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How to Shorten the Customer Feedback Loop for Agile Product Development

How to Shorten the Customer Feedback Loop for Agile Product Development

Yearly, 30,000 new consumer products are launched.

And 95 percent fail.

Why?

Businesses over-invest in innovation and under-invest in market research.

The brightest minds are coming up with amazing methodologies, but they continue to fail.

Why?

Because the output is only as good as the input.

Regardless of the method, untested hypotheses and surrounding decisions that are driven by conjecture, opinion and slivers of data lead to poor outcomes. You can change the method as much as you want, but the crux of the problem is the data that drives those decisions.

 

The rise of agile product development

In the face of ongoing disruption and rapidly changing customer expectations, businesses are constantly looking for opportunities to develop a competitive advantage. That need has given rise to agile product development teams. Their approach, in concept, is to uncover and understand a problem or opportunity and then build a minimum viable product that addresses that problem in as little time as possible.

The process is to build and test features in an iterative manner. Each iteration delivers new capability or functionality until the team has built a minimum viable product. Generally, that process plays out in rolling, two-week sprint cycles.

The crux of agile product development is the need for specific and timely customer feedback at every stage of the innovation cycle – feedback that complements the cadence of those sprint cycles. Short feedback loops enable teams to learn and adapt while the development costs (and the risk of failure) are low.

 

“It’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.” – Elon Musk

 

The customer feedback loop

There’s nothing worse than spending a lot of time, money and resources going in the wrong direction. That’s why it’s critical to meet with products owners and users during the development process to either self-reinforce that you’re on the right track or self-correct early on when the risks are lower.

Connecting customer insight with product decisions helps you:

  1. Prioritize product features and investments
  2. Validate the go-to-market strategy
  3. Create a better user experience to strengthen the customer journey, improve brand loyalty and increase customer lifetime value

Being able to validate users’ needs early on – and often – can ensure your development team isn’t making assumptions that are left unchecked and steer the solution off course. The longer you wait to get user feedback, the harder it becomes to unravel your process to get it right.

 

How product teams get bogged down

In product development, there are many ways you can collect customer feedback.

  • You can conduct a focus group.
  • You can conduct customer interviews.
  • You can create a customer advisory board (CAB).

Market research is critical to product development. This is how product teams can solve real pain points. However, these traditional methods of direct customer feedback are simply too slow, cumbersome, expensive and unreliable. Customer feedback often fails to keep pace with the speed of business. The feedback product teams receive also tends to be anecdotal and coming from a small group of customers who may not reflect the majority. Third-party data doesn’t go deep enough, siloed transactional data lacks context and user metrics only tell part of the story.

This forces product managers to use research only to validate decisions after they’ve been made, or worse, not use data at all. The outcome of slow and expensive data is decisions made without data – decisions made on gut instinct, opinion, or anecdotal feedback from a very small group of people.

 

The most impactful way to shorten the customer feedback loop

Imagine you had:

  • Fast, agile access to highly engaged customers
  • First party data
  • Actionable insights
  • Faster innovation cycles

The most impactful way to shorten the customer feedback loop is to interact with a large population of opted-in, highly engaged people.

Unfortunately, this is more easily said than done.

The speed and availability of research is a big issue. Product teams need feedback often and quickly, which isn’t possible with the slower traditional research methods. But finding a large group of engaged customers, particularly hard-to-reach audiences, isn’t that simple. Plus, people today are easy to reach but difficult to engage. It’s hard to keep their attention and get them to participate in market research activities.

According to Mind the Product, 49% of product managers say conducting proper market research to validate their product ideas is their number-one challenge. Due to their inability to access timely customer research, they don’t know if they’re building the right products with the right features.

 

“The wisdom of many is preferable to the brilliance of one.” ― Roman Pichler, Agile Product Management with Scrum: Creating Products That Customers Love

 

Many brands have found that investing in a repeatable engagement model is the right solution. A customer insights platform like Sparq enables you to build genuine relationships with customers, offer them more value and engage in two-way communication, which all lead to higher engagement than traditional research methods.

Some of our customers, like LinkedIn, VMWare, Jam City, Stanley Black & Decker, Audible, Goodyear and GoDaddy leverage Sparq specifically to shorten the feedback loop in product development. It gives these brands access to opted-in, well-profiled customers. Product teams have access to these customers because they have been given the permission to engage. In turn, this accelerates the development process.

In The Total Economic Impact™ of Vision Critical, a study from Forrester Consulting on the ROI of the Vision Critical platform, one customer estimated their company saved between $2 million to $5 million from the development and marketing of a flawed product by engaging their customers in the innovation process.

 

Gain agile, scalable feedback and ensure a minimum viable product

Agile product development has proven to be effective. Introducing shorter feedback loops into these systems will make them more effective.

We’ve highlighted two examples of customers who use insight communities to shorten the feedback loop for agile product development.

 

Example 1: GoDaddy

GoDaddy always understood the value of engaging customers for product development inspiration. The problem was the company’s market research and product development existed in silos. Data for development was collected in waves by surveying the entire customer base.

GoDaddy needed to gain greater accessibility to customer data that could actually contribute to product development. The team created the GoDaddy Customer Council, an opted-in community that allows customers to decide what they want to comment on and how they want to interact with the company.

By getting their customers involved in product development from the start, data was able to direct executives, and money was better spent on products that were vetted by those who will determine its success.

 

Example 2: Keurig Canada

Keurig Canada uses the Vision Critical platform to engage with thousands of customers to get feedback for all product decisions, big and small. From the initial idea to packaging and distribution, customers are involved in every step of the product development process.

This close relationship with customers is what has helped Keurig Canada maintain its leadership and competitive edge in the space. Consumer insights analyst, Eileen Chen, said, “The real benefit of an insight community, especially for a CPG company, is with our innovation across the whole pipeline.”

The community allows the company to be iterative, and the product team often conducts as many as four rounds of feedback for a single project. The feedback the team receives is current, which is exactly what helps them course correct and make adjustments in real time.

 

By leveraging a community of opted-in and engaged users, just like GoDaddy and Keurig Canada, you can gain agile, scalable feedback and you can introduce this customer-validated feedback at every stage of the product innovation cycle. Your agile product team will be able to learn fast and make adjustments earlier and more often.

Regardless of your methods, reliable ongoing feedback is going to accelerate the product cycles, increase your hit rate and make it easier to prioritize workflow and allocate resources.

 

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