Case Study: How Shapeways Integrates Community and Product Strategy Using their "Voice of Customer" Team

Natalia Krasnodebska
May 21, 2014
February 8, 2024

“Hey, what do think our community will think of this new feature?”

It’s a question Community Managers are used to being asked. Not only are community professionals responsible for growing communities and building engagement, they’re also responsible for advocating for the community’s needs within the company.

As our team at Shapeways has grown, my focus has shifted toward managing community insights within the company and learning how to work closer with Product and Development teams.

When we release a feature that our community has been asking for and it’s even better than they imagined – well, that’s when product and community come together and make magic. Good feelings all around, evangelical community members and a desire to do it again.

How do we get to this magical place?

Here are the Cliff’s Notes for how we champion community needs within our company:

  1. Listen: Collect feedback from all necessary channels
  2. Aggregate and amplify: Data is your friend, but add the color with the comments in a format that your product can put into action
  3. Speak the language of your community and your team: If you don't understand the language, ask!
  4. Be open to change: The way you report community feedback can, and should improve over time
  5. Get out of the way: Let your team talk directly to your customers or better yet, encourage them to BE customers

Ready to dig in deeper? Let’s go.

1. Collect feedback from customers, possibly from multiple channels

Shapeways listens to customers in a number of ways:

  • A built-in user forum
  • A robust customer service team
  • We’re on all the social media
  • We send out transactional NPS every week

We get a LOT of inbound feedback, complaints and suggestions.In the early days you can recognize what is truly important by the passion of the poster or the exact science I like to call “spidey sense”.

That’s fine for when it’s just you, but when you need to evangelize within the team it helps to have a strategy to share the information.

Don’t do it alone! Share the burden of collection: work closely with your social media manager and the service team to have them gather and summarize social feedback and inbound inquiries.

Once you've gathered the feedback, what do you do with it?

2. Aggregate the information and make it actionable for your team

As a community person, I love feedback and feelings. Product teams love context and clarity.

Nothing tells a Community Manager more about the passion behind a cause than a heartfelt email or twenty forum posts. The product team however, will want more information so they can curate, create and execute. By integrating qualitative and quantitative sources, you can them what they need.

At Shapeways each week our “Voice of Customer” team sends out the Community Sentiment Report, and we share the top feedback we’ve heard.

Organizing it into sections allows us to show the high level theme, and drill down into what the data actually means. Picking the top three categories of feedback, the common themes within them, and a quote in the users own words gives us both the data point and the color around it.

Here's the structure of our Community Sentiment Report:

1. Topics the community was talking about this week with bullet points of high level themes from NPS, the forum and social media.

2. Feedback items, arranged by category. We have 6 categories in total, you may have more or less. Here’s an example of our feedback item:

Category: Quality (87 requests fall under this category this week)

Detail: Shopper Expectations  (40% of all “Quality” requests fall into this category)

Example: Paul, a New Shopper from UK: “Product fitted fine. Just not so sure about the strength of the finished item or the fact it was not supplied with nuts/bolts to secure it.”

3. Most representative positive and negative comments, again arranged by "Feedback Category". I include about 5-10 comments. More than that and it starts to get overwhelming.

4. Word cloud of the most common inbound customer service inquiries. Word clouds are an amazing way to visualize topics, and their importance. See example below (not our data).

word cloud

5. Net Promoter Score (NPS) chart showing the breakdown of promoters/detractors this week

We collect NPS using an app called Delighted. NPS provides a great visual reference of how we are trending overall. See example below (again not our data, but we use a similar breakdown).


3. Speak multiple languages

First, you have to be able to speak the language of your community.

The Shapeways community is unique in its breadth. We have everything from meme designers to model train makers. Our community team has learned to nerd out with the Reddit-lovers and tell the difference between N and Z-scale trains.

Learning to speak the language of the people you are trying to reach is the best way to understand their needs. It’s a crucial Community Management skill.

Second, you also have to be able to speak the language of your product and dev team.

I messed this up once in the past. I had the unique opportunity to deliver something our community had wanted for a long time, and my job was to champion the project amongst our cross-functional team. What I did instead was assume the role of Project Manager and in my excitement I told product what I thought the community wanted, and then how exactly to make it and what it should look like. Oh yeah and that we needed it ASAP. I think I managed to piss off every product manager on the team (sorry guys!)One useful thing I learned from this failure was how Product teams work. Provide user stories and the gist of the problem, and trust that they will find an elegant solution. That is their job and they are great at it. Ours is to be the voice of the community, to represent their needs, stories and challenges they face. You need each other, and it helps if you learn to speak their language.

Not sure how to learn the language of your community or team? Ask them! Asking questions of your community is how you learn how they see their world (frames of reference), and the way they describe it (jargon) , which helps when you want to talk to them and be understood.

Similarly, asking product team members to explain to you how they think about user stories, or how they go about doing research will give you important insight into their system. Then you can provide them with data and community comments in a format they find useful and actionable.

4. Be open to change

Our Community Report has gone through about six iterations.

As more people find it useful, they request data to be presented in different ways. Monthly NPS averages as a chart, comments by customer segment, visual vs. data driven…and so on.

We let everyone be part of the process; because we want to give the people what they want. (And we want them to read the report and listen to our community!)

The Deep Dive

A great tactic for getting the team involved is to do what we call a “Deep Dive” session, where you focus on a topic or feature that someone is working on and provide them with a breadth of comments from the community around that topic.

For example, last week a team was working on an image cropping tool. We were able to pull up all shop owner comments from the past month that mentioned images and their need for tools. It really helped the product manager put the feature into context of real users.

5. Get out of the way

What’s better than getting the team to read customer comments? Two things:

1. Being our customer: If everyone on our team is also our customer, we are in sync with what we want, what we could build, what could be improved and what is perfect.

2. Talking directly to customers: Yes, Community Managers are the voice of the customer, but sometimes the rest of the team can get their hands dirty too.

While verbatim quotes from community go a long way to back up data point, so does actually talking to the community.

Whether it be project-specific user groups or pairing product managers with designers on the site, set up some programs to get yourself out of the way and facilitate interactions between your community and the team.

Here’s the list of some of the ways we encourage our team to get involved at Shapeways:

  • Start conversations with designers in our community, post on their pages when you buy their products
  • Use a Beta Group to help you before (define), during (test) or after a project (feedback)
  • Attend Events: from monthly meetups in our home cities to global events
  • Be our customer: Make, buy and sell something on our site!

To wrap it up...

Often, a Community Manager sits between the company and the community, acting as a filter and spokesperson for both. "Voice of Customer" is a way for our team to get access to those insights directly, often speeding up the process, and opening up more direct dialogue. Together we’re better.

As Community Managers, we’re responsible for the relationships with users, enabling and empowering their needs. We're usually great listeners, the goal of these tools is to also give our communities a louder voice.

How do you work to integrate the voice of your community into your company? Share your tips in the comments.

--Photo cred: NYC Fasion Institute of Technology

Natalia Krasnodebska
May 21, 2014
February 8, 2024

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