Instead of taking yet another satirical dump on enterprise events, I've decided to turn a redemptive corner and offer up winning alternatives.
In How do we design a better enterprise event? Two customers weigh in, I alluded to the power of a live customer feedback section - something, alas, that few vendors have the stones to do. I've also tried to push event organizers to renounce death-by-panel in favor of unconference formats.
Today, Host Analytics CEO Dave Kellogg sparked me to revisit this with his scorching Just Effing Demo - another reminder that our supposedly "customer-centric" processes are off the mark. At Domapalooza 2017 last March, BI platform vendor Domo took a deeper plunge: they held a live customer feedback session as a general session in the keynote hall. How they pulled it off is instructive.
Structuring a live feedback session
The structure was as follows:
- Put a panel of product experts on stage
- Seed the event with several customer feedback questions posted in advance
- Turn the event over to attendees, with roving microphones throughout the audience
- Address audience questions, providing feedback on roadmap plans. Get clarity on customer feedback via back-and-forth if needed
- Crowdsource feedback and attempt to prioritize some of the ideas generated
- Supplement questions with hand polls of audience to gauge interest
- Share an ongoing tally of customer ideas and interest levels on the big screen
In Domo's case, the expert panel included Chief Product Officer Catherine Wong and Vice President, Product Adam Landefeld (pictured above). Customers didn't hold back - they pushed issues pertaining to productivity, data governance, and industry-specific needs.
The panel responded with a mixture of roadmap updates, audience hand-polling, and prioritization of feedback. One crucial point: after each question was answered, the panel did a simple poll: was this idea in your top five product needs? Wong, who showed an uncanny ability to measure the exact percentage of each poll via her eyeball test, defined the percentage of interest for each. These were posted on the big screen. Here's one example:
(This is not a complete list, just a sample of what the audience put forward).
Why are live feedback sessions so effective?
Some thoughts on why this session worked:
- Domo assembled a heavy hitting collection of executives on stage who could speak directly to nuanced product questions, and address what's coming and when.
- Domo had already conducted a roadmap session (and many breakouts) first, which is my top recommendation for a second-day event keynote. Customers had a head start on the features on the way - sharpening their suggestions.
- The product leads were never defensive about any implied product criticism, or bursts of applause at pain points customers collectively shared. There were plenty of laughs and the session had a light feel of "we're in this together."
- The hand-polling and percentages gave a clear sense to all customers about which suggestions had the most widespread support. This can be an important gut check to realize that an issue might not be pressing to all customers.
- But - no feedback was too fussy or small either. Sometimes even a small tweak turned out to be a big point of frustration with the attendees. Other times, even if only a small percentage wanted the change, Domo was able to say "that's on the way."
- In some cases, ideas were already on the roadmap. This allowed customers to leave the event with clarifications for their team on when key features are coming. The back-and-forth with led to shared workarounds, or spontaneous polls on topics like "who needs more public API documentation in their top five requests?"
- The event didn't run long. The feedback session was forty minutes and had a breezy feel. It was not meant to be comprehensive, but to surface critical issues. There was also a lot of product love expressed by customers, and that's great for hard-working product teams to hear.
My take - honest feedback sessions trump stale panels
I feel like I'm howling into the wind on this, but one more time: customers want transparent discussions at events, not marketing brain dumps and excessive celebrity keynotes. The compulsive desire to "entertain" attendees is overrated. Honest feedback sessions and facilitated peer networking are underrated.
AI keynote bluster and vendor trash talk is overrated; turning the keynote over to a customer for a use case presentation is underrated. Why a vendor has never allowed customers to question them on stage is a mystery to me. Now that's education AND entertainment.
Yep - stale, over-massaged talking head panels and sleep-inducing fireside chats pale in comparison to going without a net and letting customers tell you what they really think.
That said, there are some caveats before doing a live feedback session like this one:
- If you know that your product or service
stinksis problematic, or is about to get a major upgrade, do that first.
- Domo also has a year-round feedback program. Companies should have that in place, ideally with a semi-public ideation page.
- Be prepared to get a jugular gut check on where your pain points and weak spots are.
Some companies might fear that third point, but most customers are willing to put up with some pain if they get the message that the vendor is in it with them, and determined to improve. There is no better way to get that across than in an open, live session, where reactions are genuine and can't be scripted.
In Domo's case, without getting into the product nitty gritty, popular ideas like "certified cards" get back to the tension Domo is facing between the business user empowerment they excel at, and the data governance/security/data trust issues that matter greatly to enterprise customers - and CIOs.
Domo's leadership is aware of that issue; they didn't need a product feedback session for that one. The balance between those two aspects may always be a challenge, but there are clearly things Domo can do to take the edge off - some of which they were able to talk about in that session, such as a Domo administrator being able to "tag" (e.g. validate) "data sets" as certified.
For customers that want to grow with Domo, and expand the use of Domo for visualization/analytics across all their teams, getting the message that data governance is taken seriously from a strategic AND features perspective is crucial. The feedback session struck me as a very effective way to do that; you can't polish a listening session the way you can an empty "we're listening" assurance during a keynote broadcast.
It's interesting to note that firm timeframes on pending features aren't really needed to make this type of session work. I thought Domo could have been more specific on when certain planned requests are coming, but that's a detail that wasn't as important as you might think. Follow-through communications can address that; the real-time interaction is what customers want. It's not just about "when is this feature coming?" It's about workarounds, it's about hearing what other options are being weighed. It's about what your peers care about as well.
Even hearing the challenges a company faces with something as seemingly simple as expanding field parameters is good for customers to hear. Sometimes what appears simple isn't - that's why a public prioritization exercise is so useful.
Some companies might want to start small on this. You could do that by segmenting these feedback sessions into industries or product groupings. But the value of a large audience is: you can't simulate the raw without-a-net feeling that makes these sessions gripping and useful. And: your crowdsourcing polls carry more statistical weight in a larger group.
I can already envision event organizers thinking instead of hand polls, set this up via the conference app. Perhaps - but I like the visual of raising hands and a show of force for ideas that matter. And as we all know, the one thing sure to go wrong at events is: wifi-related event technology. Now that's an issue we don't need a feedback session for.