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The ultimate guide to managing software feature requests

October 3, 2023
Team Outverse

Managing feature requests is a delicate balancing act. 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 community.

This guide will give you practical tips and strategies for maintaining this balance, streamlining your feature request workflow, and managing expectations with your customer base. You’ll learn how to create an effective request template, evaluate requests, keep customers in the loop, and empower your product team to make data-driven decisions. Follow these best practices to build features your users really want and keep them engaged with your product.

Using a standard feature request template: internally vs externally

A standardized template is useful for gathering relevant information from new feature requests. It ensures that any feature request that reaches the product team arrives with adequate context. You have two options: externally (e.g. via a submission form or templated feature request tool), or internally, by the team member who receives the request.

Gathering feature requests via an external feedback request tool is more efficient. For software companies with high volumes of feature requests, this can cut down on admin and be a smart way to go.

But early-stage startups will get more value from letting customers submit feedback in an open-ended way, via whichever avenue they prefer (e.g. 1:1 email, community feature request forum, or social media). 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.

Software feature request template for internal use

You can use this template internally to make sure your team has all the relevant details relating to the feature request.

Without a template, you’ll end up with requests that lack critical details, making them difficult to parse and evaluate. A good template should capture the following for each request:

  • Title and description: A clear title and detailed description of the requested feature. 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?
  • Requester info: Capture the name and contact information of the requester. 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 with the feature.
  • 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 product team all the information they need to determine if taking the feature into discovery makes sense.

With an effective template in place, you’ll spend less time clarifying vague requests and make it easier for useful requests to be actioned.

How to choose a feature request management tool

As noted earlier, many early-stage and community-first companies will see more benefit from organically gathering feature requests, instead of using a tool.

However, if your business is looking to implement a feature request platform, here are a few key capabilities to look for:

  • Centralized request collection: Capture requests from all channels—your website, email, in-app, social media, etc.—and automatically import them into the tool. Your customers should have an easy way to submit requests whenever and wherever they want.
  • Customizable request forms: Use the forms in the tool to create your own feature request template and guide requesters to submit all the necessary details. Some tools will even pre-populate sections of the form based on the customer’s info and product usage data.
  • Tagging and categorization: Easily categorize and tag requests to group similar ones together, so you can filter and sort requests to spot trends.
  • Prioritization and scoring: Prioritize requests based on factors like impact, effort, cost, and strategic alignment. Some tools provide scoring systems and algorithms to help determine priority levels.
  • Roadmapping: Translate high-priority feature requests into a visual roadmap to show how requests might be built and released over time. A roadmapping capability is especially useful for sharing plans with internal stakeholders and customers.
  • Customer profiles: Link requests to individual customers to see a complete history of their requests, feedback, and product usage in one place. This helps provide critical context for evaluating any new requests.
  • Integrations: Look for a tool that integrates with your existing customer communication channels.
  • Reporting and analytics: Gain insight into key trends across all your feature requests. See metrics like the number of requests received, fulfilled and unfulfilled requests, priority levels, and any tags or categories that are getting the most requests. Use these reports and analytics to make data-driven product decisions.

A feature request management tool can provide a single source of truth for all incoming requests and the context needed to determine what features you should build next. However, if you take this approach, make sure you have a strategy in place for catching any feature requests that come in via other channels, like your SaaS community or support email.

Best practices for managing feature requests effectively

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 feature requests efficiently. Here are some best practices to implement:

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 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 build a feature is the potential business impact. Look at how the feature 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 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 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.
  • Focus on your priorities. Explain that you have to focus your resources on the features that will have the biggest impact for your key priorities and the majority of your customers. Say the request does not align well with your top priorities at this time.
  • Suggest an alternative solution. If possible, suggest an alternative solution or workaround 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.
  • Focus on the benefits. Frame your response around the benefits to the customer and your other users. Explain that you have to make tough choices to ensure you’re building the features that will provide the most value to the majority of your customers. Help them see the bigger picture.
  • Offer to re-evaluate. For important customers or requests, offer to re-evaluate the feature 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, suggest alternatives, 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.

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

Your leadership team will need to consider how any new feature might impact budgets, timelines, and key performance metrics. To get leadership buy-in for feature requests, follow these tips:

  • Focus on the business case. Build a compelling business case that demonstrates the value of the feature. 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. The business case is the most important factor for executives.
  • 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 plan. Present not just the idea for the feature but a well-thought out plan for building and launching it. Discuss timelines, resources, costs, technical requirements, marketing plans, key milestones, and risks. A solid 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 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 or beta test first to prove the concept and business case. Discuss how you will evaluate the impact and results of the pilot to determine if you should move forward with a full rollout. A pilot minimizes risk and helps get initial buy-in.
  • 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. Considering alternatives demonstrates you’ve thought through the options thoroughly.
  • 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.

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 userbase.

  • 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:

  • Trends of increasing or decreasing request volumes and what may be driving changes
  • 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. Some tips for prompting additional feature requests include:

Promote your request process

Educate your customers on how and where they can submit feature requests. Explain your process for determining what gets built. The more they understand about how you use their feedback, the more willing they'll be to provide it. Promote your request process in your app, website, newsletters, and customer communications.

Take feature requests in public

Community-first companies can get a lot of value from encouraging feedback requests via a public forum. When customers can “yes, and” each other’s feature requests, you gain access to insights that may never otherwise have surfaced. It’s why, in Outverse, we have upvote functionality that you can enable on feedback forums to gauge community enthusiasm for feature requests.

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 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 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 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 actually used, which is a great incentive for providing more feedback and requests.

Meet with your customers

‍Set up calls or meetings with key customers to discuss how you can improve your product to better meet their needs. These open discussions are opportunities for customers to share multiple feature requests and new ideas in more depth. Meetings also allow you to get clarification and ask follow-up questions on requests to ensure you fully understand what customers are looking for.

With the right approach, you can turn your customers into an ongoing source of useful feature requests and feedback. Make the process easy, ask the right questions, show how you use their input, and provide incentives for customers to engage. 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 fulfill every request, focus on the ones that align with your business goals and will have the biggest impact. Decline requests when needed using a courteous, empathetic approach. And encourage ongoing feedback from your customers through promotions, incentives, open-ended questions, and one-on-one meetings.

The key to success is maintaining an open and ongoing dialogue with the people who know your product best—your users. 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.

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