Telepathy and 5 Other Ways to Collect Actionable User Feedback

How good is your big idea? How good are your small ones? Your new features? Is your startup solving a real problem? Who are your most loyal customers?…

So many questions. And we all have them when building our startups and marketing our businesses. But where do we look for answers?

Ourselves? Friends and family? Big name entrepreneurs we kinda know? The problem is that all of these people are most likely not the ones who will actually be using your product.

And even if they are, the biases of your relationships will make it hard for you to get any objective feedback.

So who can we ask for realistic, unbiased and actionable feedback? Well, how about our users and customers?

The pros are obvious:

  1. Your consumers' opinions actually matter. They are the ones you serve and the ones who pay you.
  2. They interact with your product more than anyone else.
  3. They are not afraid of hurting your feelings.

Hooray! It seems like we found our optimal source of feedback, insights, and new ideas. Now all we need is to start collecting and analyzing them.

And this is exactly what today's article is about.

Way #1. Let the Data Speak for Itself

In "The Lean Startup," Eric Reis talks about the importance of measuring as a part of your product development cycle. Seeing how your users react to and interact with new features and ideas should influence your decisions about those features and ideas.

Every customer you have leaves a trail of data behind her. And those data probably have more insights into how people feel about your product than you can imagine.

All you need to do is start listening (…or looking …or whatever else you do with data). Luckily, there are plenty of tools to help you.

Your choice of those tools should be driven by the questions you're asking as well as the platform you're using. For example, Google Analytics is great for monitoring your general website performance, but KISSmetrics is a more powerful tool when it comes to optimizing the performance of your sales funnel.

Here are some questions you may want to be asking and possible answers you can find in data:

1. **Q. Are there any confusing points in our product?** A. People spend more time on our transaction page than they should. Let's simplify the interface.
2. **Q. Does this new copy perform better than the old one?** A. An A/B test shows higher conversion rates with the new copy. Great!
3. **Q. Are these new social features making our product more engaging?** A. The number of Daily Active Users (DAU) went down for this cohort. Oh, shit!

And so on, and so forth…

Of course, every startup has its own questions and its own answers so think about yours before you commit to a hundred analytical tools.

But also remember that too much data is usually better than not enough data. This is why, for example, companies such as Mint start investing heavily into data collection and analysis early on. You should too.

Sidenote: I'll definitely come back to this topic in the future articles on Marketing Before Funding, so consider subscribing if you don't wanna miss out.

Way #2. Conduct a Survey

Surveys are a really easy and inexpensive way to collect feedback from users. You ask a bunch of questions; you get the answers; you look for insights. Easy, right?

The problem is that a lot of startups suck at conducting them. They ask the wrong people the wrong questions.

Let's take a step back and make sure you're not making any silly mistakes. Start by asking yourself the following five questions.

1. What am I trying to find out?

If you want to know why a user quit your service, ask her about that. Don't ask her if she is a cat or a dog person, because it probably won't be helpful. Don't ask for any information, unless you expect to see a relationship between that information and what you're researching.

2. When is the survey taking place?

You need to make sure that you're talking to the right people at the right time. Otherwise, you're not gonna get many responses or the quality of those responses isn't going to be great.

Here are some options to consider:

  1. Right after signup.
  2. A few days after signup.
  3. When an account is deleted.
  4. After a person subscribes for your email list.
  5. At a random time (just 'cause you need it).

There are many other choices, and the decision depends on your answer to the first "why" question. Using the same example as before, if you want to know why users quit, conduct a survey right after they cancel their accounts.

3. Are my questions any good?

It's not only what you ask, it's also how you ask it. If a question is worded badly, you'll get bad data.

The common problems include:

  • Double-barreled questions. The ones that ask about multiple things instead of just one. For instance, "Are you satisfied with our price and features?" (split into two)
  • Leading / biased questions. The ones that suggest the "right" answer to the respondent. For example, "How would you rate this great new feature we've added?"
  • Also, complicated wording leads to your respondent not understanding the question. For example, "Did you enjoy consuming the text-based piece of content that was published on Marketing Before Funding today?" is bad. "Did you like today's post?" is good (though a bit ambiguous).

4. What are my respondents getting?

Responding to your survey is an effort that a person has to make. And they will wonder if it's worth their time.

So first, make sure that your surveys are as short as possible (long enough to be useful, though). Then, consider adding an incentive such as a gift card or a bonus feature, or a discount on your product.

You don't need to spend much (or even any) money but incentives can make a huge difference when it comes to response rates.

5. What tools should I use?

Google Forms, Survey Monkey, Qualtrics, Wufoo… the list is endless. It all depends on how complex your survey is and how much money you feel like investing.

My faves are Google Forms for simple surveys and Qualtrics for the more advanced ones.

Now let's look at an example. Recently, I had to cancel my subscription to DailyBurn. It's a great service, but I couldn't justify paying for it, so I decided to quit.

Right before canceling, a little form popped out asking why I was leaving. It's a simple one-question survey, but I'm sure it helps DailyBurn's team improve its product.

DailyBurn collects feedback through a quick survey

Some of the possible reasons for quitting were technical. Others suggest a possible substitute or a flaw in the product. But overall, this answer is all that the company needs to know. Not more. Not less.

Let's recap: why are you conducting the survey? when/where will you place it? what questions will you ask and how will you ask them? what tools will you use?

Way #3. Interview a Customer. Or a Few

A great way of collecting insightful qualitative feedback from your customers is to interview a couple of them.

Being able to talk in-person and ask open-ended question with lots of followups lets you dig deep into people's heads and see the underlying concerns and needs they may have.

(This approach is also great for validating your idea even before you have a product as it may provide you with insights into what people's real pain is.)

The shortcomings of interviews are, of course, the time and effort commitment required from both parties.

But most of the time interviewing your customers is one of the best ways to collect feedback from them and is totally worth it.

Here are some variables to consider when planning interviews with your customers:

  1. Medium. In-person and Skype interviews beat phone calls and email every time.
  2. Questions. Just like with surveys, be careful with what questions you ask and why you ask them. As a rule of thumb, go for open-ended questions and keep asking follow up questions.
  3. Sampling. Different groups of users can offer different kinds of feedback, and may be more or less willing to participate. You may want to talk to random customers or to the most engaged ones, or someone else. Your call.
  4. Recording method. Think about how you will record the responses you get. Will you take notes on a paper form prepared in advance? Do you want to have a voice/video recording of the interview? In each case, you must inform your interviewee about the process and the purpose before the interview.

Consider this example. When writing a business plan for a enterprise gamification startup, my team needed to learn what HR people thought of the idea.

We conducted one-on-one in-person interviews with top level executives in companies that were most likely to be our core customers. We asked 20 minutes worth of questions on topics ranging from pain exploration to idea feedback. We took notes.

In the end, the research helped us identify a number of gaps in the product and make adjustments to the pricing strategy. Not to mention that we now had a few extra connections with potential customers.

Way #4. Use the Power of the Social Web

Social networks, forums and blogs often make for a great debate panel when it comes to talking about products and services.

And if your company has been around for at least a little while, you would expect a conversation or two to be happening online (maybe right now).

****So use the power of the social web to your advantage. Here's how.

Start by listening.

Monitor blogs, comments and social networks for relevant keywords and study all conversations and reviews that are being posted. Check out my tutorial on how to build an Ultimate Listening Dashboard for your business and start.

Go onto engaging.

Respond to posts and comments where appropriate. When they are positive, thank the person and ask if they have more ideas to share.

When it comes to the negatives, don't argue with the haters but do address all the relevant issues and fix problems if needed.

Way #5. Make It Easy for Users to Leave Feedback

Many users will be happy to share their ideas and suggestions with you as long as you give them an easy way of doing so. You can start by adding a contact form to your site or just posting your email, but I suggest you take it a step further.

Tools such as UserVoice and GetSatisfaction allow users to leave their ideas, questions and suggestions and vote on the ones posted by others.

The tools work well even with mobile apps and allow you to see which features your customers really want and what issues they are experiencing. You can crowdsource ideas for your project and troubleshoot problems at the same time.

HootSuite collects feedback using UserVoice

HootSuite is known for using UserVoice to find the most demanded features for their products. They later implement those features if possible, which makes customers not only feel happy but also feel a sense of ownership of the product.

For instance, when I was driving the bus on the HootSuite Translation Project back in 2011, we asked our international users to suggest which languages should the product be localized into. The most popular ones would be then added into the system.

Way #6. Telepathy

Telepathy is by far the number one bullet-proof method for collecting actionable feedback from your users. Too bad it's not available to the majority of entrepreneurs, either for the reasons of sanity or budget constraints.

So, I guess we'll have to make the most out of the first five methods. In good hands, they work just fine.

Your Turn

How do you collect feedback from users? Share your examples, experiences and tools in the comments!

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