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Being able to take features from Tech Support to the product …

In the previous post (Interaction between the Tech Support team and the Product development team), I talked about ensuring that there is an interaction between the Tech Support team and the Product development team, since this allows the passing on of ideas between both teams, especially related to customer interaction and top issues from the customer. This post will talk more about the contribution of the product support team to the new idea generation for the product, and the importance of this to the product management team.
For the product management team, getting inputs from customers is one of the most important starting points of their job. They have different methodologies of getting support such as talking directly to a group of customers, talking to the marketing team which is also in touch with customers in the different markets where the product is sold, they even get ideas from other competing products, and so on. However, a good source of new ideas or refinement or enhancement of existing features is through the customer input which is collected by the customer support team.
The customer support team gets input from a large number of customers through direct support calls, through emails that customers write in to the product and which typically get routed to the customer support team, through collecting inputs from forums and other discussions forums where customers would be reporting issues and suggesting improvements, and so on. However, I have seen in many cases that these are not mined by the product team or the product management as a source of features.
Consider that a dis-satisfied customer takes a current feature and finds that it is not so useful for them, and suggests an alternate workflow that would meet their needs. If enough people have the same issue, then this is a feature modification or addition of an additional workflow that would benefit a set of users. Similarly, other users might find that the product lacks a certain feature or workflow that a competing product has, and bring attention to the benefits that such a feature might have. It is not necessary that the product manager has realized that this feature would benefit a certain set of customers, but if enough people see value in this feature and it is brought to the attention of the product manager by the product support team (or if the product manager has been reviewing the forums on a regular basis), it is a welcome addition to the set of features of the product.
In addition, when you have an active set of users, or even when you have collected the email ids of people who have called customer support or chatted with them for some kind of issue resolution and have permission to email them, it makes sense to do a quick survey with such a set of people about potential features that they might like in the product, or features that are not really useful to them, either because the features have no value of their own or the workflow implementation is a problem.
The idea is that before the start of a new product release, the product manager should have a discussion with the product support team where they present information about the features that have been suggested by the customers or have been flagged by the customers as ones where there are problems, along with an approximation about the number of customers who have suggested such features. Based on this, the product managers can decide which features to drop into the feature listing for further review.

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