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Hey, Product Manager: Your Customers Are Furious!

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Do you remember the first time a customer yelled at you? I know I do. I was a senior product manager and the company was working on a new network optimization device -- one we promised would save costs and reduce congestion. Two big problems popped up. The first was that we delivered the product months late. The second (and worst) was that it crashed the customer's test network.

Fortunately, it was just a sandbox environment, and the technology issues were eventually resolved. But in that moment, the customer was ticked off. Big-time angry. It was not an easy conversation. However, I learned an important lesson -- an angry customer is a valuable one.

If a customer is hurling complaints your way, this is good news for a product manager. It means they care. They feel invested in your product and want to see it improve.

Another reason to embrace the criticism? It tends to be rare. In fact, one researcher found that only 4 percent of dissatisfied customers actually speak up. The majority are stewing in silent frustration.

Quiet customers are the ones product managers should be worried about. If there are no critical emails, no frustrated phone calls, no riled-up comments... you have to wonder if they have grown apathetic.

Customer apathy is a troubling sign. Because even if your customers do have issues, they do not feel it is worth the effort to speak up. And you cannot fix problems that you do not know about.

So if a customer is angry at you -- awesome!

Respond immediately
Do not make your customers wait -- this will only add to their frustration. Instead, respond while the problem is still fresh in their minds. Interactions with urgency move people and organizations forward. So when customers ask for help, get back to them as quickly as you can.

Get details
Great product managers ask questions. Lots of them. And if it is software related, get screenshots if you can. You cannot really help the customer until you understand the issue at hand. Once you gather the right details, you can pass them on to other teams that might need to jump in on a fix.

Stay open-minded
It can be hard to admit, but you do not know everything about your product. That is why customers are so valuable -- they offer a unique perspective. So lay down your defenses. Be open to their criticism on what is missing and what needs to be improved.

Be flexible
Sometimes a customer issue can throw your whole day off. And that is okay. Do not be so tied to your to-do list that you cannot move on an urgent request. If a customer is speaking out about something important, it is worth prioritizing.

Say "thank you"
Your customers deserve a sincere "thank you" for speaking up. After all, they are the reason you are in business. Be appreciative of their feedback and the opportunity it presents -- the chance to improve your product.

An angry customer does not equal a lost one. They are speaking loudly because they want to be heard. Address issues with speed, thought, and kindness -- and these customers will stick around. There is usually constructive feedback within those critical comments. And if you are willing to listen, it will push you to create a better product and company.

How do you respond to tough customer feedback?

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