A customer contacts your helpline and, instead of asking for a solution to a problem they are facing, they begin suggesting a new product feature that you should be offering.
Usually, such a request puts most businesses in a pickle: They have not made any plans to alter their product, and no matter how politely your customer service team tell your customer that the feature they are requesting cannot be implemented for the foreseeable future, customer feature requests always end up with a dissatisfied customer.
Customer feature requests are often frustrating because of the dissatisfaction they produce; however, these interactions do not always need to end on a bad note even if you have to turn down the feature request.
Customer feature requests can result in customer satisfaction if you know how to handle them. But before knowing how to handle such requests, you need to be able to determine the motives behind the request.
Why are feature requests so common?
Simply put: Customer feature requests are feedback – valuable information that a customer wishes to communicate with a company. Why do customers take the time to give feedback? This extract does a pretty good job at providing an explanation:
When customers share their story, they’re not just sharing pain points. They’re actually teaching you how to make your product, service, and business better. Your customer service organization should be designed to efficiently communicate those issues. - Kristin Smaby’s "Being Human is Good Business"
Customers like to offer feedback for the products/services they use as it makes them feel like they are a part of the entire business process. According to Lyfe Marketing, 90% of the people that post customer reviews do so because they want to share their experience and knowledge with the businesses they purchased from in order to help them improve their products and services.
A customer feature request is made with the same purpose in mind: A customer feels like there is a shortcoming in what you have to offer and they provide you with direct feedback about their experience.
Responding to a customer feature request can provide you with invaluable insight about your products/services and, at the same time, it gives you an opportunity to strengthen the bond that exists between you and the customer. It shows them that you value what they have to say. If you have had a hard time dealing with customer feedback requests in the past, then you should try revising your approach.
Be honest, be grateful
When a customer takes their time to contact you just to share their opinion, the first thing that you need to do is to show them how much this means to you. Think of it in this way: You are being given feedback for free, and the only effort that you need to make is to listen. A simple thank you or “we are grateful for your insight” at the end of a conversation can go a long way and make the customer feel like whatever they said meant something to you.
Along with showing gratitude, you should also make sure that you remain transparent with your customer. Many companies often lie to their customers in response to feature requests. These lies manage to impress the customer for a while but almost always end in dissatisfaction when the company fails to back them up.
Instead of making promises that you cannot (or have no intention of) keeping, you should remain honest. A study in 2014 on authentic brands by Cohn & Wolfe revealed that the top behavior demanded by customers from brands is that they remain honest about their products and services.
Avoid automated responses
The biggest mistake that one can make while handling customer feature requests is to answer them with an automated response. For the customer, an automated response means that their opinion never reached human eyes; this can lead to a customer feeling unimportant and that all the effort they put into contacting you was for nothing.
Make sure that feature requests are handled by real people, people who know how to control their tone and the language that they use. Whether it is on call, email, or live chat, the person addressing the feature request should maintain an understanding tone, and their language should indicate that they care about what the customer is saying.
Provide an alternative solution to the problem
Customer feature requests are always the result of your product or service being unable to fulfill a certain need. This inability drives the customer to contact you to say what they think is wrong and how you might be able to fix it.
Customer feature requests can be thought of as solutions that customers come up with on their own and they hope you will implement to address their problem. Having a solution laid out before yourself can be convenient; however, keep in mind that only 10% of feature requests are actually viable enough to be considered.
When it comes to feature requests, the customer is not always right. Many feature requests are simply too farfetched or do not suit your product/service. A majority of feature requests that customers make are not feasible enough to be implemented, but this does not mean that such requests should be dealt with a simple “no." Remember, feature requests are proposed solutions to a problem, and there is always more than one way of dealing with a problem.
A great way to deal with a feature request is by determining the underlying need that led to the request, and then offering workarounds to the problem. This approach lets companies decline a feature request and provide a satisfactory solution to the customer without having to say no.
When providing workarounds, you should make sure that the solution that you are providing is not just to impress the customer; it should be implementable and should address the customer’s problem satisfactorily.
Set and maintain expectations
Lastly, you should never let your customer’s expectations get too high. The higher the expectations become, the more disappointed they are if they are not met.
When providing a customer with an ETA or an update about a certain feature, you should stay as honest as possible; preferably, one should not communicate dates at all since they set a deadline for you to meet. Instead of providing dates, you should only stick to providing the customer with updates on the added features.
When it comes to feature requests, it is all about managing expectations with the customer and being empathetic at the same time.