Customer-Driven Development — A case study with Nicholas DeStefano, Director of Product at Canvs
We had the opportunity to chat with Nicholas DeStefano, Director of Product at Canvs, Nicholas shared his experience helping his organisation become more customer-driven and his advice on how to get started.
Sofia: Why don’t we start talking about you? Tell me a little bit about what you do at Canvas.
Nicholas: I’m Director of Product at Canvs and work closely with both the CEO and the VP of Engineering to define and manage the roadmap. We’re an emotion measurement company and work with a lot of TV networks, production companies, and publishers. We like to say that we ‘understand how people feel’ at scale.. What that means is we take social data and provide an emotional breakdown of the conversation of how these companies fans/readers feel about their content.
Sofia: I understand that you were actually an engineer at Canvs and then transitioned to a PM role. Tell me about that transition.
Nicholas: As a developer, I found myself always asking, ‘Who said this? What did they say? How would they use it?’ Those are questions I think most engineers want answers to but don’t often get.
I was very lucky. We had a small engineering team when we started out. It was myself and two others. Engineers wanted more context but they didn’t want to talk to clients when we built the MVP so I said I’d do the calls. At first there was some good feedback but most of it was bad which is probably what made the product what it is today. I still remember some of those early calls when I felt like I wanted to cry because you build this thing, spend so much time on it and you think it’s awesome. Instead, you get heartbreaking feedback but that’s what ends up making you great because, when it comes down to it, the customers are the ones who are using the product.
No feedback is actually negative. You need it to challenge yourself. As an engineer back then, making calls and getting feedback made it a lot easier for me to communicate business goals to the Development team and bridge the gap between Engineering and Growth. It was difficult for me to stop developing though. You get all the feedback, you put it all together, think of the solution and you find yourself wanting to build it yourself. I had to learn how to spec it out and pass it on to a developer which was difficult. Now I understand much better how to transfer my customer knowledge to Engineering and I use tools like EnjoyHQ and FullStory to bring that understanding to life.
Showing engineers how people are using the product by looking at Fullstory sessions and using EnjoyHQ to share what customers are saying is great for getting everyone on the same page. I can communicate the overall vision much better because we are now more data driven. It enables me to explain where my thinking is coming from.
Sofia: What was the problem you were trying to solve before you started using EnjoyHQ?
Nicholas: I’m the glue between Sales, Customer Success, Design, and Development. I get all the feedback. Before, I had a Google sheet and it got very tedious to do the tagging myself. Also, the information lived in separate silos and it was a very laborious process to sift through emails, get the Intercom chats and look through things on BugHerd.
Now I just put it all into EnjoyHQ. We use Intercom.io for chat support so whenever we chat with someone I hook it up to go into EnjoyHQ. Any time clients email us or one of our Customer Success managers has valuable feedback from calls or in-person demos, it all gets forwarded to EnjoyHQ.
EnjoyHQ’s search functionality is the best. Even if something’s not tagged in a meeting I can find it quickly and say, ‘This is what people are saying about said feature’. The same goes for bugs — I get an instant holistic view as to where people are talking about it and the problems they’re having.
I set up a Zapier connection so that any new bugs from BugHerd go into EnjoyHQ. If I need specific feedback about features, I use saved searches and look at the things we’re already monitoring. I try to gather as much context as possible. We also use EnjoyHQ in our weekly product meeting which we call ‘This Week in Client Feelings’.
Sofia: It looks like you’re gathering feedback from all sources, not only from customers but also from internal teams. How did you manage to get everybody onboard?
Nicholas: We always try to empathize with the customer. We want them to get their data and these insights as quickly and painlessly as possible. My continuous research allows me to identify quick wins and get them realized for the customer as fast as possible. I know most companies say customers are their priority but at Canvs we make sure this is true every week. That means having easy access to information about their needs and struggles.
We focus on building a strong relationship between our clients and the Product team. Clients are more willing to jump on a call and provide feedback if they know it’s going to be heard and implemented on. For those calls, EnjoyHQ helps me have more personalized conversations with customers. It provides me with all the feedback the customer has ever given us so I can say things like, ‘I saw that you said this and this… This is our solution to that problem and this is what we’ll prioritize on the roadmap’.
Sofia: What would your advice be for people who are thinking about centralizing their feedback?
Nicholas: I think it’s very helpful to have a specific research goal in mind, something you want to find out about your customers. When you centralize your data, you may feel overwhelmed by the volume of requests or all the things you didn’t know your customers were asking. A good way to start using that data is to focus on one research goal and try to understand that problem as deeply as possible.
Once you have a process for understanding one specific area, you can start thinking of other problems you may want to investigate or track. Having access to all your channels is incredibly powerful but you have to come to it with clear learning goals. That way you can avoid being too reactive to the feedback and you can think about it more as a trigger for further research. Feedback should help you drive better conversations with your team rather than making them feel overwhelmed.