Unhappy customers are not a Product Manager’s headache. Usually. Most mid-sized or large companies have a dedicated customer service department or account management teams whose job is to deal with disgruntled customers. If that is the case, why does the Product Manager need to worry about unhappy customers?
Customers could be unhappy for many reasons unrelated to the product directly; in a small percentage of cases though, unhappy customers are the canary in the coal mine – an early sign that your product is no longer meeting customer requirements. Unhappy customers who bring their unhappiness to the company’s notice are especially valuable because they are a minority. The majority of users simply switch products without giving you any warning.
While companies have begun detailed product planning for new products and launches, it’s important to remember that understanding market requirements cannot be a one-time effort. Market requirements change depending on customers’ changing behaviour, regulatory influences or even moves by competition. Updating one’s understanding of market requirements hinges in big part on regular feedback from existing customers on what they are dissatisfied with and why.
Some of the changes in customer preferences may be tactical in nature, or feature-specific. For a laptop manufacturer, the rise in telecommuting and work-on-the-move may result in more customers complaining about the weight of the machine. In that case, it would be an important area for the product engineering team to work on. Some changes may however need the product manager to question the fundamentals. If customers have started evaluating their laptops against an iPad as a reference point, the product management team needs to ask and answer basic questions about what their product is meant to be and for whom.
Asking these questions and finding the answers will mean all the difference between leading the market with the right product and scrambling to launch a me-too product after competition has stolen the lead.
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