How a Service-Focused SaaS Company Handles Feature Requests

Every feature request from a customer is a valuable opportunity to learn how you can improve your business.

It’s also a valuable opportunity to show your customers that you’re listening to them and you’re prioritizing their needs.

Unfortunately, feature requests can be tricky to keep track of and time-consuming to sort through — unless you have a good system in place.

Feature request systems for SaaS businesses should generally have four parts: tracking, triage, scheduling and follow-up.

However, it’s not enough to just check the boxes. When feature requests are mishandled, they can waste lots of employees’ time, take your company in the wrong direction, and frustrate the clients waiting for features.

You need a stellar feature management system. Here’s a little bit about what has worked for us at The Receptionist.

How to Track Feature Requests

Feature requests tend to come in from all over the place.

You might have a form or web page dedicated specifically for your clients to request features. However, plenty of requests will still be made on social media, over the phone, as blog comments, in unrelated phone conversations, and so on.

Feature requests come in from employees, too. Your colleagues certainly have opinions about which features would open the program up to new markets and make it easier to sell, for example.

There are lots of tools available that can make it a little easier to collect and sort all of these feature requests.

For more on these programs, including the one we use at our own company, download our Cheat Sheet: Tools for Tracking SaaS Feature Requests.

However, the program you choose matters less than your commitment to handling requests immediately and in a consistent way. Your employees should all know when to add feature requests to the system right as they come in. Whatever system you choose should be capable of handling every type of feature request to prevent any requests slipping through the cracks.

All feature requests should be timestamped. Consider having your system note the source of the request (client or staff name), any categories or tags, and possibly a voting or tallying feature for each feature to take care of duplicates. Bonus points if you can easily run reports based on this info to see the big picture.

How to Prioritize Feature Requests

The triage stage of a feature request system is the one where companies tend to get in the most trouble. Choosing the wrong features to work on can send the whole company down the wrong path.

However, if you take a methodical approach with these tactics, choosing which features to work on gets a lot simpler.

Categorize Features by Their End Goal

Dodd Caldwell of Moonclerk suggests structuring your feature requests according to the primary goal that they will accomplish for your business. These goal silos may include things like improving customer experience, reducing churn, or appealing to new markets.

Keeping the end goal in mind for each feature request is a helpful way to align production with your company’s goals, both short- and long-term.

Make sure the end goal of each feature in production aligns with your company’s goals. Click To Tweet

Similarly, Dan Dukeson of Receptive notes the importance of distinguishing which customer groups are making your feature requests. If you’re trying to focus on the features that will quickly find a fit in your product and get used right away, you absolutely need to prioritize the requests from paying clients and not let requests from churned or non-paying trial users clutter things up.

Analyze Demand, Cost, Benefit for Each Feature

The next step in feature prioritization is to analyze each feature’s cost, benefit, and demand. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you assess each factor:

  • Cost – How long will it take to build the feature? How difficult will it be? How will it affect the rest of the software? Do you have the expertise on staff to accomplish it?
  • Benefit / Impact – What impact will it make on the business? Try to measure the value in tangible terms, such as the potential value of a new market segment, or of the reduced churn for the number of clients who could possibly stay if this feature was added. Consider sorting feature requests according to customer value to see if there are any patterns to what your most valuable customers are requesting.
  • Urgency / Demand – How badly do your clients want or need this feature? Are your competitors offering it or working on it? Are customers about to leave because you don’t have it? To get a better feel for what customers really want, Dan Dukeson also suggests that you ask customers to prioritize those feature requests. “Me too” type voting can be less-than-helpful for SaaS companies, because most customers will agree that they want most proposed features.

Some companies go as far as assigning points to each feature request based on each of these factors (such as a value of 1 to 4) to make it easier to evaluate them. However, your final choice will probably be qualitative and not quantitative, and based on discussions among your staff.

Creating a Production Schedule

Once you’ve prioritized your feature requests, it’s time to get things on a calendar — or at least organize the tasks into some kind of timeline.

For example, SaaS company Groove moves priority feature requests into quarterly and then monthly lists and reassesses those lists each quarter. In Moonclerk’s case, they decide on these features and goals together at the company’s annual retreat.

Other companies stick with a less formal system, using labels as basic as “vetoed,” “future,” “doing,” and “done” with less of a focus on deadlines and dates.

You can decide the best schedule for your company. As long as the schedule is regular and doesn’t get ignored, you’re in good shape. (Note that bugs are different than feature requests and require a different procedure.)

How to Follow up on Feature Requests

No one should ever submit a feature request only to have it disappear, never to be seen again.

This is where the customer-focused companies stand out above the rest.

Every request deserves a personalized reply when it’s first made, from a real person (not an autoresponder). This is a great time to ask any questions that will clarify what the client really needs out of the feature and THANK THEM for taking the time to share their insights.

Here’s an example of our president, Andy, responding directly to a feature request that was made in a Capterra review:

After the initial follow up, the customer who submitted the request should receive periodic updates, especially when their request’s status changes to “scheduled” or even to “rejected.”

For tools that can make customer communication and follow up much easier, check out our bonus Cheat Sheet: Tools for Tracking SaaS Feature Requests.

In fact, clients can continue to provide helpful feedback throughout the production process. They’ve already demonstrated that they’re invested in this feature and are interested in its success. That makes them perfect for testing the versions of the new feature before it goes live for all clients.

If your goal is to develop a more personal relationship and rapport with your customers (and it should be), keep your customers in the loop as you embark on new production. Try to speak frankly about your struggles prioritizing feature requests, if you have them. Understanding how your company prioritizes feature production according to its overall goals may really help your customers connect with your company.

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