Five years ago, I transferred to a team at Adobe that was focused on bringing a new product to market. To do so, we partnered with the user community by releasing early versions of the software for feedback. As I transitioned onto the development team, multiple people pointed me to the forums and said it was an opportunity to get involved and listen to the customer. “Everyone should take the opportunity to read the forums and respond to customers, even engineers.”
What started as a challenge became a joy as I delved deep into the product forum, interacting with our customers on a daily basis. Besides delighting the customer with a relationship with the product team, the practice of customer engagement began to shape my own understanding of their needs and gave me an opportunity to advocate for them in design reviews and with prioritizing fixes.
Fast forward to today: I’m now working on Adobe Experience Design CC, which is in the exact same early stage as that previous product. This team, too, has a culture of customer listening and relies on it to make product decisions. With the advent of such business movements as Lean Startup, product teams across the world are beginning to understand that such practices are not only critical to building the right product, but also have the side effect of transforming customers from mere users to advocates and evangelists for both the product and the team.
Shape Product Direction with Customer Feedback
When I first started my career in software, gathering customer feedback was a disconnected mess: the product manager would go to key clients and gather requirements, researchers would run focus groups, and tech support would field calls and emails from frustrated customers. Meanwhile, the development team would work on the product in a shielded bubble, trusting that information would trickle down to them and guide what they were building.
Today, customers talk about their experience in a variety of places — on social media, in product and industry-specific forums, and more. This shift allows for access to a greater variety of customers, not just ones that you form relationships with through traditional means. By listening to a larger group of customers, you can discover more friction points in your overall user experience. For instance, a recent forum post not only gave us an opportunity to educate a customer on common keyboard shortcuts, it also highlighted a documentation issue. Meeting with a larger customer in a traditional setting might not have surfaced the same annoyance, which made this small interaction all the more valuable.
I’ve seen user feedback influence product design, feature functionality, and even the product roadmap. Once you are truly listening, you can easily find customer feedback that is actionable. Customers provide you with the tools and the context to vastly improve their experience, which makes listening to customers merely the starting point for truly great engineering and product innovation.
Gather Feedback from a Variety of Channels
With the broad spectrum of digital tools, it’s easy to get lost in the flood of data your customers can generate. However, it’s worth it to wade through the sheer volume to gather information that you can bring into design and product decisions about your product. People are really passionate about their tools, and product teams have the opportunity to leverage that passion to deliver tools that customers love using. But balancing feedback from stakeholders and traditional customer engagements has been a perennial issue, and adding in the plethora of digital avenues only makes this more complex. On Adobe XD, we’ve settled on listening to our customers in these very specific ways:
Digital Conversations. To maximize your efforts, you should create established listening stations that allow you to engage with your customers. On Adobe XD, we’ve selected Twitter, Facebook, and our product forum as the three avenues that work well with our target demographic. By monitoring the conversations as they’re coming in, we can identify patterns in the inquiries that indicate customer friction.
For example, Adobe XD introduced a scrollable artboard feature in our May release. However, over the next month, we heard confusion from our customers via multiple channels over the dotted line we were using to denote the viewport. Other customers asked about enabling scrolling for custom artboard sizes, wanting more flexibility. By paying attention to the inquiries and requests, we were able to identify a pattern of misunderstanding, which pointed to a usability issue. As a result, we re-designed the feature and enabled a setting in our Property Inspector to turn the scrolling feature on and off. This led to the feature being more easily discoverable and customizable, further reducing the customer’s barrier to success.
Feedback Sessions. We’ve built great relationships with many design organizations and individual designers over time, and we enjoy setting up sessions to get direct and immediate feedback. During one customer feedback session, we discovered that we had incorrectly labeled a particular type of transition in Adobe XD. We had provided a “slide left” and “slide right” animation, but discovered that “slide” means a very specific type of animation in the UX/UI world. What we had created was really a “push,” which caused confusion for veteran designers. As a result, we renamed the animation and also developed a true “slide” animation in the next release. This simple change validated the customer issue and had the benefit of making our tool easier for everyone to use.
Request Aggregation Software. Feedback tools like UserVoice give the entire community of customers a specific place to funnel their input about product enhancements they hope to see or features they have issues with. In fact, when issues arise on a forum, we often request that users report it through UserVoice so we have a specific request. By pointing customers to a single channel, we can begin to aggregate data about the relative importance of specific features and prioritize accordingly.
While a number of the most highly-requested ideas are multi-month endeavors, some of them can be small fixes that end up eliminating friction for a large group of people. For instance, early on in our beta process, a group of people requested that we add a menu option to launch the UI kit while a file was open. Previously, it had only been available from the Welcome Screen. This simple change made it easier for everyone to access the UI kits while designing. Adobe XD’s history as a product is peppered with these tiny adjustments that help the designer be more effective — all in response to feedback.
Create a Culture of Listening
If you’ve decided that gathering and deciphering customer feedback to make a difference others love is a skill that you’d like your team to focus on, you may be wondering how we do it. Here are a few elements that we believe can contribute to your success:
Learn to recognize customer input. Actively working to create a culture that values and understands customer input can be the key to creating great tools. Listening is the first step, but learning how to discern the actual problem will give you the insights you need to take action — whether with documentation, development, or design. We try to focus on what customers want to accomplish, not necessarily how they want to accomplish it. Incorporating new ideas that solve real customer problems will result in the best user experience possible.
Build customer relationships. Everyone on our product team works to be an authentic person online rather than a nebulous Adobe persona. Our customers know that we’re real people with real lives, and that often means being transparent with them about where we are as a product team and sharing the inner workings of our team. Customer relationships should be a high priority in the product development process, because the feedback helps provide context to engineers and product managers alike. And they also have the added bonus of being highly motivating when you receive kudos from individual users.
Ensure channels are covered. We have a value of responding directly to customers on the forums and on social media, which means setting aside time to actively search for and respond to customer feedback on a regular basis. If you’re just starting to put a focus on customer listening, it can take a while for your team to get into the habit of regularly perusing your channels for customer input. In fact, even if you are an organization that’s more experienced in curating customer sentiment, it can help to have a calendar to make sure all channels are covered. On any given day, a lot of our team members are in the forums and on Twitter to get a better view into the customer experience. However, there are always times that are really busy, and a calendar helps ensure our customers can count on someone from the team to respond.
Validate your customer. Most users simply want to know that there is a way for them to be heard. Gathering feedback from the variety of channels mentioned above is one way. Authentically interacting with customers while displaying a sense of curiosity about how they are doing with your product is another way. When customers realize that you are interested in what they have to say, you’ll start receiving more valuable feedback.
Release A Product Your Users Love
Five years after starting my relationship with the customer community, I can truly say that constant user engagement gives the Adobe XD team both purpose and focus. Our customers crave the personal connection and a sense that their needs are valid and their ideas are valued, and in return for a bit of effort, we get product validation and an enthusiastic user base. As a product team and as a business, customer listening is not only an asset, it’s essential for making a product that your users love.