Anyone who’s worked with me knows I famously hate meetings. I’m quite open with my belief that most meetings (especially big ones) are destined to be counterproductive, and days full of them usually sap my energy, dilute my focus, and accomplish little. I’ve come to realize that if you want to kill an idea, have a meeting about it.
But as hard as it is for me to admit, I’ve recently fallen in love with one meeting.
Last year, the CMO at my company, Jeanne Hopkins, added a somewhat mysteriously named meeting to my (and the rest of the product team’s) calendar: “Voice of the Customer.” She explained the concept to me — to solicit feedback from all of the company’s customer-facing departments and deliver it directly to product managers — but I wasn’t sold. How would this be different from the dozens of meetings I’ve quietly killed because, despite best intentions, they inevitably devolve into non-actionable, design-by-consensus disasters?
But I went in with an open mind.
Halfway through the meeting, I was rapt. By the end, I had taken more urgent notes than I had in most of the last month’s meetings combined. By the next morning, I had shifted our product roadmap.
In the months since, I’ve realized that our VoC meeting is not only my favorite meeting but has changed our product’s direction and made our platform more customer-friendly than almost any single other thing we’ve done.
Here’s how we run the session, and why it’s so much more effective than other meetings.
After dissecting the meeting from various angles, I’ve realized one thing that sets it apart is its structure — not just the meeting’s agenda or invitees, (although those, too) but literally how we set up the room and how that formation helps the meeting deliver on its promise.
Every VoC session is set up the same way: On one side of the long table in our biggest conference room sit leaders from the departments that are in direct contact with our prospects and customers — sales, customer success, and customer support. On the other side are our product managers and myself.
This layout helps us focus on the purpose of the meeting — for those customer-facing departments to deliver clear, stack-ranked, unvarnished product feedback from our customers. We’re all looking directly at each other; there is nowhere to hide from the feedback.
Despite the head-to-head setup, this meeting is extremely collaborative and structured. Each presentation follows the same format, month after month: What are the top three aspects of the product that help the department delight customers, the top three things getting in the way of that delight, and the three most important areas that department needs support.
Naturally, there are repetitions between meetings, and that’s important and intentional. Seeing the same issues rise to the top again and again forces us to keep focusing on those critical issues until we get them right. But as new issues emerge, the list evolves, and the product team is given the information it needs to triage bug fixes, prioritize new features, and improve the UX.
No one on the product team presents, and when they speak, it’s almost always to ask for clarification or additional context. We don’t defend past decisions, we don’t offer justifications, we just listen and absorb. Instead of having to set up seven individual meetings to get that information piecemeal, the VoC meeting brings it all together in one streamlined session.
Thanks to the structure and contents of the meeting, the product team and I always leave with renewed purpose. We identify areas of the roadmap that we need to re-prioritize or tweak. The sessions force us to get out of the development weeds and directly confront the most pressing issues in front of us.
But if I’m being honest, the impact of the VoC meeting goes well beyond that. More than anything, the meeting forces us as an organization to be fanatical about gathering and acting on customer feedback. We have a team of smart, intelligent people who are experts at what they do, but no one understands our product’s strengths and weaknesses better than the people who use it every day.
The VoC meeting has proven again and again to be the perfect way to make sure we’re charting the right course.
That’s pretty high praise for someone who hates meetings.
Paul English is CTO and co-founder of corporate travel SaaS platform Lola.com.
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