having wifi — we had to have fast wifi.

In other words, innovation very often runs parallel to problems that need solving. If we’re lucky, our product is never complete, just like our customer is never satisfied. By building customer empathy into process and product creation, we can be sure that we’ll always be on top of the next thing our customers need.

Start with qualitative data

Qualitative data is the key to understanding what quantitative data you need, and how to get it. User interviews, product reviews, and customer feedback can provide you with the “what” and the “why” as step one. Step two is then layering quantitative data on top to measure the “how often,” “how much,” and “when.”

I make it a habit to talk to customers in-person at least once a quarter. Whenever possible, I partner with our Customer Support, Marketing, and Sales teams and tag along when they speak with our customers. Reaching out to users directly through email is also a fast and effective way to start a relationship with your customer base.

CallRail Product Manager Christina Bourne gives a presentation at our 2018 Agency Summit.

CallRail’s Agency Summit conferences have been an enlightening source of feedback since the inaugural conference in Atlanta in 2018. At these conferences, I’m able to present new concepts and discuss product enhancements with groups of customers. The feedback received during these lunch and learns, happy hours, and interactive presentations have led to significant improvements in our Account Center product, which has in turn increased adoption of the product.

The feedback from any conversation you have with your customers powers ideas, highlights opportunities, and ensures our software development has a human touch. And while you may only see a small number of customers respond in your first few attempts, users will become more engaged as they start to see their feedback implemented in your product. 

When you consider which customers to talk to, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Accessibility: How easy is it for you to reach the customer? Taking the path of least resistance will allow you to add customer empathy to your planning process, without delaying your development cycles.
  2. Customer Segment: Is this customer representative of your other customers? They certainly don’t have to be, but you should be aware going into the conversation whether their feedback is going to apply to all of your users, or only a segment of them. Don’t be afraid of segmented customers — implementing features for a segment of your customers can still be a good business decision if those customers are high-revenue,  have high potential, or if they are your daily active users. 
  3. Customer Satisfaction: Satisfied customers and dissatisfied customers are going to provide very different feedback. Both are valuable, but should be gathered with different goals in mind. Satisfied customers will help you develop ideas to retain users, increase usage, and grow existing customer revenue. Dissatisfied users will help you develop ideas to increase future retention and fix glaring product issues. 

Layering in the Numbers

If you were to stop reading here, you might go on to have fantastic conversations with your customers but build the least-used feature of your application. Customer empathy as a tool cannot stop at qualitative data. It must be layered with quantitative data in order to validate your new assumptions and confirm there is scale to justify development.

Here at CallRail, we use customer support tickets to create our own Holy Grail of qualitative and quantitative data. After hearing from customers that they wanted to be alerted to data anomalies or setup issues within their accounts, I searched our customer support tickets for how often customers have been reaching out about these topics. My research bore fruit: I found enough tickets with similar problems to reinforce the sentiment I had heard during customer interviews and meetings.

These customer support tickets gave me the quantitative data I needed to justify building a solution for our customers: An upgrade to our Slack Integration that allows customers to receive insights in Slack for data anomalies, along with alerts about issues with their accounts.

Through the simple process of engaging in conversation with our users, combined with the careful use of quantitative data to determine how frequently a need or pain point is expressed, you can build a strong case to either add a feature to your roadmap. Or, you might learn that it’s better to reject the idea, so you can make room for other new ideas to be evaluated. 

What people say VS What people do 

Henry Ford is famously quoted as saying that if he’d asked his customers what they wanted, he would have built a faster horse instead of the car. If building the right products were as easy as listening to customers and then building what they say, Product Managers would be out of a job.

The last critical step in building customer empathy into your process and your products is to make sure you always hear the problems, frustrations, and pain points before you come up with a solution. Empathy is about understanding the problem so intimately that the solution can be freed from existing expectations.