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Every product needs a user, and every user has an opinion. If you’ve built your product well, then most of these opinions will be positive. But even the best products will occasionally attract criticism, and how you respond to that criticism publicly and privately can determine your reputation and long-term success.
We speak from experience here: Since 2014, we’ve garnered thousands of reviews for our courses. Most of these are super positive, and it makes our day to read about the impact on the lives we’re having on the people and businesses we get to work with. Every now and then, a piece of not-so-positive feedback also comes through. Here, we’ll look at an example of a piece of critical feedback a student had for our course, and break down how we responded, both publicly and behind the scenes.
No matter what business you’re in or how perfect your product is, if you do business you will eventually be faced with a similar situation. Hopefully, this example can help you take negative reviews in your stride and even come out looking stronger than you did in the first place.
About a year ago, Reddit user Substantial-Price969 shared their experience with Product School in a post on the platform. Sufficing to say they were not thrilled with their experience and made this extremely clear in their review:
“Overall, I was disappointed in the lack of challenge this course provided. For the +$4,000 it cost, I was expecting a much more focused and demanding experience. I really, truly do not know where the many positive reviews come from. It makes no sense. Maybe the program used to be better, but it’s far removed from that now.”
As you can see, no punches were pulled. Despite being quite dated and not representative of most students’ experiences, this review still gets traction online, and occasionally prospective students raise it with us. Here’s how we respond when they do:
A prospective student recently mentioned this review to Lorenzo, a member of our Admissions Team. His response serves as a strong example of how to address these situations in general. Let’s look at what Lorenzo said, and break down why it is so effective:
“Thank you for raising that review with us! This is honestly what helps create better programs for our students and really helps improve the experience that they have.
Start with a positive tone. Especially if you’re close to the product, you may feel affronted when addressing a review you might feel is unfair. It’s important to overcome this and treat this opportunity for what it is: A chance to showcase your growth and discuss what makes your product great.
I had a chance to read this person’s Reddit post, and I wanted to maybe touch on some points that he shared.
You’re showing the world/the person you are speaking to that you took the time to read the review in question, take it seriously, and will provide a substantive response that actually addresses the points made.
I noticed this post was made almost one year ago, and I want to let you know that our program has gone through many changes since then.
All great products are the result of constant iteration, and Product School’s certification courses are no exception. A year is an eternity in product time, and the course has changed and improved considerably since then, partly as a result of feedback like this, and partly as a result of the evolving Product Management landscape. But simply saying our course has changed is not enough: If the reviewer had a bad experience that’s an exception, and it was caused by exceptional circumstances. Lorenzo goes on to explain why the experience of the reviewer was not typical:
We make it a point to review the performance of our instructors as well to provide the best class experience. The new course content has been improved so that in any cohort you do not spend only time working on group activities, but really go through different lectures, group discussions, and even work on your final project.
All users arrive at your product with a goal in mind. Some Product Managers call this ‘jobs to be done.’ In our case, it’s often more of a case of ‘jobs to be won’ as many people take our Product Manager Certification (PMC) course with the intention of landing their first Product Management job. That’s the case for the student Lorenzo is interacting with, so Lorenzo rightly makes it a focus of his reply:
The new course was designed as a way to get you back into the job market, which from what I remembered, was your main focus. The idea is to work with you and learn some of the new frameworks and concepts that active product managers use today. I would not compare our programs to courses that were primarily created for self-study. This program will focus on your working with your colleagues, and instructors, through various group activities as well.
Finally, if a prospect is raising reviews, it probably means they need some reassurance. At Product School, we work with today’s top Product Leaders to develop our course content and curriculum, and it never hurts to remind folks of this:
We’re very proud to work with many leaders in the field. To give you an idea of who worked with us on your content in the course, I’m placing their LinkedIn profiles below:
One of the reasons why we were able to give such a compelling response to this review is that our product has genuinely moved on from a year ago. This improvement didn’t happen by magic: We proactively solicit constructive feedback from our students and treat our certifications like a product that is constantly iterated. If you’re sufficiently dialed into your users and your product, it’s unlikely any kind of feedback will come as a surprise: If it’s a genuine flaw, it’s something you will have a plan in place to fix.
At Product School, for example, we lean into cross-functional collaboration to ensure that all feedback received is channeled into improving our product. While the response we looked at above was created by a member of our Admissions Team, our Education team is very much involved in ensuring that feedback like this is considered. This also involves our Student Success team, who ensure that our students get the support they need throughout their journey with us, and our Instructor Success team, who ensure that we are recruiting nothing but the cream of the Product Management world to teach our courses and that they have the materials and guidance they need to thrive.
This has resulted in a host of changes, not least including:
How could your product change as a result of feedback you have received?
Looking at feedback only as a marketing problem risks missing out on an opportunity to improve. So while the written response above is a useful example, we hope that your Product Team can also take on feedback at face value and use it to grow. No Product is perfect, and feedback, both positive and negative, is inevitable. It’s what you do with that feedback that will determine your success as a business and as a Product Manager.