Image Source: Qualaroo
Upon completion of the design and development phase, the SaaS product was eventually released, and adoption ensued. One might assume that a celebratory atmosphere should ensue, as we have taken a crucial step from concept to reality. However, this is not the case for SaaS products, as they are often met with a wave of criticism. Customers begin reporting that the product is not functioning well, marking the start of a critical juncture for the SaaS product. It is important to maintain composure, take the feedback in stride, and carefully analyze each issue.
Undoubtedly, someone will provide feedback regarding the functionality of the SaaS product. It is essential to embrace and comprehend the underlying reasons for the malfunction, as this will enable the product to better meet the practical needs of the industry.
Image Source: The Product Manager
I. Handling “Negative” Feedback from Customers
Before discussing how to address negative feedback, it is essential to establish a guiding principle: avoid immediately dismissing any negative feedback.
Generally, people are not receptive to being refuted outright. By challenging their claims, you may end up offending them. Consequently, you risk losing their support, causing negative feedback to turn into emotional outbursts, and resulting in a tarnished reputation that can be challenging to mend.
Once we have grasped this principle, we can focus on the process of handling negative feedback.
II. Addressing Customer Feedback
It is not uncommon for customers to express dissatisfaction with the product. On one hand, they may need some time to adjust after just beginning to use it. On the other hand, they are bound to compare it with their previous system. If your product lacks the advantages of others, it can put you at a disadvantage. In handling customer feedback, it is crucial to recognize the role of the customer, whether it be a high-level executive, a key procurement influencer, a product implementation liaison, a departmental leader, or a frontline employee. Each role warrants a unique approach.
1. Addressing Feedback from Senior Management Customers
When senior management customers report an issue, they typically do not contact the product manager directly but instead inform marketing staff or the boss. At this stage, they may not have a specific problem description and often provide a general conclusion, such as "the software does not work well," which requires further investigation.
Since senior management typically does not use the software directly, but rather through subordinates, it is crucial to identify the specific individual who provided the feedback to understand how to address it. At this point, customer relationship management becomes critical and requires the following four steps:
- Promptly respond to the senior management customer's feedback, such as informing them that their feedback has been received and that you will investigate and report back.
- Quickly schedule a meeting with the customer's contact person and marketing staff to identify the issue.
- Develop a solution to the problem and confirm it with the relevant personnel from the customer's side.
- Finally, report the results of the investigation and the implemented solution to the senior management customer.
The last step is essential for two reasons. First, it demonstrates that you have followed through on your commitments. Second, it allows you to indirectly monitor feedback from the customer's side to determine if there are still negative comments. If negative feedback persists despite communication and resolution attempts, it may suggest that your software has infringed on some of the other party's interests, making resolution more challenging. In addition to maintaining strong customer relationships and public relations, it is crucial to have a product that can genuinely help customers create value.
2. Key Procurement Influencers
In most cases, the key influencers of procurement are the individuals who ultimately choose our products, and they are likely to be supportive of our offerings. These influencers are also a crucial source of customer information, and we need to pay close attention to their feedback and work towards reasonable solutions.
By maintaining strong relationships with procurement influencers, we can often receive internal feedback from the customer before negative feedback reaches senior management. Since procurement influencers make the decision to purchase our products, they must be convinced of the value of their choice and will likely work with us to maximize the benefits of our offerings. This will lead to positive feedback from senior management.
3. Product Implementation Contact Person
The product implementation contact person may also be a key influencer in procurement, which can make the situation easier to handle. However, in some cases, the implementation contact person is appointed by a leader who may not be familiar with our products. If the implementation is not smooth, the contact person may criticize our products.
Effective communication prior to implementation is crucial. We should inform the contact person of the implementation process and establish a clear division of labor between both parties. We also need to clarify the coordination mechanism and express our full support for their work. We should maintain frequent communication, offer gifts, greet them regularly, and show concern for the implementation progress. Waiting until they report a problem to maintain our relationship is not ideal as it can be difficult to make up for any lost ground at that point.
4. Business Department Leader
The customer department leader who actually uses the product is usually the key influencer in this stage. As business department leaders, they are business experts and are often skeptical about new products. Thus, it is normal for products to be questioned. The depth of industry research of our product managers is critical in this stage. To be a successful SaaS product manager, you must have a passion for becoming an industry expert.
As you become more knowledgeable about the industry, you will encounter many practitioners who have been working in the industry for many years. Without a deep understanding of the industry, they may reject your ideas in less than three sentences. However, if you are also an industry expert, you can speak on their level and gain their trust. If you can combine software products with a deep understanding of the industry and demonstrate the value that goes beyond their understanding, they are likely to accept your product.
Department leaders do not accept the product first; they accept the concept of the product and agree with its value. Therefore, when communicating with them, it is important to analyze the pain points of the industry from a professional perspective and demonstrate how the product can solve these pain points. Persuading them to accept the product and recognize its value will spark a dialogue. You can help them improve their business management and performance, and they can provide professional advice to help you improve your product.
In summary, to be a successful SaaS product manager, you must first have the heart to become an industry expert. By gaining a deep understanding of the industry and demonstrating how your product can solve the pain points, you can persuade the department leaders to recognize the value of your product.
5. Customer Grassroots Employees
Grassroots employees may not have decision-making power, but they play a critical role in the product's value by using it. A SaaS product's worth is undermined if it cannot be effectively used by customers. We have often heard feedback from senior management customers who question why our products are not working well in their organization despite being successful in the industry. In such cases, it is often because grassroots employees are resistant to change, especially in traditional industries. To address this issue, we suggest the following two approaches:
Firstly, we recommend organizing communication and sharing meetings between business department leaders, implementation contact persons, and grassroots employee representatives. This will help us understand why the product is not being used effectively and also enable us to share successful implementation experiences of other customers for their reference.
Secondly, we suggest comparing different branches or projects that can be implemented in parallel. For example, we can select two branches or communities and compare their usage and implementation experiences. It is best to raise such requirements with senior management customers and have them screen out two groups with different characteristics for comparison.
We previously implemented this approach for a group company with multiple branches. One branch had strong execution ability, implemented the product quickly, and achieved great results. However, the other branch was very conservative and still used the old excel tables despite multiple attempts at implementation. As a result, either they forgot to enter data or made various errors. By comparing the two branches, the senior executives realized that the issue was internal and immediately issued an administrative order to implement the product before the specified date. Although the implementation was not as successful as in the other branch, the overall operation was smooth.
Finally, through the comparison of the two branches, the other party's senior executives immediately realized that it was an internal problem, and then directly called the branch leaders to issue an administrative order, specify the date, and implement it before the specified date. As a result, the product was successfully implemented in this branch. Although the use effect was not as good as that of the other branch, the overall operation was smooth.
III. Leveraging the Positive Value of “Negative” Feedback
Leveraging the positive value of “negative” feedback is crucial for product managers. Although feedback may be negative, it can provide opportunities to improve the product and strengthen customer relationships. When communicating with customers about their feedback, product managers need to guide the conversation to identify specific product disadvantages and desired solutions.
In one example, I worked with a financial manager who expressed frustration with our product's functionality. He suggested that we add an xxx function to make business operations easier. To understand the scenario for this function, I asked for details of specific business links and the general business process. The financial manager then demonstrated the operation of a product they had used before, which gave me insight into their needs.
Based on our software's business rules and structural considerations, I proposed a solution that included some changes compared to their previous product functions. I explained the reasons for these adjustments from the perspective of financial control. The financial manager agreed that the proposed solution would be better than the previous product.
After confirming the details and communicating with internal developers, I provided the launch time and gave the financial manager feedback. When the feature was ready to use, I informed him and thanked him for his suggestion.
Through this process, we improved our product's functionality to better suit the client's business needs. We also established a professional and trustworthy relationship with the client. The client even provided me with additional professional advice, which deepened my understanding of their industry. This example demonstrates how “negative” feedback can ultimately have positive value and strengthen customer relationships.