7 Useful Tips to Manage Feature Requests
As your product becomes more successful, the amount of feedback you receive and the level of contact you have with customers is inevitably going to increase. This feedback can range from general criticisms such as “your product is over complicated,” to positive ideas such as “can you make it more colourful,” to focused feature requests like “please integrate with our task management tool”.
Feature requests are specific ideas that a customer will send to the company asking them to add something that they feel will make the product better. The question then is what to do with all of these requests. How do you manage them and how many of them do you actually turn into features?
The positives and negatives of feature requests
One of the most prevalent problems with feature requests is that they are often very specific to the user who has requested it. While a single company may benefit from a certain integration you need to ask yourself how much this will benefit the majority of users and the product as a whole. But while feature requests can seem a burden, when they are managed properly they can have an extremely positive impact on both your product and your relationship with your users.
Whether or not you put the idea into development, as long as you respond appropriately to the request you will have bolstered your connection with your customers. And of course, if the request is for a feature that you hadn’t previously thought of that and fits perfectly with your product goals and strategy it can end up drastically improving your product.
Where do feature requests come from?
Before we get into the best ways to manage them, it is important to consider the different sources of feature requests, because you cannot always respond to all the same way. Although the product manager sometimes has direct contact with the customers, in most cases customer support teams are charged with connecting with and responding to customers, at least initially. The customer service agent will usually take the feature request and send it to the product team for consideration. This can come from in the form of a regular email or a submission to a forum or idea portal
The vast majority of requests will come from current customers who either notice something that would improve the product or see something that they actually need. These can be considered and developed if you decide they are good enough. Also, many Saas providers will actually commit to developing a certain number of features when signing a big contract with a new customer. In these situations the product manager may well have no choice but to incorporate the feature request in their roadmap. This doesn’t mean that it cannot be dealt with creatively – the aim should always be to create features that benefit all users rather than one specific customer.
What are the different types of Feature Requests?
Not all feature requests are the same, so it is important to differentiate between them in order to make it easier to manage them.
The various types include:
- Bug reports – when a customer notices something isn’t working properly in your product.
- Feature improvements – suggestions for something that can make a current feature a bit better.
- Totally new features – ideas for totally new features that can be added to your product.
Your Top 7 Tips For Managing Feature Requests
Considering the minefield that they can create, it’s never easy deciding how to deal with feature requests. So here are our top tips that can help you avoid getting overloaded.
1. Put everything in one place
The most important factor when it comes to managing feature requests is organization. If you have a messy system you’ll find it hard to stay on top of all the different ideas and feedback you receive from customers. One of the best ways to do this is to use dedicated product management software like Craft, which centralizes the entire product planning process. You can then take each feature request, add it to your idea portal and connect any relevant suggestions to features in the feature list.
2. Create a system for receiving and managing feature requests
Your customers are going to feel much more comfortable sending your their ideas and feature requests if they have an organized way to contact you. In the old days, people would need to send an email and hope it got read and forwarded to the right person.
With the popularization of product management software like Craft, product teams can create a single location where users can submit their ideas and requests. Craft’s Idea Portal, for example, can be used for collecting, categorizing and responding to feature requests. It makes it easy for the customer to send them and then other users can comment and vote on the requests.
3. Respond – personally, promptly and honestly
One of the most frustrating things that can happen to a customer when they send a feature request is that it gets ignored or they receive a standard email in reply. Instead of using automatic replies it is worth investing the time in responding personally. If you let the customer know that you are interested in their opinion then they will feel much happier using your product.
It is also important to be honest when you respond. There is no point telling the customer you will consider the request if you have no intention to actually do so. A better approach would be to say it doesn’t fit directly into your strategy and plan and let them know the direction you are taking them in. Customers will likely respond positively to an honest response.
4. Categorize and Prioritize the requests
If you are going to manage a large volume of requests it is essential to categorize them. Using a tool like Craft’s Idea Portal makes it easy to label and categorize the requests and ideas. You can give each one an importance level such as “Critical” or “Nice to have” which then lets you choose which of the suggestions to consider turning into practical features. You’ll then need to prioritize – add the features you plan to develop into the backlog and put the list in order of priority. Craft’s feature list is totally editable and interactive so you can add as many custom fields as you like and sort or filter the list by these fields.
When categorizing and prioritizing always think about the impact the feature will have on users. Will it solve a problem users are currently experiencing or will it encourage more users to sign up and use the product? Also, you should check the request against the goals and initiatives in your roadmap. Does it fit with the strategy you have put in place?
5. Discuss the requests with colleagues and other customers
As the product manager, you have the final say on what gets developed and what doesn’t. But there is no need to let your ego get in the way. It is important to get alternative viewpoints, even when you think something will be of enormous benefit. So it is definitely worth discussing the requests with your colleagues and gauging the opinion of other customers before going ahead with development. If other customers love the idea then you are probably on to a winner, but if most people reject it then you should consider discarding it and moving on to something else.
6. Stay in touch with customers
Even after if you have sent an initial response, it is a good idea to stay in touch with your customers and let them know about any progress. For example, if the feature is in the backlog and you are planning to develop it in the next quarter, update them. Communication is always a positive thing, although it is important not to make any commitments or raise expectations unless you know you can definitely meet them.
7. Create a public roadmap so your customers know what you are working on
Craft’s roadmap tool can be a useful communication option – if you create a public roadmap your customers will know the direction your product is heading in. While it is best not to be too specific about which features you are planning to develop and the dates, you can include general goals and initiatives. This can also encourage customers to send more focused requests that are aligned with your goals rather random ideas that cause an overload.
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Craft’s Product Management Platform – which includes a built-in Feedback Management Portal – has been specifically designed to help product managers plan their features and make better product decisions. Try it out right now with a 14-day free trial or book a personal live demo with one of our product experts.