No one likes a complainer. However, if a complaint comes from a customer it’s in a company’s best interest to pay attention. After all, how can project managers meet the needs of customers if they never talk to or listen to them?

Well, they won’t–unless they spend time working in customer service. Customer service is one of the most misunderstood, yet necessary, business skill. Understanding and meeting the needs of customers often means listening to customer complaints and expectations including what they like and don’t like about a product, and what they would do differently if it was up to them.

SEE: Vendor relationship management checklist (Tech Pro Research)

Ears of the company

Understandably, when product managers spend time in a front-line customer service role it can become costly and not a smart use of resources. However, product managers are tasked with delivering a product based on second-hand feedback. What a customer says is not always what is conveyed to middle management or leadership teams, and by the time the message does reach the product management team, the exact details can become murky.

Here are a few more reasons why intended product improvements based on customer complaints can completely miss the mark.

  • Complaints may not be taken seriously
  • Complaints may not be recorded accurately, if at all
  • Complaints may be recorded correctly but relayed differently among departments
  • Complaints may be watered down to avoid conflict with management or development teams
  • Complaints may simply be misunderstood

Regardless of the reason, the outcome to the bottom line can be devastating if product managers don’t understand the volume or exact nature of the complaints that are heard by customer service representatives. Customer service teams truly are the ears of the company and understand customers’ needs and expectations.

Companies should consider the cost of lost customers due to complaints that fail to make it to the teams that control product quality and, ultimately, the company’s brand.

Get in the field

Sending new product managers to the front lines to gain an understanding and appreciation for what customers say may help increase quality and reduce risks and losses later. This is not to suggest that product managers need to spend months working in the customer service department, but they should spend some reasonable time talking with customer service teams, hearing feedback, accessing customer complaints records and statistics, and shadowing representatives on calls for a period of time.

Improving product quality and maintaining customers is vital to any company, and working a short stint in customer service can increase your product managers’ effectiveness and improve product quality.