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What Feedback About My Product Should I Listen To?

How Kayak's Unique Approach to Feedback Drives Product Features

Posted on December 04, 2014

One lesson all businesses learn sooner or later is that resources are finite. Running a successful business is mostly prioritizing what needs to get done now, what can wait and who should do it. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to figure out what is the most important action to take.

A potentially rich source of guidance in this regard lies in listening to a product’s users. In many ways, users are more familiar with a product’s strengths and shortcomings than the creators. But how does one feed user knowledge back to the creators?

How Kayak Included Customer Feedback in Product Development

It was a problem Paul English, co-founder of Kayak.com, sought to fix by making his software engineers answer customer service calls. At the time it must have struck some as a tremendous waste of resources. After all, software engineers earn up to $150,000 a year performing highly skilled labor. Surely cheaper options could be found - perhaps a minimum wage call center in Arizona or, even cheaper, in India.

English explained his thinking in The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office, “If you make your engineers answer e-mails and phone calls from customers, the second or third time they get the same question, they’ll actually stop what they are doing and fix the code. Then we don’t have to answer those questions anymore.”

Further, English upped the pain quotient by installing a big red phone with a loud grating ring for the task. The engineers despised it but they answered it and they fixed bugs with stunning efficiency.

In English’s model, customers provided direct feedback to engineers on what needed to be fixed. And this model, as painful as it might have been for the engineers, paid off big dividends. Kayak won a string of usability awards, went public in 2012, and was eventually acquired for $1.8 billion.

Why Customer Feedback Matters

The takeaway from this is that direct customer feedback loops are important. Too often company departments operate in silos with little communication between them. In these environment engineers create features and fix problems but, without feedback from the technical support team, they operate in a bubble and guess at what users want.

A historical truism is the people who know the battlefield best aren’t necessarily the generals, but the troops in the trenches. If you want to know what users want, talk to the people who answer their calls everyday. If that’s not possible put systems in place which encourage different departments to communicate.

How Suggestion Programs Can Help

When it comes to putting in these feedback loops and encouraging cross-department communication, many companies rely on informal emails and discussions between employees. But these systems lack rigor - emails are easy to ignore and good suggestions get lost.

With this in mind, organizations can benefit greatly from installing a more formalized, organized system for communicating these ideas. With a suggestion program, ideas are distributed to the right people and the idea's progress can be tracked. In a knowledge economy like ours, good ideas are worth their weight in gold and should be traded and tracked accordingly. Not doing so is just throwing money away.

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