Product and Market Managers should learn to be like Ed Koch and reach out to customers to find out “how am I doing?”* You can’t just rely on sales and service for third party feedback about your products and the user experience. I followed the “Ed Koch” school of thinking to the extreme by regularly calling strategic and random customers from our installed base. (You can always take a break during each week to do this. No excuses.) Users were pleasantly surprised when someone from “Corporate” was willing to take time to call, thank them for their business, and just making sure that they were happy – without any hidden pretenses. Many times, I learned that they were happy but might have a question or was unaware of certain product functions which would have made their life easier – these were easily resolved with some instructions or a few product tips. There were some rare occasions where they were quietly unsatisfied but gave me the opportunity to make things right – I might create some software templates for free or give some training via a web meeting, They ended up as very happy customers who otherwise would have walked away in the future. Other times, they may have an issue with another business group and I would relay that information to the appropriate managers for corrective action.
What did I get in return? A personal connection and opportunity to learn directly from users about what they liked, had difficulty with, how they used the products in real life, feedback on what they would like to see in future revisions, a pulse on their business and market, as well as business referrals and customer references. I would connect with over 100 customers in this very efficient and non-obtrusive manner each year. I call that a win-win!
* I feel that every manager and every person can do a reality check with this method. It may not be with customers but with your staff, Sometimes, the "Emperor has no clothes" but those closest to him won't tell the truth.