Don’t miss out on the value your company could be getting from a ‘voice of the customer’ program

A Voice of the Customer program can help you maintain a strong understanding of what customers are thinking about your company and its products or services, and it can be a great way to get people from across a company collaborating together.

If you’re not familiar with the term Voice of the Customer, it’s a collection of systems and processes that can be used by your company to stay in tune with what customers are thinking, providing the team with insights that can be applied to product development plans, process improvements, and other types of changes.

Having the Voice of the Customer represented well in a company can mean the difference between solving the right problems vs. going in the wrong direction, and ultimately succeeding or failing. When things go in a negative direction here, outcomes could include a poor customer experience, increased churn, and lack of revenue growth, among other things.

To do Voice of the Customer well, a company needs to be coordinated and proactive.

  • Coordinated – Multiple departments should work together on collecting, analyzing, and actioning the data. Any function in a company that’s customer-facing or can leverage customer insights should be involved, such as Customer Success, Customer Support, Marketing, Product, and Sales. The value extends well beyond product development, and you can help a company capture that value by incorporating these kinds of functions.
  • Proactive – You’ll end up with the best quality of insights by incorporating a variety of sources beyond only reviewing a passive communication channel like customer support tickets. This requires an investment of time and is worth it.

Depending on your company’s business model (e.g., B2B, B2C, B2B2C) and target market segments (e.g., SMB, Enterprise), some methods of getting customer insights may not make sense for the program.

Directly from customers / the market:

  • Listen in on team member calls with customers & prospects (e.g., Customer Success, Customer Support, Partnerships / Business Development, Sales)
    • 💡 Only 1 person from a team that’s not facilitating a call needs to join, such as 1 Product team member joining a call that the Sales team is doing
      • Things might evolve into team member pairings between departments, such as Product Manager A collaborating with Salesperson A, Product Manager B collaborating with Customer Success Manager B, etc — and insights can be shared back among each team
  • Review customer support tickets
    • 💡 Your company’s Support team might already have a way to tag or categorize tickets to help identify common issues
  • Analyze survey results (e.g., NPS, CSAT — or do a one-off survey)
    • 💡 Some of the most useful data from standardized surveys like NPS (Net Promoter Score) is in the freeform text answers that customers can optionally submit
  • Facilitate calls with customers for team research initiatives (e.g., product discovery, customer advisory council)
    • 💡 As a Product person, you may already be doing things like this, but make sure you loop in other departments and contribute insights to the centralized Voice of the Customer program
  • Read company/product review sites (e.g., Capterra, G2, App/Play Store)

Among team members within a company:

  • Schedule recurring time on the calendar and include the whole company as optional invitees (e.g., a bi-weekly “Product Workshop” or “Office Hours”)
    • 💡 I’ve run these from a Product perspective, but it could be facilitated by other departments/functions. A key is sharing useful info and inviting feedback, and it can naturally open up lines of communication and build more cross-functional involvement over time. I’ve written a bit more about this here.
  • Periodically meet with members of other departments to hear about trends they’ve noticed and what they believe deserves attention (e.g., Customer Success, Customer Support, Sales)
  • Review notes (or watch / listen to recordings) from team member calls with customers & prospects
    • 💡 Keeping notes and recordings might already be a process among your team, and like many other situations, you’ll likely find the most success by providing a reason (focusing on the expected value) why people should share such things with you

Notes should be taken during any meeting, and consider recording meetings if there’s a larger audience that’d benefit from reviewing async.

💡 If you listen in on a call or watch a recording, take notes and share them with the facilitator of the call afterwards. In addition to being useful for your function, I’ve found that demonstrating good note taking, and consistently sharing, can encourage others to loop you in more regarding customer insights they come across or opportunities to participate.

You’ll also benefit from using tools to document what customers say, run surveys, or manage other activities related to your Voice of the Customer program. You likely already have some relevant tools (even as simple as Google Docs), and it may help to incorporate additional ones. Don’t let a lack of tools keep you from getting something off the ground though, as you can work on optimizing over time.

Be mindful of potential pitfalls:

  • Asking too much of customers, such as frequent surveys or invitations to have calls. For example, systems could be set up to automatically ping customers (e.g., NPS or CSAT surveys), possibly on a recurring basis, so be mindful of who is targeted by such things and how often before trying something new that’s customer-facing.
  • Collecting a lot of data and not doing much with it. If you’re going to invest in a Voice of the Customer program — while getting buy-in and participation across the company, you’d better follow through and extract the value that it can provide. Starting small is fine, and make sure you follow through so you can build on it.
    • 💡 Start small by adding insights in a Google Doc and sharing the doc with teammates. When the process picks up steam, you can make the doc look better (e.g., add sections with a table of contents) or move the content to a different tool that might be preferred for centralized documentation.

  • Not closing the loop. If you work with members of your company to collect, analyze, and/or action customer insights, sharing updates about what you’ve done or plan to do will go a long way in supporting a repeatable process for everyone.

It’s great if you currently listen to customer feedback, and if you use what you learn to inform priorities and plans. This is valuable and should continue. If you encompass that approach into a Voice of the Customer program — while also doing additional things such as what’s mentioned in this blog post, then you can likely create more value — based on a higher volume and greater depth of customer insights that can potentially result.

If you believe this is worth doing, you’ll need to determine who is best to organize it in your company, and who should be responsible for acting on the findings.

In my view, it doesn’t matter which department or function owns the program, as long as someone is the clear owner. A natural fit could be ownership by Product Management, Product Operations, Product Marketing, Customer Success, COO, or something along these lines.

Once team member involvement is coordinated and people know the process to follow, the program can run async — aside from meetings designed to collect, analyze, or share customer insights. The person who owns the program should periodically check on how things are going and offer help to clear blockers or implement improvements.

When things go in a positive direction here, outcomes could include a better customer experience, increased customer loyalty, more revenue, and even higher employee retention if done in as cross-functional a way as I advocate for. Doesn’t now sound like a good time to get Voice of the Customer started at your company?

Thanks to Mik Pozin for providing early feedback on this post

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Why I say “V1” instead of “MVP” or “MLP”

(Note: This post applies to features as well as products, but I’m only using “product” for simplicity)

For a long time, everyone seemed to use “MVP” (Minimum Viable Product) to refer to the first version of what they’ll release as a product. “MVP” has been used in books about product management and startups, blog posts, etc. I still hear “MVP” a fair amount.

A couple of years ago, I started to hear “MLP” (Minimum Lovable Product) used by some people instead of “MVP.”

I personally like “MLP” more than “MVP” because a “lovable” product sounds more appealing and valuable than a “viable” product, but if you asked 10 people to define what an “MVP” or “MLP” is intended to represent, you’d probably hear several different answers. Most of the answers might generally point in the same direction, but there wouldn’t be alignment in the definition.

Now think about how important it is for a team within a company to be aligned on what they’re setting out to do. Whenever “MVP” or “MLP” is said within that team or company, each person hearing it might have a different mindset about that first release.

people shrugging shoulders

Is the first release meant to test a hypothesis? Is it meant to help establish a new revenue stream? Is it meant to make a specific customer happy (in the enterprise world)?

Should the first release look perfectly polished? Should it be adequately polished? Is it okay to be somewhat ugly (as long as it’s usable)?

Different people think about these things differently, even within the same team/company. This is the problem with using “MVP” or “MLP.”

Instead, I use “V1” (Version 1) to represent what will be in a first release, and I accompany that with a story and artifacts (e.g., goals, flow diagram, wireframes, a design) to provide context and details. “V1” simply means the first version, while the purpose of that first version — the goals, etc — vary from one situation to another.


The same person (product manager) could take a different approach for a first release in different situations. For example:

  • Is the first release going to be a limited rollout? A full rollout? Will it only be seen by existing users? New users? Both?
  • Are the users who will see the first release in close communication with the team/company? Or is the intention to have them be on their own?
  • Can the first release include a manual process that’s not a seamless solution or fully automated (e.g., using Google Forms)? Or does it need to be seamless / automated?

There’s no one size fits all in product management. Use an approach that relies on YOUR definition, not someone else’s assumption. “V1” can help you do this.

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How I stay updated on the news with minimal time spent

I like to stay updated on tech news and world news, but with work, family, etc there’s not enough time in a typical day for me to look around for such news — so I have the news delivered to me. While there are many good news sites and apps, it’s relatively easy to set up a system where you can automatically receive the type of news that you’re interested in, direct to your email inbox. This allows me to get updated on what’s going on at convenient times (e.g., while on a train), regardless of whether I have an internet connection.

The best email newsletters for this purpose are ones that include summaries or snippets of each story so that you often don’t need to click for the full story, since you’ve learned enough from the text in the email. If you want more details, you can click to get the full story.

Here’s my current list of email newsletters:

Launch Ticker – Tech news

  • Free Version – Delivered once per week
  • Paid Version ($10/month or $100/year) – Delivered twice daily on weekdays and once daily on weekends

The Hustle – Focused on tech and business

  • Delivered once daily on weekdays
  • Free

theSkimm – Covers general news, including U.S., world, and entertainment

  • Delivered once daily on weekdays
  • Free

CNN Five Things – The top 5 stories that a CNN editor decides to push on any given day

  • Delivered once daily on weekdays
  • Free

The Journal – A collection of tech, business, and human interest stories

  • Delivered once per month

I’ve used this system for a couple of years now and it’s kept me informed in an efficient way.

I also occasionally use the Apple News app, but I get a lot of the same news in the emails.

I also receive new blog posts via email from several blogs for the same efficiency reasons mentioned above about newsletters. If a blog doesn’t provide an email subscription option but does provide an RSS feed, you can use Blogtrottr to send you emails with the new content that gets added to the RSS feed (i.e., new blog posts).

Do you receive a different email newsletter that you’d suggest others take a look at? Post a comment or send me a message and I’ll check it out.

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Demystifying product strategy


Since “strategy” can mean different things in different situations, here’s a definition of how I think about it related to product management:

Finding efficient ways to achieve the company’s goals through product solutions

Another way to think about it is:

Finding ways to maximize value at minimal cost

A good product strategy can give you a leg up in a race against the clock (or the competition), and it can increase the odds of your team and company being successful.

The maximize value part

This comes down to translating company/business objectives (including key metrics / KPIs) into a product plan that helps the company achieve its goals.

Product folks are tasked with helping their company achieve its goals while also helping customers (aka, users) achieve their goals, and while also keeping their team informed, efficient, and motivated to get it all done. (Project managers or other roles in an organization can also help a lot, but these roles don’t always exist.)

Sometimes, there’s a clear path for how product work can help the company achieve its goals, such as when an integration with a partner can propel a business strategy. Other times, the team needs to explore possible solutions to meet the company’s goals, which factors in:

  • Customer needs discovery/analysis
  • Team brainstorming (including exercises such as whiteboarding/sketching)
  • Research/testing with customers

After this, solutions need to be designed, built, tested, and released.

After releasing something, it needs to be measured and potentially iterated on to build out further or to optimize.

I could write posts to cover each of these steps, but in a nutshell, this is what needs to be done in order to maximize value. Depending on timelines and resources, you might be able to skip some steps, or at least move through them faster, while still achieving the goals (and perhaps revisiting in the future for further improvement). In general, I’ve found that it’s more important to be practical with how you go about things than to try to follow a process according to every detail as it’s written in a book.

The minimal cost part

There can be several types of costs with product work, including:

  • Dollar cost – You might need to pay for a technology or service to achieve a solution, or you might need to hire people. These are straight dollar costs.
  • Time cost – It takes time from one or more team members to do anything, which can be equated to the dollars that the company spends employing those people for their time. For example, if the company spends $50 per hour on an employee, and if it’d take 10 hours for the employee to complete something, then the cost of having that employee do this work is 10 hours of time which you could equate to $500.
  • Opportunity cost – This comes down to prioritization. In general terms, if you work on Option A now, then Option B might be postponed until Option A is done. The expected gains from Option B (which could be postponed) is an opportunity cost of Option A. For example, if a $10,000 gain is expected from Option A while a $5,000 gain is expected from Option B, then you might prioritize Option A over Option B. In this case, Option A brings an opportunity cost of $5,000 (i.e., expected gain from Option B), which is generally okay because it’s less than the expected gain from Option A (i.e., $10,000).
  • Team dynamic cost – This can be harder to quantify than other costs. On a high level, if your team is happy, motivated, and efficient, they’ll be positioned to do well (assuming they’re working on the right things and helping the company succeed). The challenge is maintaining a positive environment for the teamwork, which includes communication, collaboration, celebrating wins, learning from issues, and making it clear that it’s ok to discuss struggles or suggestions for the benefit of everyone (doing sprint retrospectives is one way to facilitate this). Some situations bring more pressure than others, but always remember that you’re part of a team that comes to work every day to solve problems, so tap into that in a supportive and collaborative way.

An example of where to apply strategy

Do multiple current customers, prospective customers, current partners, or prospective partners have similar needs? If so, you might be able to leverage a new product capability that can provide value across a broad spectrum of users / entities. In other words, doing a single body of work that results in more than one win is a strategy that could be explored.

Things that can help think through strategic opportunities

1. Create a product plan (roadmap) 12 to 18 months in advance

  • Break it down by quarters (e.g., Q3 2017, Q4 2017, Q1 2018, Q2 2018, Q3 2018, Q4 2018)
  • You only need to think about high level items (i.e., a new product/app or major new capability of an existing product/app) for the periods that are between 6 and 18 months away
  • Be more detailed with items for the periods up to 6 months away
  • Keep in mind — and include an explicit note on the roadmap — that roadmaps change based on shifting priorities and new learnings (about customer needs, partnership opportunities, etc). You want the roadmap to be seen as directionally correct, but fluid based on the company’s shifting priorities (or significant shifts in what’s learned from the market, such as customers or competitors).

I’ve used a few different roadmap formats over the years and currently employ the following two for different purposes:

Template A:

(this is good for high-level discussions around significant high-level deliverables)


Roadmap Template A

Template B:

(this is good for mid-level discussions that gets more detailed than Template A)

Roadmap Template B

Template B also helps to facilitate update meetings with any stakeholders about progress, what’s been accomplished, if there are risks or dependencies, etc.

Beyond Template B would be a backlog that gets very granular (often tracked in software like Jira, Trello, or some other project/task management tool), which typically only needs to be reviewed with scrum team members (e.g., developers and QA).

(I’ll save for another post why it’s better to have a goal-based or theme-based roadmap than a feature-based roadmap.)

2. Meet with your company’s executive leadership team (e.g., CEO, CTO, the heads of Marketing / Sales / Business Development / Customer Experience)

The main goals are to:

  • Recalibrate on business priorities
  • Make sure that executives across the company understand what’s been happening with the product and what the vision and plans are for the future

At some companies, it’s easier said than done to get executives in a room together, so you might need to sell this kind of meeting in advance by setting expectations for what’s going to be covered and what the goals are (which should clearly sound beneficial to the company as a whole and also to each department)


Strategy is a skill that can be developed over time. The more you think about it, work through exercises, collaborate with others, and read about examples, the better you’ll get. Just always keep the main purpose in mind: finding efficient ways to achieve the company’s goals and finding ways to maximize value at minimal cost.

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