From feedback to feature

We had three wonderful product leaders speak to our Toronto Product to Product community about gathering and prioritizing user feedback to create customer-centric products.

Karen Stephen from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Swapna Malekar from the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), and Martin Kuplens-Ewart from Coinsquare, shared their insights on this topic and the ways each of their companies approach connecting with their users to collect feedback and the trials and errors of then prioritizing that feedback.

We’ve selected some of our favorite highlights from the event below but be sure to watch the video, as this is not a talk you want to miss.


(The highlights have been condensed and edited for clarity.)

The “Hell of Feedback” (2:50)

Martin: Ok, so quick show of hands in the room — how many of you have had to deal with that big bucket of ideas and feature requests — it could be a set of spreadsheets that go back a few years or it could be an unmanageable list of stuff?

It looks like about 60% or 70% of [the audience] have had that experience. So there are better ways — you don’t have to deal with that bucket — but that’s the hell of feedback. The tragic thing about dealing with that bucket of gloop is that it drains our empathy, it drains our ability to really care about what’s behind those asks and about those inquiries and it leaves us accountable for managing and dealing with and reporting on stuff that is actually not going to help.

What is the problem? (14:14)

Karen: For feature requests, we tend to look at, what is the problem? And we’ll often do that through our OKRs. We might not be addressing the feedback as it’s coming in but we will mine it. When we know we’re going to be doing some kind of feature work, we will then often go and look at the feedback we’ve received and see what people have said. We’ll try and understand what the actual problem is and then we’ll try to validate it. We like to make sure that we go back and do some user research and confirm with the analytics — is this actually a problem? Is that feature not getting used? Is there something else that we can do? Is this really a problem that needs to be fixed for everyone or is it a three people that wrote in kind of problem?

Choosing which customers to listen to (22:37)

Karen: People feel passionately about the CBC and they have this deep connection that they might not have to other brands. One of the things that we get are people who are writing in because they just can’t use the technology — they haven’t kept up. We can only support so many people on so many devices and we do an awesome job but if you’re still running Netscape on the computer that you first got in 1995, that’s not going to work so well. So we tend to disregard that kind of stuff. [With] a [lot of the feedback], we try to look at what they’re saying, rather than how they’re saying it. I found that you really have to learn how to kind of separate what they’re saying from how they’re saying it and then go beyond that and have some empathy and to try and really understand what their problem is and how they’re experiencing it.

Managing feedback from internal stakeholders (23:52)

Swapna: We have stakeholders who have spent 20+ years in the bank. They have been financial planners or have spent their entire careers in the financial industry, so they know the bank in and out and they know the customers in and out. I think these internal stakeholders are the most passionate people — they have a solution in mind, they have a vision and they are not afraid to share it with us. We have tried to change the mindset of our stakeholders from a pure banking professional or business professional sense into more of a customer mindset.

We had to make them understand that we first start with the customers’ job to be done, and then we understand the gaps or the pain points that we have as of today that can be filled in to enable those jobs to be done or to solve those jobs. We then move onto defining personas, the user profiles, the different use cases and then we drill down deeper into the success metrics, etc. We had to sort of educate them on how digital product management works…and that has helped us a lot because they feel involved in the entire product management process. If they feel as if they are building the product, and that’s how in my experience, they have started to change their mindset — to change from a solution based mindset into more of a customer pain point kind of experience.

Nothing beats time spent with a customer (47:38)

Martin: Nothing beats two hours spent with your customer, with your user in their environment watching them work, interact with your product. Or more importantly watching them do the thing before and the thing after your product — that’s going to be the greatest source of filtering of value, understanding, and empathy that you can get, and the more of your teammates you can bring to have those experiences, the better. It’s maximum exposure — lots of focused face time. You can present concepts, prototypes, play, sketch, draw, give them index cards to sketch new mobile interfaces and quickly iterate. That face time, that really experiencing your product through someone else’s eyes and with someone else’s hands and them driving, you can’t beat that, you really can’t.

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