Subscriber Discussion

Manufacturers, How Do You Get Feedback?

So I was wondering lately. How do the manufacturers in the IP CCTV market get their feedback from their customers ?

The thing is hardly any manufacturer has a suggestion box on their website where you can share your thoughts on what might be good ideas to improve their products. Now they proberbly have their reps who scour their customers but I wonder how effective that is for small customers and if their feedback really is being used.

For example, I got quite a few ideas on how Milestone can improve their client, but I have no clue where to drop those ideas and wether they will be heard. Perhaps someone can shed some light on how manufacturers get their ideas and how they decide what to improve and what not.

I hope I'm making any sense here

Rogier, this is a very good question / observation. I am curious to hear what the manufacturers say.

Reps And Feedback

Interesting point about the role of reps in customer feedback. I have actually seen more of the opposite. Reps will often come back and say, "Customers tell us they want X, Y and Z" and management interprets that as "You are a shitty salesmen. Sell what you have. Stop making excuses. Coffee is for closers only."

In fairness, reps can be bad at interpreting (1) how broadly useful something is (e.g., mistake an oddball request for something fundamental) (2) what the right solution to a problem is and (3) how difficult it is to do. Obviously, some reps are good but in my experience most are way off the mark, especially if they have minimal industry experience.

Product Managers in the Field

To that end, I am a big believer that product managers should spend a lot of time on the road at customer sites helping on pre-sales consultations and being involved with installs. When I was in that role, this was the most important advantage I had in defining the right roadmap. Where many in management would speculate or philosophize on how things works or what customer issues were, I had seen it with my own eyes so I knew clearly what the issues were.

Feedback for IPVM

For us, feedback is huge. The discussions, article comments, emails we get greatly impact everything that we do. I added a discussion: "What is IPVM Missing? What Do You Need?" to help facilitate even more feedback.

Aimetis Symphony has a feature under the Help section in the menu bar. Customers can provide direct feedback to product management.

I work for a VMS Manufacturer (not Milestone) and there are number of ways that we receive and solicit Customer & Integrator feedback regarding performance enhancements for our product.

Let me preface this by saying that we are ALWAYS interested in what our Customer's and Integrators view as 'necessary functionality' for our produts and take ALL requests and suggestions to improve our product seriously. After all, if my product doesn't do what the Customer wants/needs, they are going to purchase my competitor's solution.

I will list them in no particular order:

1- During the sales cycle when we are engaged with a Customer/Integrator we occasionally receive requests for specific functions or features for our software (either because our competitor provides the feature or because the customer believes that it is an essential requirement for their system). These requests are reviewed against our Product Road Map and if they are not included on a future release, the requested function/feature is reviewed by our R&D/Engineering group and a decision is made to either develop the requirement or reject the request based on cost to develop or relevance to our solution as a whole.

2 - Post installation if a Customer has a suggestion regarding features/functions they can submit the request through the integrator or the sales rep for consideration by our R&D/Engineering group. The request is evaluated and a response provided.

3 - All of our Authorized integrators have the ability to submit a request to add a function/feature enhancement for consideration. Usually this is through their Factory Sales Rep.

4 - We hold an annual Users Group Conference where to which we invite all of our Customers and Integrators. At this event we host a Roundtable meeting for each group to expose them to future releases and solicit their feedback on improvements that can be made to our solution. The same R&D/Engineering review is applied to all suggestions.

5 - We participate in joint shows and marketing events with our Technical Partners (camera manufacturers, Access Manufacturers, ALPR Manufacturers, etc.) where we solicit requests for improvements to our software. These suggestions are compiled and reviewed by our R&D/Engineering group.

6 - We participate in many industry specific Trade Shows (ASIS, ISC West, APCO, etc.) and we are open to suggestions for additional functions/features to our system made by anyone that walks up on our booth. The same R&D/Engineering Review is applied to all suggestions.

7 - Anyone can call our 800 number, request to be transferred to Sales, and make a suggestion on a desired function/feature. This information is noted by our inside sales staff and provided to our R&D/Engineering group for review.

8 - Every year a senior management member from our R&D, Engineering and Customer Service Team are tasked with visiting our Top 10 Customers and Top 10 Integrators to specifically solicit information on improving our product. This provides our engineering and support staff a 1 on 1 dialogue with our largest Users gather their input on improving our product.

As you can see from the list above, my Company is ALWAYS seeking feedback for improvements to our solution to ensure that we have the latest/greatest technology available. Rogier is correct that my Company does not support a "Suggestion Box" on our web page but that is certainly something to consider. I'll have R&D/Engineering look into it... :)

I typically deal with anywhere from 1 or 2 suggestions a month to multiple suggestions a week. Not all of these suggestions make good business sense to develop. The decision to develop a requested function/feature is based on the following basic criteria; relevance, cost to develop, time to develop, resaleability and number of requests for similar functionality.

In Rogier's case I would suggest that he contact a representative for the product he has suggestions to improve and have a conversation about it. Everyone has a 'Contact Us' link on their web page.

In conclusion I will say that I am personally aware of at least three dozen functions/features that have been suggested to our R&D staff by Customers or Integrators that have in fact been developed and implemented within our system.

We listen! We cannot do it all but we do listen. I can't believe for one moment any of my competitors would ignore meaningful feedback from Rogier or anyone else with an opinion on improving their product.

Interesting point about the role of reps in customer feedback. I have actually seen more of the opposite. Reps will often come back and say, "Customers tell us they want X, Y and Z" and management interprets that as "You are a shitty salesmen. Sell what you have. Stop making excuses. Coffee is for closers only."

I had a friend who was an area sales manager for one of the leading access control manufacturers. He was always good about listening to potential customers explain the features that would need to be added to his product before they would buy it. He dutifully passed this information along to his superiors, thinking it would be valuable information to the product development team.

One day, he was called into his boss's office and shown a whiteboard that had the word "SWAT" written on it. It was explained to him that this meant "Sell What's Available Today", and that instead of gathering customer feedback, he should focus on selling what he already had. If a customer complained about the lack of a feature, he was told it was his job to "reset their expectations".

+1, well to the comment, not necessarily the attitude of management. This is common. Sometimes it is right - the sales person uses missing features as a crutch but other times it is dangerously wrong - especially for startups (where management may not understand what customers or want) or during technology transitions (where management is out of date and the sales person has better, more recent information).

I've had plenty manufacturers act very interested in the feedback I give them about what it seems we need (because the customers say they need it). For all the interest they show, though, I never see anything really get done.

However, I sometimes wonder if manufacturers are partly hesitant to use customer ideas for feature or function changes because they may have gotten the idea from competitor products, and they worry about patent infringement.

Well, I can't speak for every RSM out there in IP Video, or every company, but at ACTi we do have an internal process for sending customer and dealer/integrator feedback upchannel. The feedback is reviewed by upper management, and requires responses concerning detail, potential correction, or implementation. Our CEO puts a lot of emphasis on this, and the Sales Directors actively call on us to send up the information as we get it. A number of our new product releases so far this year, and over the next several months are directly due to feedback from the field.

In general, when I don't know where to send a note, I send an email it to the regional sales person. Usually I am copied on the email chain that results. I can't speak about Milestone specifically, but in general this seems to work. Some companies are more responsive than others.

The only camera manufacturer I have reently tried giving customer feedback to is Axis.

A lot of our technology related work is for IT departments who are responsible for the electronic physical security system deployments. So more than half of our feedback is about system-related, network-related or security items. Such as back when Axis only supported an 8-character password. Some clients had a policy that the password had to be longer than 8 characters.

You can submit a ticket with Axis, and they are good with updating the status. You can check on your ticket any time through their website. Last year we had an issue with a subset of a customer's M1054 cameras going offline. One or two cameras out of four, every four weeks. We'd cycle the PoE port and the camera would come back up again. It turns out there were multiple things contributing—including bad cable, and a technician's failure to reset the camera back to factory defaults after changing VMS software. (the camera was generating network link errors trying to connect to a non-existent server name, the old server.). But these things should not have caused the camera to go offline. We sent the system reports from the cameras and the data from the network monitoring software to Axis.

In the next firmware update release notes was an item something like "improvements to camera robustness".

We corrected the other problems and upgraded the firmware, and have had no issues since. Axis was responsive and interactive.

The experience I am aware of with any other camera manufacturer was a few years ago, when a colleague of mine ran a default NMAP scan of the security system network, and it took all the network cameras offline. Many were locally powered, and it required a trip out to each of those cameras to cycle their power and bring them back online. The manufacterer's contacts were beligerent, and made no follow-up response. However, later versions of the product don't have any adverse effects from an NMAP scan.

I like the Axis ticket system, because you get to show clients that you are interacting with the manufacturer, who is responding.

In recent years, most of my other "near compliants" with cameras came from not knowing enough about the camera. So I also have to say I haven't had reason to have much interaction with the manufacturers. A decade or so ago, I was full of suggestions. Now, technology changes so rapidly it is hard to keep up.

"The manufacturer's contacts were belligerent, and made no follow-up response."

Hmmm... I wonder what manufacturer that sounds like :)

I forgot this one. In 2007 I attended an ISC West customer feedback session of Honeywell Security with one of my clients. At that time this was an annual thing. During this session, it turned out there were two aspects of some new products that the long-term customers weren't happy about. In the 45 minutes, half the time was spent by the Honeywell reps deiling down on the issues to understand them. Video software was one of the items discussed. The feedback did result in product improvements.

Under NDA on this in respect to disclosure of the company or product details.

typically on any large job the mfg will have an RM, A Product Manager and Engineerign Assistance to support the endevor. It is during this engagement, usually over many months they get very difinitave info directly from the customer. Mffg also so a ton of Regional and verticle specific shows. At the smaller show, most integrators and regional end usersjgive input. Then we have the price croud. We want you to beat they top tiers guys stuff by being faster, easier, and cheaper. Also VMS and Access control partners give a ton of input.

Hope this helps.

John, how large of a job is that? Because, in my experience, having a product manager involved is very rare. A system or sales engineer is common, but a product manager not so much, unless the company is very early stage and/or the project is of strategic importance to the company.

I have been to many regional shows and the average rep that goes there is typically fairly low on the totem pole, with minimal power and often limited industry experience.