Are you a customer-centric company that makes it clear you value user feedback? Great. Listening to your customers is the best way to build better products.

However, the flip side is that you have to say ‘no’ to customer feature requests that you don’t intend to build.

And you might have to say this a lot, if you get a large number of feature requests.

Many customers don’t appreciate a blunt ‘no, we won’t be building that’. Fewer still appreciate a weasel-like reply that leaves them unsure about what you intend to do.

So how can you say ‘no’ to customers so they still like you afterwards?

Here are 5 tips.

1. Make sure you understand what your customers are requesting

You often need to turn down feature requests. They don’t fit with your vision for the company, score badly on the cost/value matrix, are only popular with a few vocal customers, and so on.

Cost/value matrix You’ll often say no to feature requests that don’t rank well on the cost/value matrix

However, it’s a good idea to make sure you understand why a customer is requesting something. Customers are very good at spotting problems but aren’t always as good at finding solutions. Why should they be? That’s your job!

So before rejecting a customer feature request make sure you understand the problem behind it.

Thanks for your feature request. Can I ask for some more detail, to make sure I understand what you need? What do you want this new feature to help you do? What problem that you're experiencing will it solve?

You might discover that the pain point the customer describes can be solved by a workaround, or by a feature that you already have.

This way you don’t need to say ‘no’ to a customer. You just need to say ‘Thanks for the extra detail. To solve your problem of so and so, you can actually just do this.’

Or you might realise, now you know more, that what you’re dealing with is a bug. In which case you move the message to your bug tracking software, and reply with something like this:

Thanks for the extra detail. Our product should actually work like this. So I think you've identified a bug. I've passed your message to our developers, who'll look into it.

2. Set your customers requests in context

If a customer doesn’t know much about your other users, or your vision for the company, then they are more likely to send you inappropriate feature requests.

One solution is to shape customer expectations through a public roadmap or a public feature request board. This way your customers can see whether their feature request is consistent with your company’s vision, or with the expectations of other customers.

Jira make their roadmap public, so you can see what’s coming soon and what they’ve shipped. Buffer also has a transparent product roadmap.

screenshot of Buffer product roadmap Buffer make their roadmap public

If you don’t want to make your roadmap public, then another option is to make your feature requests public.

Here at Feature Upvote, we provide lightweight software that allows you to track user feature requests and prioritise them through voting. Here is an example of a feature request board belonging to award-winning SEO company Sitebulb.

screenshot of Sitebulb feature request board

The advantage of public feature request boards is that customers can easily add feature requests themselves, you can add status updates for feature requests (‘under consideration,’ ‘planned’) and the not so good requests sink out of sight, without you having to say a word.

If a customer does suggest a feature request through your support section, sales or social media, you can simply reply:

Thanks for the suggestion. You should add it to our product feedback page so that other customers can comment and vote on it.

This sounds a lot more positive and community-minded that simply saying ‘No!’

4. Craft your responses with care and patience

Sometimes customer feature requests can be very frustrating. You get a lot of them and the quality can be – shall we say – variable.

You just want to write back saying: ‘That’s a terrible idea and will cost a fortune.’

However, hang on in there. If you listen to enough customer feedback you will find out what your product does well, what it does badly, and how you can make it much better.

So even when a customer hasn’t provided you with a genius idea, send a thoughtful response. Have a number of well structured template responses that you can then cut, paste and edit to save on time without compromising quality.

This kind of structure for a ‘no, we won’t be implementing your feature request’ response can work well:

  • Thank the customer for taking the time to contact you and offer you feedback
  • Say that you do care about customer feedback (specify how exactly – don’t just say ‘we care about customer feedback’)
  • Say you won’t be implementing their feature request – make sure you are factual
  • Give a reason – perhaps you’re working on x, y and z?
  • Give a workaround if possible

Thank you for letting us know that you'd like our product to integrate with Freshdesk. We can appreciate why this would be helpful.

We do regularly implement customer feature requests. Each quarter, we discuss the 10 most popular requests we receive and how they map to our company vision plus issues like cost and feasibility.

We've already committed to integrating with Fasterdesk next quarter, which has been requested by 30 customers in the last 6 months (Freshdesk has had 4 requests). So we won't be implementing your suggested integration.

However, we do have a Zapier integration. Although this isn't as simple as a direct integration, it will make it a lot easier for you to use our product and Freshdesk together. Here's our help article on the subject.

5. Show customers you genuinely care about your product

Even if you say ‘no’ to a specific customer feature request, a customer might feel less aggrieved if they understand how you’re developing your product, and that you actually care about it (rather than being distracted by growth at all costs, or wanting to placate investors).

Show customers what you’ve shipped recently and why those features should make their life easier. Give a glimpse into your company so customers have faith in who you are and what you’re doing (Wildbit do a great job of this).

Even if you’ve hit a rough patch, consider being honest. When Evernote started to run into product problems, they realised that being honest with customers was the only way to start making the situation better. That way customers knew Evernote were on the case, giving them a bit more hope that the specific problems they encountered would (eventually) be solved.

The loyalty that you continue to show Evernote demands that we be honest in return. And honesty requires us to state—straight out—that we can do better with the product you have today than we are currently doing. In fact, we can do better than we have been doing for some years.

Ian Small, CEO

If you say no to a feature request when a customer basically likes your product and trusts your company, then you’ll encounter more understand. Your customers will cut you some slack, and be more inclined to believe that you know what you’re doing in terms of product development – and are doing it.

Collect your feature requests in one place – even the ‘terrible’ ones

Even if you say no to many feature requests, still track and organise them in a central place, if possible.

Feature requests can provide an early warning system that you are having major problems – that your vision for the company isn’t working, for example, or that your content and marketing is doing a poor job because you keep attracting non-ideal customers.

Treat your features requests as you would any other important data in your company, to be organised and analysed. You’ll gain all kinds of useful insights.

Try Feature Upvote for free – track and organise feature requests

Getting direct feedback from customers at the time they are thinking about a pain point, or a new feature is invaluable and Feature Upvote facilitates this for us easily.

The product works well, support has been fantastic, value for money is spot on, and I’m hooked. I’d be lost without my customer input from Feature Upvote. I look at it every day.

Heather Paunet, Untangle’s VP of Product Management