In our last post, we learned how building in small increments helps reduce the risk of building the wrong thing or building something users won't use. In this third post in the Turning Ideas Into Products series, we’ll cover gathering feedback from humans and the practical ways to do it.
Here at 612 Software Foundry, we use low touch, informal ways of collecting feedback. We run pretty lean both in process and in cost, so we find free and low cost alternatives to do this. As always, we have to balance the quality of our work with the cost, effort, and timeline we have available.
As a reminder from our last post, here are the steps we use to eliminate uncertainty, fail quick, and fail cheap so we can build the right product for the right people:
- Step 0
- Build in small increments
- Get feedback from humans
- Learn and adjust
Any feedback is good feedback
If the best you can do in the moment is provide a feedback email address to your users, do it. If you can’t talk to actual users, find the closest people to the actual user. Maybe you’re in a large corporate environment and you work with product owners who advocate for users. Work with them.
The sooner you start gathering feedback on your solution, the more impact it will have on your product. Even before designing or implementing anything, you can start gathering feedback. It’s much harder to change your solution after you’ve implemented it if it’s not the right solution. It’s much harder to influence the design and architecture after you’ve implemented it. This is especially hard if you end up needing to pivot and solve an entirely different problem.
There are various methods for gathering feedback and doing usability research. Conducting interviews with the actual user in their natural environment will get the most accurate results. But this takes time, money, and expertise that you may not have as a solo entrepreneur getting started. The options we describe below will get you feedback early enough to start making informed decisions.
Build your community of feedback givers
Start by finding people interested in what you are working on and are serious about having a solution to their problem. If they are serious about it, they’ll be more engaged. The more engaged they are, the more interested they will be in offering feedback on your solution. They’ll even be the ones who brag (aka sell your product) to their friends and colleagues.
You can find these people by sifting through your friend lists IRL and on all the social platforms:
- Family members
- Twitter followers
- Facebook friends
- LinkedIn connections
- Former colleagues and classmates
- Church community
- Your kid’s elementary school
- Meetup groups you belong to (or those you should belong to)
- People you meet at conferences and other industry events
Ask them if they have the problem you’re trying to solve. And then ask them if they know of anyone who has the problem you’re trying to solve. Get referrals, ask for feedback, build relationships with those people. Rinse and repeat.
Those who are the most engaged will be your community of feedback givers. Update this group on your progress, but, only if they have showed interest in receiving updates. Not all updates should ask for something from your community — it needs to be a give and take relationship. But as you build it up, you can request feedback from them or ask them to share with their friends.
Keep in mind these aren’t the people you are trying to sell to… yet. They may be potential customers, but right now you’re focused on engagement in your idea, your solution, and gathering feedback.
Gathering the feedback
Gather folks to get their feedback. You can do this in-person with someone or you can do it with Skype, Google Hangouts, or Appear.in. Treat your customer interview as an observation, not a conversation. Ask questions without leading them toward answers. Respond to their questions and comments without squelching their thoughts and ideas. Repeat what they say but in the form of a question. When they ask you a question, ask what their thoughts are rather than telling them yours. Respond with silence. Ask open ended questions.
You can do this by spending 15 minutes with someone from your community. Ask your open ended questions. Put your prototype in front of them. Then ask them to do a task while walking you through what’s going through their mind.
Quick and targeted surveys can reveal insightful info about your solution. Find out why people want your solution and how they are using your product (or why they’re not). Online surveys can be hard, though. Offering incentives to those you want feedback from can be a nice touch. Offer a free month of your product, a $10 gift card, or your company t-shirt. Even public recognition on your social media channels can go a long way. This can also engage other potential customers if they see someone talking about your solution or if it's re-shared.
At this stage, you may have questions to which you don’t even know the possible set of answers. By asking open ended questions, you'll get better results. It would be nice to be able to know that 37 people checked the box for "I’d buy this!" Yay! 37 people say they’d buy your product, but do you have their money yet? Nope, and you don’t have much more info beyond that either.
Only ask questions you will use to make decisions. Omit the ones your analytics can tell you the answers to. Make the survey instructions and questions scannable, short and as concise as possible. If the survey is well written, you won’t need to include a bunch of instructions.
If after reading this, the best you can do is provide an email for feedback, do it.
Emails allow you to gather open-ended feedback from users. Add a contact form or email address up on your site and ask for feedback. We recommend doing this even if you're using surveys. The results you get will surprise you — everything from “I can’t live without this!” to “It’s way too expensive. It should be free.” to “Have you thought about adding XYZ functionality?"
Gathering feedback from users through interviews, surveys, and emails is important, but what about what they can’t tell you? That's where analytics comes in. Analytics allow you to know what people are doing without even talking to them! You’ll be able to see what people do, what they click on (or what they don't click on), and when they do it.
Are they leaving your landing page after reading through it without signing up for a trial? Maybe that wall of text wasn’t such a good idea and improving the design and copy would help. Are people signing up for the free trial but not converting to paid users? Maybe they don’t know how to upgrade. Maybe you forgot to remind them.
Ready for more intensive ways to get feedback?
These tools and companies offer even more to help you gather feedback:
UserTesting gives you video-based recorded sessions from an on-demand testing group matching your audience.
HotJar provides you heatmaps, video recordings, and a few different variations of gathering feedback and survey results.
In the next post in the series, we’ll learn what this feedback means and how to learn from it.