How do I develop customer relationships?

We’ve all seen Martin Eriksson’s Venn diagram showing product managers as the intersection between customers, the business and technology. And sometimes the Sales, Marketing and Development teams might be thrown in for good measure as well. The competing demands of these internal departments often means the product manager has some challenging conversations to have with customers. But how can you get better at nurturing customer relationships without driving them away?

Promising dates

We’ve all been there: that moment when your client asks you the-ever-so-dreaded question, “how long will it take?” Promising delivery dates is never easy, especially when the product is still under development and ideas have yet to be fully fleshed out. So how do you deal with clients that constantly ask when the work will be ready?

The solution: don’t promise dates

The best way to not have a client constantly asking why you aren’t done is to not provide them with an exact delivery date. Sounds like a crazy concept, but it works. Instead, give them a ballpark estimate of how long you think it may take, like 1-3 months, up to 6 months, maybe a year. Remember, if you’re only just gathering ideas and fleshing out the concept of the work itself, there’s no point in giving an exact delivery date in the first place.

Validate your progress

Regularly communicate with your client and give them a progress update of what you’re working on. With open lines of communication comes trust and understanding. Once your client understands the complexity of the work (at least to a certain point) then they’re less likely to wonder how much longer it will take, and they will panic less about having it out the door by a specific date. Make sure you get their feedback and thoughts on what you’re working on – make this a team effort!

Build a roadmap

The best way to visualize what you’re working on is to put it all up on a roadmap. Use roadmap cards to decide which features you’ll be working on in the current term, in the near term, and in the future. As priorities change, these cards will change as well. Share this roadmap with your clients so they are also aware of the progress and use it as a key communication tool to keep them in the loop.

Dealing with negative feedback

If an angry customer contacts you, you may think you need to apologize profusely. But do you really? Don’t just apologize – first assess the situation. If you do nothing but apologize and don’t follow it up after, your customers will lose trust in your ability to provide them a good service.

Apologize with action

Is there a workaround? Is the workaround immediate? Can your development team do something to fix the situation in due time? Be sure to follow up with the client and let them know what the progress is every step of the way. Apologizing will only take you so far – do something to remedy the situation. At the end of the day, clients will be more thankful that you remedied the problem rather than saying “I’m sorry” but doing nothing to ease their frustration.

Log their feedback

Make it a point to log all your customer feedback, good or bad. Not only will it help you improve your support services, but your product. If you want your product to succeed, you should listen to the people that use it. This is also a great way to prioritize your backlog and note what features are the most important to your clients.

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