Turning User Feedback into Actionable Feature ideas and Continous Product Improvement

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Collecting and leveraging customer feedback is crucial for the growth and user retention of any SaaS business. If you claim your product is user-centric, chances are you most probably already have a process of collecting and incorporating user feedback into your product roadmap. If you want to see whether you`re doing it right, continue reading to make sure you`re not missing on something important. If you are still relatively small and just starting to gain growth, you might want to see how to effectively use it and incroporate it into your strategy. The journey from raw user feedback to a polished and impactful product feature or enhancement is a meticulous process that demands strategic thinking and creative ideation. In this article, you`ll find a comprehensive guide on how to harness the power of user feedback and skillfully transform it into actionable feature ideas or product improvements that resonate with your audience and elevate your product to new heights.

 

1. Collect feedback into a centralized feedback repository

The first and most fundamental step is to have a centralized feedback repository in place. This is where you`ll consolidate user feedback from various sources – customer support interactions, surveys, reviews, in-app feedback or in-app survey questions, direct communications, etc. Today, you can find plenty of tools and software solutions that offer feedback and feature request repositories of all kinds and of all levels of technical capabilities. Expectedly, those having higher tech capabilities and automation powers better cater to the needs of organizations with bigger customer base that generate more feedback from more sources, as well as dispose with bigger budgets. In case you are small with your product in its initial growth stage, you can still take advantage of many tools offering feedback repositories with less or almost any automation functionality at a cheaper cost. In such instances, you may need to do more manual work, but this should not be of big concern given you still haven`t scaled. The main point here is to have and maintain a centralized place for the feedback, feature ideas, and requests you are receiving from both your clients and internal stakeholders that will allow you to effectively iterate based on a holistic view of your customers` pain points and needs. It promotes a better understanding of the latter and serves as a valuable reference point during the ideation and feature prioritization phases.

2. Categorize the feedback

Categorizing user feedback into distinct types and themes brings order and clarity to the various range of insights and data gathered. Some tools like Viable that offer such automation functionality can do huge part of this work for you, but in case your feedback system doesn`t support it (or it does only partially), you`ll have to do it by yourself. It`s up to you to decide how you`ll categorize your feedback and what approach to use. The important thing is to find an effective way to structure that raw qualitative (and in some cases quantitative) feedback data coming from various sources, which will lay the foundation and framework for further discovery, prioritization and other subsequent processes leading to the creation of actionable feature ideas and product improvements.

 

Here is my suggestion on how to approach this:

 

1) Create broad categories that represent the main areas of your tool and assign the feedback data to these initial categories based on their primary focus.

For example: User Interface, Performance, Features, Pricing, Customer Support, etc.

2) For each category, drill down further and identify specific themes that emerge. Themes are more focused than categories and allow you to pinpoint the exact issues or suggestions users are expressing.

Some of these can be:

User Interface:

Navigation and Layout
Design and Visuals
Responsiveness

Performance:

Loading Times
Latency
Errors and Bugs

Features:

Feature Enhancements
Feature Usability

Pricing:

Pricing plans
Value for Money
Pricing Tiers

Customer Support:

Responsiveness
Knowledge Base
Ticket Resolution

3) Tag each piece of feedback with the relevant categories, themes (sub-themes) and type.

This will involve assigning multiple tags to a single piece of feedback. It depends on you and and the structure of your product and feedback what tagging system you`ll use. The idea of this step is to achieve better-organized data set, which is well-prepared for the analysis and prioritization part. I would use tag system that indicate the broad category of each feedback piece, the theme, and most importantly the feedback type – whether it is a feature request/idea, a complaint (tech bug or issue of other nature) or a compliment. At this level, I would also do the tagging of sub-themes if there are such (in case additional level of clustering of the themes is required).

3. Prioritize feedback, аnalyze and understand potential gaps

Once you have structured and organized your raw feedback data into relevant categories, what follows is the the feedback prioritization and analysis part. Through careful examination of the the patterns that emerged from the previous, categorization step, one can identify the areas and themes where your current features or offerings fall short of meeting user needs and standards. To get to that point, you`ll need to “prioritize” your feedback data and eliminate the noise. Most of the time, this involves ranking themes based on factors, like frequency of mentions, as well as impact on user experience and your revenue. This will allow you to recognize the biggest (and most common) issues your users face and the most desired features among them, while at the same time keeping the business impact at the top of your mind.

4. Brainstorm solutions

This step requires brainstorming ideas and solutions to the issues or bugs you`ve identified as most impactful to your users and business, as well as to the themes that were prioritized as the ones where users want to see future improvement and development the most.

This brainstorming process entails gathering your team for a brainstorming session (or series of sessions), where you`ll discuss the results of your feedback data analysis and the patterns that emerged, and generate multiple ideas based on it. This is a creative exercise that aims to come up with as many possibilities for product improvement and innovation based on your user feedback (or using it as a focal point), as possible, and use the diverse expertise and perspective of your different team members.
Depending on the type of feedback you`ve collected – whether users submitted requests on ready future ideas and suggestions on product improvements, or you`ve used a survey data uncovering their needs, pain points and wants of certain capabilities (upon which you have to make suggestions), you may approach these sessions differently. In the first case, it is pretty straightforward as they tell you the features and improvements they`d like to see, that is – it is already figured out by themselves and therefore you don`t have to do much of a brainstorming. The team session is more likely to take the form of a discussion on what is possible and what not, how certain feature and improvement requests align with the product vision and are they feasible to build. In other words, it will be a prioritization, decision-making and planning session rather than a brainstorming one, which will also speed up the whole process of development. Whereas, in the second case, when you have a survey that provides you with user insights, you, as a team, will have to brainstorm possible solutions to your users’ problems, needs and pain points. In many instances, you may have both types of data. If so, my advice is to see what themes (and sub-themes, if relevant) are of highest priority, as we discussed in the previous step, add in the feature requests and the ready ideas you may already have from your users under each theme they represent (merge overlapping ones), and brainstorm more ideas with your team for each theme that`s been prioritized. At the end of the session, you should have a full list of generated ideas from your users and team members, covering what you have encountered to be the users` biggest needs, wants and problems.

5. Validate, refine and prioritize solutions

What you should do next is to shortlist those features and improvements from your brainstorming session that match your product`s vision and long-term goals. That is, go through each one of them again, and validate whether it fits into your overall product strategy and what you are trying to achieve. Does it address the needs and problems of your users or those of a an audience you`d like to target in the future? If not, drop the idea out. If yes, leave it in your list of ideas to work on further or for future references.

Once you`ve shortlisted based on this criteria, it`s time to refine the ideas, so that you have better definition of each, how they are supposed to work, what basic requirements they should cover and what they`re trying to achieve in terms of functionality. This is crucial for the prioritization and planning part, as it will help you clarify the resources each feature or product improvement would take in order to be built.

When we are speaking of feature prioritization, it should not only mean prioritizing features and improvements based on the number of theme mentions we got from our feedback data or the impact you`ve found they have on the user experience. If it were that easy, you most probably wouldn`t stay in the business for long. There are other aspects that need to be factored in as well, such as the cost of development and the value you would get from each. In fact, that`s what prioritization is all about. You`ll find plenty of different prioritization frameworks and it`s up to you which one you are going to use, but many of them, especially the quantitative ones, are based on the principle Value – Effort (or Cost) in one way or another, differing only in how the value and effort (or cost) aspects are calculated. There also exist some qualitative prioritization frameworks (like MoSCoW, Kano and others) that involve more qualitative judgment and contextual understanding without looking at factors such as effort/costs, but I wouldn`t recommend approaching feature prioritization solely that way as you`re missing on important elements (businesses operate on costs as well). To me, the optimal way is to use a hybrid model, a combination of both quantitative and qualitative methods: one that measures Value and Effort (RICE, ICE, Weighted Scoring, Opportunity Scoring, Cost of Delay, etc.) and a one that takes into account subjective assessments and insights (MoSCoW, Kano, Product Tree, Story Mapping, Priority Poker, Buy a Feature, etc.) You can use whatever combination of the above methods. The main point is to integrate the findings you got from your feedback data on what is most valued by your users, with how much effort and costs it will take you to built and your team’s understanding of what should be prioritized on the roadmap. Check out my article for an example on how I combined two different kinds of frameworks (qualitative and quantitative) into one, unified prioritization model

Once you got your feature ideas and solutions prioritized accordingly, you need to decide how they fit into your roadmap and how they will be distributed into separate releases. Logically, those you categorized of higher priority will come first, but even then you`ll need release planning on what items will go into each release. You can do this now and, if needed, iterate based on the next step, where you`ll be testing your prototype, or later, right before submitting it for development. I`ve seen companies doing it either way.

6. Test and validate the design/prototype

Submit your feature ideas and the respective new product requirements to your design/UX team and work with them on the their design, workflows, mock-ups and prototypes to make sure it is aligned with the user feedback, as well as user and stakeholders expectations. If possible, generate 2-3 different versions to choose from or to test your users on. The testing itself is, in most cases, takes place with the prototype and its goal is to confirm that new developments align seamlessly with the user journey, work as the end users expect and are visually appealing to the them. For the prototype testing, it`s a good idea to invite those users that requested features or other product improvements, or simply gave you their feedback in one way or another (if they have already communicated with you, it`s likely that they`ll be more willing to do it again and participate in the testing). You can, and in fact, should, of course invite your other users as well, as they can also be valuable source of insights and opportunity to get additional validation from more people that are already using your product. If you end up with insufficient number of people, which will impede the successful testing and validation of the design of your new developments, you can look for testers outside of your pool of current users (recruit people representative of your target users to perform the test).

Тhe prototype testing can take many forms and to a large extend, depends on your testers and how much time and effort they`re willing to sacrifice. In best case scenario, you`ll organize testing sessions, where you`ll assign different tasks and scenarios to your participants to stimulate their interaction with the new features and functionalities to see if there are major usability challenges and issues they come across and to validate the new developments meet their needs, as well as the design and the user experience flow appeal to them. The advantage of this method is the fact that you can ask additional detailing questions and you`ll get richer insights from that type of testing. But because it is sometimes difficult to organize live sessions and make testers commit to a specific time when it will take place, you can alternatively send them a link to the prototype or an online prototype testing platform and ask them to test it whenever it is convenient for them (this will be non-live). Sure, you cannot get as much insights as with the live session, but the response rate will probably be much higher. Plus, you can still ask them questions on their experience and type down task scenarios to complete (and if you can record their interactions, you`ll be able to extract a lot of information as well). If you want to know more about prototype testing and the different methods you can use, download by ebook where I talk about it in more details.

6. Development and iteration

This is the phase that breathes life into what had previously been just ideas and concepts. You have walked all the way from collecting feedback from your users and brainstorming solutions, to refining features and product requirements, and now step-by-step materializing them into the reality. A whole new phase of development and iteration begins, where you`ll be executing and releasing your new functionalities, as well as constantly monitoring key performance metrics to determine their success and iterate/improve accordingly and on time. This is a cycle that never ends. Do not think that development and release is your final destination. You should always remember that when you close one feedback loop, another one has to be opened if you want to ensure continuous product improvement and innovation. As long as you do it, it will keep your place on the market and grant you a competitive edge. So, repeat the proccess!

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