As a product manager, you are your product’s primary spokesperson both to internal audiences and to the general public. What you say, and how you say it, can have a real impact on how users perceive your product and your company. So don’t ever, ever say these things to customers.
1. The new product will be available September 15.
There are far too many variables and conditions outside your control for you to be able to confidently provide the public with a specific date you expect they’ll be able to get their hands on your product. And the difficulty in predicting an actual release date—along with the chances that you will miss that date—increase the further in advance you make such a prediction.
Why create the needless risk of disappointing your prospects and customers by announcing a specific release date? A better strategy is to give the public a general sense of when to expect your product—ideally pinning your prediction only to a quarter or even half of a given year.
“Why create the needless risk of disappointing your prospects and customers by announcing a specific release date?”
Indeed, in most cases the only time it will make sense to publicly announce that your product will be available on September 15…will be on September 14, and even then only if you’re certain that both the product itself and all of its support infrastructure are ready to go.
2. We didn’t deem that important enough to put on the roadmap.
When successful companies exhibit at tradeshows and industry conventions, many of them employ a powerful tactic that helps deepen their relationships with the customers and prospects who visit their booths.
If a visitor asks whether the company has plans to build a certain feature into their product, or suggests some adjustment to the user experience, the rep speaking to that customer writes that feedback down—making sure the visitor can see them doing so. Why? Because experience tells these companies that people will feel more positively about your product and your business if you simply show them you hear their feedback and take it seriously.
As a product manager, you are the primary liaison between your product and its users. So when a customer or prospect asks you for new functionality or a tweak to your product, your response should never be “No” or “We didn’t think that was important enough to put on the product roadmap.”
Even if you don’t see any value in acting on that user’s feedback, you still want to make sure that user feels heard and that her requests will at least be considered. Plus, you might be surprised—perhaps many other users will have similar feedback. And if you’re listening with a truly open mind, you might uncover a larger problem your user has encountered with your product, something you might have missed.
But whether that happens or not, there is no good reason to make a user, someone who took the time to contact your company or respond to a survey, feel like she’s being shut down before you’ve even spent any real time processing that feedback.
3. Our competitors all suck.
You might truly feel that all of your competitors’ products suck. You are, after all, your product’s biggest champion, and a strong belief in your product’s superiority can be a good thing. And hey, this sentiment might even be true. But it’s not something you ever want to say to your customers.
“Discussing competitors negatively can give customers a negative view of the whole industry—your company included.”
Discussing your competitors negatively can give your customer a negative view of the whole industry—your company included. If you were shopping for a car and the salesperson said, “You don’t want to go to any of the other dealerships in the area because they’ll all just try to rip you off,” wouldn’t you start wondering if those dealers would say the same about the rep telling you this? Ultimately, trash-talking your competitors only lowers your own credibility.
You can, of course, speak about your product in terms that position it positively against the other offerings in the industry. But keep it classy.
4. Have you tried going through the Help section?
Here’s where even the most conscientious, customer-centric product managers can slip up. After all of the work you’ve put into learning about your user persona’s workflow, and creating a smooth user experience based on that knowledge, it can be very frustrating to receive very basic questions from customers about your product.
But don’t take that frustration out on your customer.
First of all, you accomplish nothing by belittling a user, except to turn that person away from your product. And that’s the best-case scenario if you make your user feel like an idiot for asking you a product question. What if your product is an enterprise solution, and that user represents the buying decision for her company? What if she has a popular blog where she writes about her experience with other businesses?
And second, this might be another valuable opportunity for you to gather important data about how your users actually interact with your product. You might find that your product isn’t as intuitive as you thought, or that your understanding of your persona’s workflow wasn’t quite accurate. So instead of lashing out at a user for asking you what seems like a stupid question, ask the user to walk you through his thought process, so you can identify where the problem or confusion arises.
This approach serves two purposes: It gives your user a judgment-free environment to explain the problem, and it gives you a chance to learn where your product might need a smoother user experience or to become more self-explanatory.
Bottom line: No matter how frustrated you are with a user’s question or complaint, don’t ever talk down to that person.
5. Well, our other customers tell us they like this version.
Here’s another way even talented product managers can create a negative impression with customers—they get defensive about their product. Again, this can come from a good place, from a product manager continuing to behave as her product’s champion, which served her and her company well throughout the development process.
But product managers also need to understand part of their role as the product’s advocate is to gather real-world user feedback—some of which will be negative—and to use this information to continually improve the product. In other words, being your product’s champion doesn’t mean always defending your product against customer complaints or requests that don’t seem feasible.
If your customer has something negative to say about your product, the correct response is never to lash out. It’s to hear them out.
Can you think of other things product managers should never say to customers? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.