This is some text inside of a div block.

The ultimate guide to managing software feature requests

March 11, 2024
·
Team Outverse

Managing feature requests is a delicate balancing act, especially as an early-stage startup. Attempting to satisfy every feature request, especially before you've achieved product-market fit, can send you veering off-course and lead to projects that lack strategic value and don't actually address the needs of your ideal customers.

At the same time, engaging your customers on their pain points and hopes for your product — and making them feel like their input is actually valued — is vital if you're looking to build trust with your customer base.

This guide will give you practical tips and strategies for maintaining this balance, streamlining your feature request workflow, and managing expectations with your customers.

You'll learn how to manage feature requests, create an effective feature request template, evaluate customer feedback, and empower your product team to make data-driven decisions.

Structured vs unstructured approaches to collecting feature requests

First off: if you're an early-stage startup, you probably don't need a feature request tool. You'll get more value from letting customers submit feedback in an open-ended way, via whichever avenue they prefer (e.g. email, community forum, feature request form, or social media).

When you manage feature requests manually, the insights and relationships that emerge from discussing customers' feedback and pain points with them personally are worth the extra time it takes to process the requests.

That said, using a feature request tool is more efficient at scale. For later-stage software companies with high volumes of user feedback, this can cut down on admin and be a smart way to go.

You've received a software feature request: now what?

Collect feature requests in an unstructured way, but build a structure for processing them.

A standardized template is perhaps the most effective way to gather relevant information from product feature requests. It ensures that any feature request that reaches the product team arrives with adequate context.

Without a template, you'll end up with requests that lack critical details, making the user feedback difficult to parse and evaluate.

You can use a template like this one to make sure your team has all the relevant details relating to the feature request:

Title and description

A clear title and detailed description of the customer feature request. You don't need to figure out the “how” at this point — that can wait until the discovery phase.

Business reasons

The potential business reasons, use cases, and benefits of building the feature. Why might this be important for your product and customers? How might it impact key metrics?

Customer info

Capture the name and contact information of the customer or prospect who made the request. Include links to their post, and any other conversations you've had that support or validate the need for such a feature. This makes it easy to close the loop with the customer if or when you decide to proceed.

Competitive info

Is this a feature that your competitors already have in their product? Is this a feature that customers expect a product in your category to have? Are you at a competitive disadvantage for not having it?

Tags/categories

Include fields for categorizing and tagging the request to make it easy to group similar requests together. Some examples include feature area (e.g., payments, security, API) and requester type (customer, prospect, internal).

Open questions

Leave room in your template for any open questions you may have about the request.

A simple template makes it easy for internal stakeholders to submit useful feature requests, and it gives your own product management team all the information they need to determine if taking the new feature into discovery makes sense.

Managing feature requests with empathy

A customer who submits a feature request is an engaged customer who cares about your product. They've taken time out of their day to consider your product and articulate what could make it better.

Even if you know instantly that a feature request won't make a good addition to your product, that customer's engagement is still worth acknowledging. Build trust and rapport with your community by responding to all feature requests, not just the actionable ones.

Once you have your template, you need a process for handling incoming feature requests more efficiently. Start with this as a basis, and customize as needed for your company:

Acknowledge the request

Let the customer know you received their feedback, appreciate their time, and will review the request. This is a small gesture, but important: it feels bad to spend time suggesting something only to be ignored, and that lack of response will likely stop them bothering next time.

Set expectations

‍Be upfront about your process for evaluating and prioritizing customer requests, and try to respond in a way that doesn't set unrealistic expectations. You want to be positive and engaged with the customer, but responding with too much enthusiasm might create the expectation that the request will be met.

Evaluate the business impact‍

The top factor for determining if you should prioritize feature requests is the potential business impact. Look at how the new feature requests might impact metrics like customer satisfaction, conversion rates, retention, revenue, costs savings, etc. Features with a high potential impact should get higher priority.

Provide broad status updates

If you receive a lot of feature requests, a public roadmap can be a good way of giving your community insight into what you have planned, without committing to precise timings. It can also help customers understand the reasoning behind why certain features are prioritized.

Communicate changes

If a promised feature gets dropped from your roadmap, be transparent about it. Some customers may be disappointed, but they'll appreciate the honesty. Strong relationships are built on trust.

Saying no to feature requests

As much as you aim to build features your customers want and need, you simply can't say yes to every request. At some point, you have to determine that certain types of customer feature requests just don't make sense for your product roadmap or business priorities. But how do you say no to a customer without frustrating them?

A few tips for declining product feature requests while keeping the interaction positive:

Thank them for the feedback 

Express your appreciation for the customer taking the time to share their request.

Explain your process

Briefly reiterate your process for evaluating and prioritizing feature requests. This helps set the context for why their request was not selected.

Suggest an alternative solution

If possible, suggest an alternative solution or workaround to the feature requested that might meet the customer's needs. Let them know you're open to re-evaluating the request in the future if priorities change. An alternative shows you've given the request consideration.

Be transparent

Provide a transparent explanation for why the request is not feasible or impactful enough to warrant building right now. Outline any challenges, limitations or factors that make the request difficult to implement. Your customers will appreciate the openness.

Keep the door open

A declined feature request can still be a positive interaction. If you leave the customer feeling heard and appreciated, they'll be more likely to come to you with suggestions in future — even if this one didn't work out.

Offer to re-evaluate

For your most valuable customers or important requests, offer to re-evaluate the feature request in 3-6 months to see if it makes sense to re-prioritize at that time. Put a reminder on your calendar to revisit the request and touch base with the customer.

A human, transparent approach will let you decline feature requests while building stronger relationships with your customers. Provide context, be human and empathetic, and keep the lines of communication open. Most customers will understand that you have to make difficult product decisions to benefit the overall business and user base.

Metrics and reporting for feature request management

If you receive a high volume of feature requests, tagging and analyzing them will allow you to identify trends and patterns over time. This can point to areas of the product that might need extra attention, or uncover shifting needs in your customer base.

Number of feature requests received: Track the total number of requests received from all sources over time. Look for any significant increases or decreases in volume of requests.

Requests by category and tag: Analyze the number of requests by category and tag to determine where you're getting the most demand.

Customer satisfaction: Survey your customers regularly to gauge their satisfaction with your feature request management process. Ask if they feel you're capturing requests effectively, evaluating thoroughly, communicating proactively and building the right features. Look for any areas of dissatisfaction to focus your improvement efforts.

Reporting on these metrics gives you insight into how well your process is working and where you can improve. Share reports with executives, product managers, and engineers to keep everyone aligned on priorities and customer needs. In addition to the above, include:

1. Trends of increasing or decreasing request volumes and what may be driving changes

2. Any new features shipped in the reporting period that were driven by top requests

Encouraging more feature requests from your customers

Feature requests give you valuable insight into how you can improve your product to better meet customers' needs.

Community-first companies can get a lot of value from encouraging feedback requests via a public forum. When customers can bueild on each other's feature requests, you gain access to insights that may never otherwise have surfaced.

Reduce friction

‍Ensure your customers have a simple way to share feature requests whenever and wherever they want. Offer options like an in-app feedback form, email, social media, your community, and more. The easier it is to submit, the more requests you'll get.

Ask open-ended questions

When communicating with your customers, ask open-ended questions about how you can improve your product to better meet their needs. For example, "What other product features or capabilities would you find most useful?" or "How can we make your experience with our product even better?" Open-ended questions prompt customers to share new suggestions and requests.

Survey your customers

Run regular surveys asking your customers for input on new features or product improvements they'd like to see. Surveys provide a feedback loop and an opportunity for customers to make requests on their own time. And targeted survey questions allow you to get feedback on key areas of your product. If you don't get the response volume you'd like, try incentivizing with discounts or gift-card prize draws.

Share how you've used customer feedback

‍If a community-requested feature makes it into a release, mention it in your release notes. This shows customers their input is valued and requested features are actually used, which is a great incentive for providing more feedback and tracking feature requests yourself.

How to get buy-in for high-impact feature requests

Your leadership team will need to consider how any new product feature requests might impact other projects, and whether they align with wider company goals. Here's how to make sure your feature request has legs.

Build a compelling business case.

Show how it will drive key metrics like revenue, customer retention, cost savings, and market share. Use data and analytics to support your estimates of the potential impact.

Align with company goals.

Explain how the feature aligns with and supports critical company goals and priorities. Discuss how it will help achieve key objectives around growth, innovation, customer experience, and competitive positioning. Alignment with strategic goals is essential for buy-in.

Present the wider plan 

Present not just the product idea but a plan for building and launching it. Don't go too deep here until you have buy-in. Keep it high level when you discuss timelines, resources, costs, technical requirements, marketing plans, and risks. A plan gives executives confidence in the viability and success of the feature.

Share customer insights

Discuss insights you've gained from customer interviews, focus groups, and surveys that demonstrate a real need for the new feature. Explain how customers will benefit and why this will improve their experience.

Validate the feature request

While the real discovery work will come later, you'll find it easier to get buy-in if you can loosely validate the feature request with customer research and competitive data.

Propose a pilot

For complex or expensive features, propose launching a pilot with design partners  to prove the concept and business case.

Consider alternatives

Discuss any alternative solutions or approaches you considered. Explain why the option you're proposing is the best choice based on factors like impact, cost, technical requirements, and customer needs.

Be flexible

Express a willingness to start with an initial phase 1 launch and reassess from there. Discuss how you'll evaluate the results at each phase to determine if you should continue progressing. A phased, flexible approach is appealing as it gives opportunities to re-evaluate based on impact and feedback.

Be open to feedback, willing to compromise, and stay aware of your own potential for bias — especially if this is a feature whose success you feel personally invested in.

With the right approach, you can turn your customers into an ongoing source of useful feature requests and product feedback too. The more you communicate with your customers, the more willing they'll be to share suggestions. It's what makes community such a powerful flywheel for product companies.

Effectively managing feature requests is key to building software that your customers truly love. While you can't fulfil every request, focus on the ones that align with your business goals and will have the biggest impact.

The key to success is maintaining an open and ongoing dialogue with the people who know your product best—your end users themselves. Leverage their input to gain valuable insights that will fuel true product-market fit and growth. While feature request management requires effort and resources, the rewards of building the right solution for your customers make it well worth the investment.