Henry Ford claimed that if he'd asked his customers what they wanted, they'd have said faster horses. His point might be true for the big ideas, but for the the day-to-day innovation - don't believe the hype. The day-to-day innovation is where you constantly improve your product to get more customers to use use your product more. User feedback is key to this. User feedback is the behind the scenes behavioral feedback where you monitor what your clients do, find the bottlenecks, and the design flaws. But it's also listening to what users actually have to say.
In our recent revamp of the landing page builder iFrapp.com, some of the smartest new features were first suggested by our users. The same goes for some of our most growth hack-ish features. One example is the ability to invite colleagues to collaborate with you in real-time. We never thought of that, but our users did. And now, X invited colleagues make Y new users. A great growth engine for us, and a useful feature for the users.
So, how can you turn customer service into the product innovation department? Here are 5 things that will make a difference:
1) Encourage feedback.
Tell your users that you actually want their input. Enough businesses don't want anything to do with you after you've paid. Let people know you're not like that. And when you get a question, suggestion, or request, provide a good answer, and say "Keep it coming."
2) Minimize distance between support and product development.
Our support has been literally 5 feet away from devs, and has for the most part been the same people as the product guys. (One of the benefits of a startup.) So when a request comes in, it's easy and natural to pass that request on to whomever actually has the power to implement it. If it gets unstructured, put it into a weekly ideas/improvements/feedback discussion.
3) Facilitate for feedback.
Giving feedback should be easy. Make the support form(s) easily accessible. Don't hide them away to avoid customer nagging. You want to talk to these people. Nagging is good. Change the internal name from "Customer Service" to "Sales and Product Development", if that's the visible change you need. Feel free to add "Ninja Team" or whatever floats your goat, at the end.
Provide support forms, and let people communicate with you in whatever means they prefer. At iFrapp we've used both Facebook Newsfeed, Twitter, Facebook Inbox, forms, and email with great success. People are doing you a great service when they take the time to write to you, rather than just ditching you for something else. So you owe them not to get snobbish about how they're "permitted" to contact you.
Since a good portion of feedback won't be directed at you, but at the world around you, consider investing in a tool that picks up what people say about your brand. Twitter, blogs, forums. It's a jungle out there, and Google won't give you all the answers.
4) Answer (quickly), and ask for more.
Waiting around for a reply is annoying. Not getting a reply at all angers people so deeply that they'll go through fire and ice to tell the world how much you suck. Answer, and if you answer late, apologize for it.
You screwed something up? Unscrew it. Say what went wrong, without lying, and without complicating things unnecessarily, and tell them that you're really sorry, and that you understand the trouble. And then show them that you're doing all you can to fix it, and to make sure it doesn't happen again. And then ask for more feedback. This one's really great. They might have yelled at you, and now you're inviting them to yell some more?! Try it, they'll open up like never before.
5) Make their feedback worth their time
When someone's taken the time to submit feedback to you, thank them, and let them know that it's going into your discussions for further development. And when/if you implement it, follow up on it, and let them know that it's now live, thanks to them. Surprise people by showing that you actually appreciate their feedback.
Got other ways? Let me know!