Successful agile development isn’t just about “being flexible” or attending daily stand-up meetings. In fact, most businesses fall short of their achieving their goals because they don’t devote enough time to one crucial aspect of the agile methodology. Sometimes, it’s even ignored altogether.
Jump to the main takeaways:
Agile has generally built up a good track record over the past decade–especially when compared to more traditional development methods. That said, for larger Fortune 500 corporations, agile and DevOps have been known to fall short of expectations.
How does your average business change that? How can you take the basic skeleton of agile and, using a single growth hack, set your business up for continued success?
This blog post will outline how this simple change can pay off in a big way, both in terms of growth and earning potential. There will also be a step-by-step implementation guide that any organization can use, regardless of size.
The Undervalued Agile Development Growth Hack Is ...
Okay, let’s stop with the teases and get right to it. The agile development growth hack that continues to be criminally underused by most businesses is:
Implementing customer feedback.
Yes, it’s really that simple.
Now, there are a few caveats that need to be clarified before going any further. When we say “implementing customer feedback,” we’re not talking about:
- Setting up a website with a “Contact Us” email form
- Sending out email surveys that don’t get read, either by your customers or your staff
- Hurriedly highlighting client feedback at the end of a longer meeting
- Putting user requests in (at the very end of) the backlog
- Hearing, but never acting on, customer feedback
That last point has historically been a divisive topic of discussion for the majority of business executives, entrepreneurs, and even agile software developers or project managers.
This is because customer feedback falls under the umbrella of market research, which is like any other business tool: it’s only beneficial when it’s used well.
And, since there’s plenty of market research and analysis out there that’s too broad or inept to be useful, relying solely on that data as your organization’s guiding light can be like carving an ice sculpture with a toothpick.
Steve Jobs certainly thought so when he famously said this about market research:
“Some people say give the customers what they want, but that's not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they're going to want before they do [...] People don't know what they want until you show it to them. That's why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”
There’s nothing that necessarily rings totally false about Jobs’ quote. But, as Lyft’s VP of Design Katie Dill pointed out, those words are often twisted into something they’re not (emphasis mine):
"I agree with the sentiment that we can't just ask for what customers want; they don't always know how to articulate it. But I am a firm believer in the power of understanding our community. I'm a firm believer in the power of user research and qualitative insight gathering."
Having an intimate knowledge of your business’ niche and core audience is the true goal of great customer feedback loops.
As Dill said, it’s not necessarily about just blindly handing customers what they want (or think they want). It’s about using research to empower your company to grow alongside its customer base.
Agile Benefits of Implementing Customer Feedback
Now that the “what” is clear, let’s move on to the “why”–as in, why you and every other business professional needs to care deeply about customer feedback.
First, let’s look at some numbers that highlight some of the major benefits that come with implementing user feedback into your agile development processes:
- Corporations that earn $1 billion can expect to generate an additional $700 million in revenue within three years of investing in customer feedback (The Tempkin Group)
- Boosting customer retention by just 5% can grow a company’s revenue by as much as 95% (Bain and Company)
- 86% of consumers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience (PWC)
In other words, use feedback to build an outstanding customer experience (a big part of the agile philosophy) and the potential revenue gains will be significant.
The other side of the coin involves the downside of ignoring customer feedback and, by association, putting a lousy customer experience out into the world:
- The top reasons consumers switch to a new brand is feeling underappreciated (New Voice Media)
- 50% of buyers believe their feedback doesn’t get routed to anyone who can act on it (Qualtrics)
- 78% of customers have backed out of a purchased due to a poor customer experience (Glance)
As Peter Kriss notes for the Harvard Business Review, the quantifiable benefits of marrying customer feedback with agile development must be taken seriously:
“It’s time to stop the philosophical debate about whether investing in the experience of your customers is the right business decision. This isn’t a question of beliefs — it’s a question about the behavior of your customers. Connect the right data, and not only is it possible to quantify the impact of the difference between delivering a great experience and delivering a poor one — but it will demonstrate to everyone in your organization just how big that impact can be.”
The next logical question is “how.” How does your average business go about implementing customer feedback in the most efficient, actionable way possible?
That, dear friends, was a segue.
Implementing Customer Feedback: A Step-By-Step Guide
Gathering user experience feedback and leveraging that data as an agile development asset can be tricky.
With so many possible routes you can take, it’s important to establish a baseline implementation strategy. Later, if needed, you can tweak it to suit your organization’s needs.
Here are the steps we recommend using:
Step 1: Decide what you want to collect feedback on
Whether it’s a new feature that may still be in beta form or an old staple that’s been triggering support tickets, your agile project management team must choose exactly what they want feedback on.
This also limits how frequently you’d ask very broad questions like: “What’s something we can improve on in the future?” Well-intentioned, sure, but the likelihood that you’ll get actionable feedback in return is much lower than if you’re more specific in your queries.
Step 2: Define targeted sets of customers
You can get even more specific, actionable data when you define targeted sets of customers to collect feedback from. This can be based on their respective industries, usage patterns, number of years using the product or service, and so on.
This step also highlights the importance of specificity, especially when consumers use your software in many diverse scenarios. For example, an IT specialist and an HR manager will have different opinions on what’s working and what’s not. All their voices matter.
Step 3: Listen, understand, connect
Once your issue and demographic targets have been selected, it’s time to gather the feedback. Surveys are the most popular format for this task but, no matter what you use, it’s critical that every stakeholder receiving feedback actively listens to what’s being said.
Some feedback can be harsh, and those moments may be difficult. That said, the better you listen, the better you’ll understand what the exact problem is. Through that heightened level of understanding, you’ll be in a better position to forge lasting connections with customers.
Step 4: Document and centralize your customer feedback data
After the customer feedback gathering process has been completed, you need to ensure that the resulting data is documented properly and stored in one centralized location.
Why is this important? Beyond just writing it down in a word processor and losing track of the file or forgetting about it entirely, centralized documentation makes cross-departmental access much easier. From marketing to sales, it’s valuable information that anyone can use.
Step 5: Move customer feedback items into your backlog
Once the data has been documented and made available to all relevant stakeholders, those insights must be processed into backlog items. They don’t necessarily need to be earmarked for sprints at this point, but they must be visible in your agile development to-do list.
Transforming customer feedback information nuggets into action items in your backlog is one of the most important steps in this entire implementation process. So, whatever you do, don’t skip this step. No customer-driven backlog items equals no progress or action, just talk.
Step 6: Determine which feedback items to prioritize (or not)
Prior to injecting customer feedback backlog items into specific sprint projects, you need to prioritize them based on urgency and fit. Ongoing agile development initiatives, as well as any long-term goals and strategies, must be accounted for at this stage.
Of course, just because you gather feedback on the user experience doesn’t mean you have to act on every item right away. This Atlassian post goes into detail about how you can structure your backlog using user growth, ROI, NPS data, and more.
Step 7: Integrate customer-related backlog items into sprint projects
Once you prioritize backlog items and have a roadmap for their potential completion, it’s time to kick those tasks into gear by assigning them to sprint projects. Each inclusion should mesh well with other agile development variables needed to achieve your desired outcomes.
One thing to keep in mind is the throughline of specificity that you started the implementation process with. Measures of success and the value any feature or functionality improvements will bring to consumers must be clear from the beginning, as opposed to too broad or vague.
Step 8: Be flexible with your execution and testing
The very nature of agile development is to maintain an optimal amount of flexibility throughout the execution process. No matter what your goals or KPIs are, your team must be prepared to improvise and potentially deviate from the original plan if needed.
The same mentality applies to the testing phase as well. If you’ve worked on improving an area of the product based on customer feedback and the results are average-to-mediocre, it’s okay to change course. Consumers just want a reliable, functional product.
Step 9: Clearly communicate customer-driven changes to your audience
Let’s say you’ve gone from start to finish with customer feedback and implemented one or several upgrades based on their insights. If that’s the case, you need to clearly communicate those developments to your audience through email, social media, or another platform entirely.
Why is this important? It goes back to the idea of ensuring that clients know their voices are being heard. Acknowledgment is a powerful tool for enhancing your customer experience since the resulting feeling of satisfaction will be infectious to anyone within earshot.
Step 10: Wash, rinse, repeat
Finally, the only thing left to do is wash, rinse, and repeat this process.
Remember, customer feedback loops are visualized as such because they’re meant to be ongoing conversations. One-off surveys and phone calls don’t work. The exchange of information needs to be regular if you want to properly gauge where your customers are at all times.
Growth hacks are often overstated and potentially too heavily relied upon in some circles.
That said, it’s clear from the data presented here that implementing customer feedback is an easy way to take your agile development practices–not to mention your revenue generation possibilities–to greater heights.
You don’t have to act on every piece of feedback and you don’t necessarily need to panic every time you receive discontented user comments. You do, however, need to take the customer feedback process seriously as an ideation and integration tool.
To put it bluntly, if you’re not taking advantage of this opportunity, someone else (more than likely a competitor) will.
Over the years, Insight’s product suite has undergone some radical transformations with regards to features and performance. Many of these changes have been spearheaded by discussions with our valued customers and partners.
Their investment and support in our Jira apps is a major reason why we’ve been able to grow as much as we have recently. To read more about their Insight stories and how they’ve succeeded through those moments of change, click below!
Originally published Feb 25, 2020 3:00:00 AM