Join me for an espresso, Mr. Customer.
Now, what is it you really want?

Join me for an espresso, Mr. Customer. Now, what is it you really want?

Ashley Bailey July 26, 2017

“Yes, Mr. Customer, I understand that you would like for that widget to be on the righthand side with the ability to multi-edit and the ability to delete.”

“Yes, Mr. Customer, that’s a great suggestion; please log it in our portal.”

“Yes, Mr. Customer, that’s an outstanding idea. Please submit your feature request here.”

“Yes, Mr. Customer, that is a great idea for a future enhancement. I will write a user story for that and put it in our backlog.”

Sound familiar?

You welcome feedback and get plenty of it. Some of it’s about obvious next enhancements to your product. Other ideas are a bit confusing, and still others are a bit…well…out there. Nevertheless nearly early every suggestion is interesting and thought-provoking.

But then what?

Many requests will be addressed with an already-scheduled release and some of them will “sort-of-kind-of” be implemented in a future release. Others are defects for which a fix has been made and will be rolled into the next release. But the others? Well, they’re filed away in a dedicated portal - aka the black hole of _______.

Exactly. Nothingness. A pile of never-to-be-seen-again “nothings” that, perhaps, could have been brilliant “somethings.”

This routine “listen to the voice of the customer” practice is smooth sailing, right? They request. You listen. You acknowledge and file away their input and hooray! All is well in the world.

But wait, are you really getting their input?

No, I mean -- are you getting it? Are you asking them why? And then why again? And again? And again? And again?

Do you understand the pain behind the request? Do you understand the dire need behind the suggestion? Do you have a conversation with them to better understand and refine the request?

In the spirit of the Five Whys Root Cause Analysis, it’s crucial that we dig deep into the mind of our customer(s) to understand the why behind the request and not simply take it face value.

If you don’t understand why, and you don’t clearly understand the need, then how can you be sure that you are you building the right product or feature?

Let’s run through a scenario:

Ideas, feature requests, enhancement suggestions (whatever you prefer to call them). flow in steadily like waves.

“Feature Request” comes in


In the X Page, I would like to be able to do Y.


Ms. Customer

Several different options lie ahead of you

A) The request is taken at face value and the business implements the feature according to its interpretation and delivers an adequate solution.

B) The request is taken at face value, and the business responds according to its interpretation and delivers half of the feature or something that misses the mark completely.

C) The request is taken at face value, but the business vetos the valuable input entirely.

D) You move on, thanking the customer for the feedback but never considering adding the idea to your product or resolving the customer’s pain. (Granted, some suggestions should simply not be implemented for various reasons -- but that is not the point of this post.)

OR…or, you opt for E.

Ahhh, E.

E) You ask. You engage. You have a virtual cup of coffee with your customer and really understand what they need and WHY.

You build the right product/feature. Everyone wins.

It’s challenging to find the time to go through enhancement requests. It’s hard to prioritize valuable customer feedback against other sources of feedback, like the state of the market, support requests, input from sales and marking and, yes, your own vision.

But I assure you – yes, I assure you – once you understand the why, those circumstances suddenly become less difficult, less challenging…less hard. Suddenly, they become more interesting, valuable, and fun.

Steps to discovering the “Why” behind a customer's request or idea:

Have virtual coffee meeting – a conversation to understand the “Why”

Prioritize the time to listen - in the end it will save you time and money (yes, money. Remember, this is helping you build the right product at the right time for the right audience.)

Refine- Yes, it is true…two (or more) heads are better than one. Once you understand the “Why”, you can thoughtfully refine the idea. Break it apart. Bring in your technical folks to determine how it could be implemented. Bring it back to the customer.

Refine again, - until the idea is ready to be written as a user story in development or a business case for an epic or feature. This is engagement. This is empowerment to the customers. This is listening to the voice of the customer.

This is building the right product.

Remember, while customer requests may seem like noise during ongoing development and planning, these customers are doing you a favor! They are taking the time to send their thoughts on what needs improvement and suggestions on how to implement those improvements. They may not understand your architectural complexities or budget constraints or overall vision for the product. But they want you to succeed; in fact, it behooves them if your product works and works well. They are your biggest fans!

Do you still see these vast amounts of constant ideas, requests, and suggestions as a black hole? Or a mountain of gold?