How to handle feature requests from customers

If you have a client that is requesting new features to your product or service, it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Here is the information that you need to succeed.

The feature request

Most customers won’t give you feedback that your product isn’t meeting their exact needs. Customers buy a product because, as it currently exists, it meets some part of their needs. If the product is software based, customers believe the product will continue to improve.

It is rare for a customer to contact a vendor to request new features to meet their specific needs. When this does happen, it’s because the customer feels like the vendor will listen to them because they are a key partner

You must handle feature requests appropriately. They are one of the most important communications from customers.

The basics

There are some customer service basics that will play an important role.

You should never say no to a customer unless it’s in your authority to say yes. Yet, as long as you have the authority to say yes, why would you say no?

Keys to avoiding saying no:

  • Here’s what the product includes and what we customarily do to resolve this or a similar problem
  • Here’s what we’re willing to absorb the costs of because of your value as a customer
  • Here’s what we have the capability to do in exchange for compensation
  • We can try to make arrangements to hire that work out on your behalf
  • You can break a policy, especially if it’s overly favorable to you
  • A vendor is not limited to providing the services on their price list.

The thank you

It’s important to thank the customer. They have taken the time to let you know how they are using your product and how to improve it to meet their needs.

You are lucky when a customer does this. They could have canceled out of frustration. They have possibly started looking at alternatives to meet their specific needs.

The troubleshooting

Share with the requestor how most customers use the product and troubleshoot their process.

Explain what the product can do when used as intended. Get them close to their ultimate goal even if it’s not their specific requested outcome.

Maybe they didn’t really need what they were asking for in the first place. Were they just using the product wrong? Can you tell them how to do what they want in an easier way without your help?

The customer has outsourced to you because you’re an expert provider in the field. You have probably already had a customer that encountered the same situation and can share how they solved it.

Okay, it’s not them, it’s you. Now what?

The processing

Now you know whether the feature request was due to a misuse of the product. You can ask the customer to rate the urgency of their feature request. Also, ask them to rate the value of the product with and without the feature.

You should document feature requests along with customer contact information. Prioritize requests based on feasibility, impact, and whether your competition is doing it.

You can establish KPIs measuring age and popularity of outstanding feature requests. How many of them are catch-up to the competition? How many of the customers that made the requests have moved on?

You should follow up on a feature request at least twice a year, but more for urgent requests.

The urgent request

The urgent feature request causes many vendors to struggle. Issues will arise due to communication breakdowns.

“A key client is unhappy today, and we must make them happy today.”

I don’t know how or why it happens, but fear kicks in when a key customer makes a feature request. Suddenly no one is happy until you deliver the feature.

You want happy customers, but is failure to deliver a new feature causing them to be unhappy?

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes.

The mostly happy customer

You spent a decent amount of time researching available vendors before picking one. You have been happy with your choice. The vendor hasn’t done anything to piss you off, and it meets your needs for the most part.

When you contact the vendor, they are reasonably accommodating and respectful of your value.

The service would be almost perfect though, if it had these five features that would save you time.

The unhappy customer

You thought you did a good job researching available vendors. Yet, you’re starting to regret the one that you chose. You’ve stopped communicating with the vendor because it’s proved unfruitful.

There’s nothing the vendor can do right now that would make you happy. You’re ready to switch to another vendor, or it’s too cost prohibitive to switch and you feel trapped.

You feel like the vendor could care less if you left.

The bottom line

The feature request is just a small, but integral part of your relationship with the customer. It means a lot that they’ve asked for it, but it mostly means that they’re happy, not unhappy.

The customer is not going to leave if you don’t immediately roll out the feature. If they do, then they were on their way out already.

You will delight the customer by including their requested feature in the product roadmap. The customer is only expecting you to be fair and reasonable, and not expecting a free lunch.

Sure you could do everything for free to delight customers, but you must account for the costs.

Something for nothing

Your customers may claim that your competition will provide them more than what you are. They will ask you to sweeten the deal. The fact that they are asking means that they are mostly happy customers that are unlikely to switch.

It doesn’t mean that you can say no, though. When a customer threatens to leave for the competition if you don’t sweeten the deal, then sweeten it. In exchange for an agreement not to leave for the competition. Lock that customer in.

If a customer want’s a discount, then give them one. In exchange for a lower tier SLA or a valuable referral. “Bob, if you can talk to your sister school and get them to give us a try, then I’ll give you 30% off for a year.”

If a customer is such a large spender that they’re used to getting what they want, they’re also used to paying for it. Don’t be the one vendor of theirs that is giving them things for free. Tell the customer how much a new feature is going to cost them if they want it developed on their timeline.

If the customer says they can’t pay for it, ask why. Is it a budget issue? Can you make other arrangements for compensation? Is it just against their traditions? Ask them what they had in mind. It may surprise you how low their expectations were, and it may prove simple to delight them.

Because we value you

The customer thinks that they should get a custom solution for free. Can you do it? Definitely don’t say no. “Bob, let me find out who can approve this for us and let me call you back.”

Escalating an issue makes the customer feel good. Don’t make a hasty decision; weigh your costs. You can have customers that cost you money as long as they are recommenders. Are you still going to make money from them? Do they recommend you now? Will they recommend you for saying yes?

In most cases, you won’t even talk to someone at the customer’s company with the power to end things. If you make this huge gesture for the customer, is anyone even going to know besides this one person?

“Bob, if you were to write a letter to my business owners explaining why this is important, who is the highest person at your company that you could get to sign it?”

No matter what you decide, the right answer is always, “Bob, we value you as a customer.” You can follow that with “Unfortunately…” or “This time, I think we can do this on the house. By the way, who do you know that could use our product?”

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