May we suggest...

Inside Buffer

The 4 Customer Development Questions I Use To Make Buffer Better

We’re always working to make Buffer better—whether it’s through big new features like Buffer for Video or smaller changes to existing features.

Our customer development process is so important no matter the size of the change. In this post, I would love to share an improvement that we made to the Feeds feature in Buffer and how it happened based directly on feedback from you, our awesome customers.

customer development questions

Digging into our Feeds feature

We recently made an exciting move towards more structure at Buffer and assembled team members into ‘areas’. I am thrilled to be working on the Awesome Plan area.

One area where we felt that there might be some pain points that could be validated and addressed was within our Feeds feature, which allows you to add RSS feeds to your Buffer social profiles and share links directly from your favorite sites from right inside your Buffer dashboard.

To kick things off, Maxime, our growth wizard, kindly conjured up a list of our most active Feeds users, and I reached out to 12 of them to schedule interviews.

But even before I had spoken to anyone on the phone, I received multiple emails like this one from customers, describing the frustration of not having a way to remove items from their feeds.

feeds feedback

Digging into this one deeper, we learned that:

  • Feeds were becoming unnecessarily cluttered due to the inability of removing undesired posts. The word ‘inbox’ was used by several customers to describe the feed list and it felt great to provide an easy way to hit ‘Inbox Zero’. 
  • Most customers expressed an urge to only share ‘hot’ content with their audience that wasn’t saturated already. Not having a “dismiss” button previously made it difficult to quickly identify what was new.
  • A couple of customers were logging into the iOS app, where they had found the ‘dismiss feed’ function, just so that they could clear out their feed inbox as a workaround. This felt like another strong validation that we should be delivering this on the web dashboard. 

The signal here was so strong that it felt great for Justin (product) and Niel (engineering) to ship this quickly while I interviewed users.

And I’m excited to say that this feature is now live for all Awesome users, on web and iOS! (Android coming soon!) Here’s a look at how it appears in your account:

dismiss button in action

Here are some of our other findings for areas to improve in Feeds:

  • Feeds set up — Another area that feels painful for customers is setting up feeds. Customers have to add feeds to each profile individually and it is not possible to transfer feeds between profiles easily.
  • Attaching images to feed posts — Customers find it very time-consuming to enhance feeds posts with an attached image. In most cases, customers are clicking on the url, reading the post, saving an image and then attaching it via the browser extension.
  • Feed limits — Another strongly validated assumption is that our current limit of 15 feeds per profile doesn’t feel like enough. Customers expressed that their feed inbox wasn’t as ‘rich’ and varied as it could be due to this limit.

My 4 go-to customer development questions (I sometimes only need the first two)

How did we learn all of this? By asking—and mostly, by listening.

To draw conclusions and validate/invalidate some assumptions with Feeds, I used the following 4 base questions:

  1. How does Buffer fit into your day to day?
  2. How do you use feeds at the moment?
  3. If you had a magic wand and you could conjure up your “ideal” product, what would it look like?
  4. Is there anything else I should have asked?

4 customer research questions

My friend and colleague Patrik once mentioned to me that he likes to use prepared questions as a springboard and that it feels great to ‘go with the flow’ and probe items of interest as they surface during the conversation.

Inspired by his approach, I tried this and have found that in some cases, the first and second questions are all that is needed to validate an assumption. The most severe pain points tend to come quite early in the conversation.

By taking a back seat and doing the vast majority of the listening, I find it easier to see the problem through the eyes of the customer. I love taking this quote by Cindy Alvarez to heart:

alvarez quote

I tend to type down everything that is being said in the call word-for-word. Here’s a screenshot of a hackpad that I used to record call notes:

customer research notes

After this series of calls with customers, I was able to share these pain points with the team during our weekly sync. This triggered some great discussions between engineering, product, happiness, growth and research.

It’s wonderful to be able to build and improve Buffer based on customer experiences, and I’m excited to keep working with our team to make Feeds even better by addressing some of the other points we found.

Over to you

To have customers being so generous with their time and expertise is very humbling, and I’m so grateful for this invaluable input.  We would love to hear from you, too! I’d be honored to hear any responses or replies you might have to this article. And we’ll be sharing more of our research journey in upcoming posts!

  • Thanks so much for sharing Thomas. It’s great to get insight into what everyone is doing at Buffer.

    It’s awesome to see how Buffer is not only focused on growing product features but also making current features work for users better. It’s refreshing to see a company that looks to the actual users to let them know where the pain points are, rather than simply making assumptions themselves or based on the way they choose to use the product internally. It means a far better end experience for all users when you explore and validate a problem using real feedback.

    So cool to get these continued looks at how Buffer is continuing to build a product I love.

    • Thomas

      Heya Ben I really appreciate these kind words :) I could do a lot to improve with customer development (as well as writing) so messages like this give me the confidence to keep learning and improving so thank you! It’s a great feeling and a true honour being able to work so closely with customers like this :)

  • Sylvia

    Thomas, great reminder on listening more and talking less to get the most valuable input from customers! I was just wondering if the Feed is only available to those on the Awesome plan?

    • Thomas

      Thanks a lot for the kind words Sylvia :) Great question! Yup the feeds feature is available on awesome plan and above. Would be delighted to answer any more questions about it :) Also if you are interested, here is a link to our awesome plan page!

      • Sylvia

        I appreciate the reply, Thomas! You have a rockin’ week too!

  • Matthew

    Thomas, there is a feature I have been waiting on for years. It is the ability for you to post a link update to Facebook or LinkedIn and change the image that goes along with it. Currently, you can only do this if you post directly from Facebook or LinkedIn. And the only workaround in Buffer right now is to post an image update with a link, which is not as effective from a marketing point of view.


    Buffer keeps getting more Awesome! Seems like a good idea to level up to an “Awesome user” to fully benefit from all their cool new innovations. What is great about Buffer is that it is SaaS without all the sass-attitude, because sometimes software companies are focused entirely on their own development of promoting disruptive technology to be a one stop solution for everything, they forget to put themselves into the actual customer journey. Buffer balances (really well) the educating & on-boarding of new adopters, while addressing the growing needs of long-term loyal users by having simple, fun, intuitive information flow. Buffer never makes you feel like they are selling a feature, but that they are sharing helpful and wanted features – You get the immediate impression that the team listens to feedback and executes/delivers on that knowledge. One can learn so much from their content crafters, big thumbs up to their blog and one of my favorite daily reads as a marketer! What is truly transparent about their team culture is that people can feel “they genuinely care” about their customers. That to me, is the most Awesome feature at Buffer, is all the love they clearly put into their business and especially the love they have for their customers that support it :-)

  • Hi Thomas
    Very interesting article. Quick question. How conversational do people get? When you ask “How does Buffer fit into your day to day?” Do you find that people understand “fit” in different ways and you find yourself clarifying to try to get what you are looking for? Asking because I see things like this all the time. Not one question is taken the same way by two persons and I find myself having to interpret why they are saying what they are saying…

    • Thomas

      Hey Lucas! So sorry for the late reply! That’s a really great question :) I find that people are incredibly generous with their time and I often find that this question get’s people describing their role, company and work day :) Your point makes lots of sense to me and I find that sometimes I might have to clarify with a follow up question like ‘how do you use Buffer at the moment” :) It’s a huge privilege to speak to people from many different countries and cultures and no call is the same :) I hope that answers your question :)

  • SashaBondareva

    Great article! On the 4 questions… Do you ever ask customers if they are irritated by any of the features? Or do you avoid this kind of questions because they may sound negatively?

    • Thomas

      Thanks a lot for the kind words Sasha :) That’s a great question! I usually try to ask questions that are as open as possible to try and surface painpoints naturally. With more specific features I sometimes find myself asking ‘does anything keep you from completing this action?’ and most of the time, the pain points surface by themselves :) I hope this answers your question and thanks so much for reading this!

80,000+ social media marketers trust Buffer

See all case studies