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How to handle feature requests

by Max Al Farakh · Jun 14 2014

Whatever industry you’re in, you must be getting tons of feature requests from your customers. And there is a wide-spread belief in the tech industry that you should always respond "no" to them. At Jitbit we think that it couldn't be more wrong.

Some days we receive up to ten feature request for our support ticketing system. If we implemented all of them, the app would quickly turn into a messy pile of buttons, checkboxes and other stuff no sane person could ever use (you will see what I mean, if you look at some of our well-known competitors).

But still, Helpdesk wouldn't be that great, if not for our customers and their ideas. So, how do you handle feature requests right?

Find out what the actual problem is

Customers almost never tell you the actual underlying problem they are having. They just tell you a possible solution they believe should solve it. And those solutions are almost never great. They are actually quite bad for the most part. Because customers think about their needs only, while you have to think about all the other customers as well, not to mention the overall product integrity, etc.

That's why it's your job to come up with solutions. Therefore the first thing you should do when receiving a feature request - is ask the customer to describe the actual problem they are having. From my experience, 50% of all feature request can be solved using existing features. So, your first response should be:

Why exactly do you need this? Can you please provide a real-world example?

Saying "No" is okay

The idea of "always responding 'no' to feature requests", that I mentioned in the beginning, is actually really clever. Originally it just meant that you should be very careful when adding features, because too many features can (and will) make your product unusable. But lately that idea mutated by steve-jobs-wannabe startup founders into something completely different. Currently it is something like: "How dare you tell me what to do with my app? I'm the visionary! I know what you need better than you do!"

Anyway, it is okay to refuse implementing a feature. Customers rarely expect you to actually do things they ask for. How do I know this? Because, every time we add a feature they asked for, they are pleasantly surprised. Literally, every time. So, it's okay to say no. How you say it — that's what matters.

Make customer feel appreciated

As a support agent, you probably don't even get to decide what to respond to a feature request. It doesn't really matter — there is only one thing you need to do. You need to make customers feel that you appreciate their thoughts.

People who submit feature requests are the most engaged and valuable customers you have. They use and love your product and they want it to be better. They are trying to help.

Be nice. Thank them for taking their time to write and share their ideas and thoughts. Even if you're going to apologise and refuse the feature request. Even if their ideas are totally crazy. Make them feel appreciated — that's the only thing that matters, when responding to feature requests.

PS. Here's what Alex wrote on this last year