Building trust with users for long-term platform success

A platform can take many forms: developer enablement, shared services, operational infrastructure, or something else entirely. But no matter the form, it’s a product with users, and we want to make sure it stays healthy, growing, secure, and stable in both the short and long term.

Short-term strategies are important because they show immediate impact and deal with urgent situations. Many short-term issues often take precedence over long-term strategic initiatives (because it’s hard to see the forest for the trees), but they are both necessary for a platform’s success.

Building long-standing and strong relationships with your platform users (practitioners who are creating or maintaining products using your platform services) is a powerful way to make sure your product stands the test of time and ultimately leaves a positive impact on the users and their overall experience.

Here are some ways you can build and foster relationships with developers and trust with platform users.

Gathering feedback

Gathering feedback is a key component of improving any product or service. If we work in a vacuum, we’ll never truly understand our users’ needs and problems. Bringing users together and aggregating data is a great way to exercise a research as diplomacy process and gain critical buy-in from stakeholders to truly improve your platform. Let’s explore two specific approaches to gathering feedback: asynchronous (surveys) and synchronous (meetings).

Asynchronous feedback (surveys)

Surveys are a relatively low-effort tool to gather feedback when schedules are tight or the mass of users is way too large to conduct efficient meetings. However, surveys are unlikely to build the deeper trust necessary to create a long-standing relationship. When creating a feedback survey, it’s important to frame questions that consider the user’s point of view rather than focusing on the platform. Ask questions like, “What can we do to help you?” rather than “How can we improve the platform?” With this framing, the feedback you receive will provide paths for organic growth as more needs arise.

You can choose to operate this survey anonymously to produce genuine responses, but this comes at a cost: anonymity takes away your ability to follow up with individual respondents about their feedback and build trust in that interaction. If you choose to move forward with anonymous feedback, we recommend adding an option for respondents to provide a contact method if they are open to a follow-up discussion.

Getting users to fill out surveys can be a challenge, so offering small incentives ($5 gift cards, for example) can go a long way to improving response rates. Alternately, you can fill out the survey with users during their 1-on-1 meetings; this can help give some needed structure to the feedback you might receive.

Overall, gathering feedback for a platform is no small task, and your strategies may change depending on the situation. The overall goal of the feedback gathering process is to show genuine empathy and transparency and build trust between the platform team and its user base. Receiving this direct feedback will make the process of building roadmaps and planning easier.

Synchronous feedback (meetings)

All the surveys and carefully crafted questions in the world won’t replace the experience of getting direct, candid feedback from an individual affected by what you’re working on or trying to improve. Meetings and preparation can take a lot more time than sending a survey out to a bunch of people and waiting for results. But when you’re able to look at someone and hear their voice, you can gauge interest, stress, inflection, happiness, and even sarcasm – things that are unlikely to be aptly expressed in writing.

This type of synchronous feedback can take the form of 1-on-1 or group meetings. Each format has its pros and cons and situations where one is more appropriate than the other. Either way, the person conducting these meetings should be someone who represents a product or group of products on the platform and can influence the planning process for those products – often a tech lead or product manager.

1-on-1 meetings

Having a 1-on-1 meeting with someone is the best way to build a relationship and connect on a personal level. In this situation, it’s just you and the person you’re speaking with, whether it’s face-to-face or through a voice or video call. Avoid having silent observers attend the meeting, as they can potentially add unnecessary tension. Having direct meetings will provide a safer environment where the person you’re speaking with can talk openly about struggles, successes, and what types of improvements would help their situation.

When having a 1-on-1 meeting, it’s important not to rebut any issues that are brought up; instead, practice active listening and ask follow-up questions to ensure understanding. Take notes on feedback you want to revisit so you can be present; this helps build trust. Using deep listening can also help you better understand the feedback gathered during a meeting. Often, you’ll find that users want to discuss issues that are out of your control. When this happens, be sure to connect them with someone who can directly help.

After these meetings, follow up with any tickets or issues you’re able to file on the person’s behalf so they can track progress. This helps close the loop from the conversation, showing that you heard their concerns and are giving them an immediate opportunity to correct any misunderstandings of their expressed needs.

An obvious downside of these kinds of meetings is the time it takes to conduct them. If you have a large user base, it might be unreasonable to meet with each platform user. In this case, try to meet with as many users as possible to address the broadest set of issues and gain a diverse set of viewpoints about how to improve your platform. If the size of your platform’s user base is prohibitive to meeting with each individual, try not to default to only organizational, technical, or product leaders. Instead, seek out an even mix of personas on the platform to promote diverse responses. This might mean meeting with everyone, just team leads, or a combination of representatives to help meet the most needs of your users.

Group meetings

Group meetings can be a great way to gather a lot of information at the same time. Not all platforms will be in a situation where this style of meeting is beneficial. Group meetings will work well only if the attendees feel comfortable and that their voices have been heard prior to the meeting. We don’t recommend group meetings without having some prior relationship built from 1-on-1s. People who feel they don’t have a voice can become frustrated, and a group meeting that’s their only forum has the potential to turn into a shouting match.

During these sessions, talk about feedback from individual meetings and show attendees what happens to a concern after it’s submitted. This will help stop any thoughts that their feedback disappeared into the ether. Most concerns that are discussed are unlikely to be small bug fixes (just fix them if they are) but rather more complex issues that need to be addressed alongside other work on the platform. Overall, showing care, compassion, and progress in addressing concerns is the most important part of the group meeting.

Building roadmaps, planning, and transparency

If you’ve listened to your users, your planning and road mapping will almost create itself. At this point, you should have a list of to-dos, platform user feedback, and stakeholder requirements. When building your roadmap, it’s important to correctly balance stakeholder requirements with user needs. If you’re lucky, there will be overlap and all will be well in the world. More often than not, though, you’ll need to present findings with recommendations and balance those with other long-term plans the platform has in the pipeline. Either way, it’s important to align a product roadmap with user needs rather than assume the existing plan has addressed them.

During the road mapping process, continue to build trust with your platform’s users by showing a quick turnaround for taking action on their feedback. This doesn’t mean all problems need to be solved immediately, but they do need to be well-documented and transparent, with established time expectations around issue resolution. You’ll also want to provide a way for users to track the resolution process.

To create bandwidth for addressing user feedback, it can be helpful to reserve space in the road mapping process for directly addressing the feedback, just like allocating space for technical debt paydown or unexpected operational time. This will help you plan for any important issues that your users raise while not derailing your main thread of work.

There’s really no way around it – building relationships is hard. You may never fully understand the problems, frustrations, and successes of your user base, but if you can take some time, lend an ear, and show users you care enough to take action and help, you’ll be able to create a strong foundation on which to build long-lasting relationships. And that will help ensure a successful platform.