7 Steps to Determine Whether a Customer Request is Actionable

While customer feedback is the gold standard of insight for product managers, not every customer request is actionable. Today we’ll discuss a few ways to determine the significance of a request in order to answer the all-important question, “is this feedback actionable?”

It can be tempting to act on every customer request you receive. After all, solving problems is kind of the name of the game, isn’t it? But, as you already know, another key part of product management is careful prioritization, which applies to customer requests too.

Remember: you’re a product manager, not an order-taker. This means you’ve got to take an analytical approach to requests and avoid catering to the loudest voice in the room. With clearly-defined filters for assessing feedback, you can easily cancel out the noise and identify where gold nuggets of actionable insight lie.

So here are seven filters you might want to run any piece of customer feedback through before deciding whether or not taking action on that feedback will sufficiently benefit your product, your users, and your company’s bottom line.

How to Determine Whether a Customer Request is Actionable

1. Assess Strategic Alignment of Request

Start by asking yourself “Is the request aligned with our strategic plan and objectives?

This seems obvious. But you’d be surprised to see how many product managers passively agree to customer requests or demands. (Even if doing so will significantly alter the company’s planned strategic trajectory for its product.)

Yes, if a customer proposes new functionality that isn’t on your current roadmap, and the idea strikes you as potential gold, you should definitely consider it and engage your cross-functional team in the prioritization process to determine if adding it to the roadmap is a viable strategy.

But that step needs to happen—and you need to arrive at a data-supported conclusion that the decision will benefit your product and businessbefore you act on this request.

2. Determine Strategic Significance of Customer

Next, ask yourself “What is the strategic value of pleasing this customer?

Sometimes you’ll get a request that sounds urgent to your customer but strikes you as a lower-priority item.

Before you dismiss it and politely tell the customer it’s not a priority right now, you may want to dig deeper into the source. Is the customer requesting the future of high strategic significance to the business? Is the request coming from a large group of important accounts at risk of churning?

Perhaps it’s coming from a small company, but it’s in an industry your sales team is eager to break into. In that case, keeping the customer happy could be a good way to turn them into a useful reference or even a case study. That customer could also help inform the next steps of your strategy for breaking into that market.

Maybe the company doesn’t spend much on your product but is a Fortune 100 mega-giant-corporation and a household name. Having them listed on your website as a customer may give you credibility with prospects.

Don’t dismiss customer feedback out of hand if the customer (or group of customers) represents a strategic advantage to your company.

3. Requests from Prospects vs Actual Customers

Another thing worth asking yourself when validating customer requests is “is this actually a customer at all?”

Let’s say you sell SaaS software. Your Customer Success team receives an inquiry about when you’ll be adding some new feature which they forward on to you.

Unless the feature idea itself grabs as you as brilliant (in which case, see the first filter above), you’ll want to qualify it by making sure the requestor is a current customer. It could be from someone who’s simply poking around the industry for a potential solution. It costs the person nothing to ask if you’ll be adding a feature they’d like to see. Even if you do so, of course, that’s no guarantee this requestor will buy from you.

4. Prioritize Requests Against Existing Plan

Don’t forget to ask, “Does this request conflict with other high-priority items?

Even if a customer request strikes you and your team as a strategically viable addition to your product, you will first need to review its viability before prioritizing to be on your roadmap. This shouldn’t happen in a vacuum, but against all of the other, competing items on your product roadmap and in your backlog. You have limited resources, after all. And the time and personnel required to act on a request must to come from somewhere.

So in this case you will definitely want to use some sort of a prioritization model, such as a weighted-scoring approach. You need a way to determine whether acting on this customer feedback can fit strategically into your plan without displacing something more important.

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5. Assess Scale of Impact to Userbase

Another important question is “Will addressing this request or complaint add value for other customers?

Another filter you will want to apply to any piece of customer feedback, whether it’s a request or a complaint, is whether making the change will benefit just the one customer asking for it, or if it represents a larger strategic benefit to your product overall and will, therefore, make the product more valuable for other users.

You might want to pick up the phone and call a few customers at random. You might want to carefully craft a customer survey on the topic and put it out to a representative sample of your userbase. Whatever method you choose to validate this customer’s request, it’s mission-critical that you apply some sort of validation before acting on it.

You don’t want to waste development cycles or abruptly change your cross-functional team’s agenda without first making sure the move has broader value than just making one squeaky-wheel customer happy.
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6. Consider Persona of Customer Request

You may also wonder, “Is the feedback coming from the right persona at your customer’s company?

If you sell a B2B product or service, your team might occasionally receive complaints from someone at a customer company. These are not necessarily always from the person your team is building your product for. In other words, they aren’t coming from your target user persona. So before you consider acting on feedback, or even taking the time to discuss its viability, find out who it’s coming from.

In some cases, it might be a buyer persona, or someone else in the organization with purchase authority over your product. If that’s the case, their feedback might warrant more attention and scrutiny.

On the other hand, the feedback might be coming from someone in another department who deals with some aspect of your product. For example, the finished report your user persona outputs using your app. In that case, although the person’s request seem to be valid to them—”Could you please color-code these fields in your app’s reports?”—it might simply not be important enough for your team to shift priorities and act on it. After all, your user persona isn’t complaining about it.

7. Quantify Value of Customer Request

Finally, ask “What is the dollar value of this customer?

This one probably seems obvious. But in the heat of the moment, a screaming, fire-breathing demand from an unreasonable customer might be enough to make even the calmest and most rational product manager jump. So keep this filter handy.

When a customer offers feedback, if you determine that it probably doesn’t represent an initiative with broader market value—in other words, it would just be a one-off fix or add to satisfy this one customer—you might still want to consider it. That is, if the customer represents enough lifetime value to your company.

Just remember to make your calculation rational and objective. This way, you and your team are truly evaluating whether addressing this feedback represents a real bottom-line benefit to your company. As opposed to just making the screaming go away.

The bottom line: Customer feedback about your product (whether positive or negative) will provide you with greater insight and business intelligence than both your own intuition and any market research you’ve compiled.

This is why so many product teams, even in large companies, are adopting the agile development method and why it is such a smart strategy to develop an agile product roadmap and make feedback a part of your process. But not all customer feedback is created equal. As we’ve pointed out before, you need to learn how to identify the customer feedback worth acting on.

What are your tips for determining whether a piece of customer feedback is actionable?