Steve Jobs is famous for downplaying the importance of customer input, claiming customers don’t know what they want until they’ve seen it. While that philosophy has so far worked phenomenally well for Apple, most products can’t be developed in a bubble.
Even before we built our first product prototype, we spent countless hours speaking to would-be customers to gather suggestions, feedback and input. While most founders see the value in conducting market research in one way or another at the start of the development process, all too often they fail to continue this interaction. Companies should make a point of gathering feedback from customers throughout the entire development cycle -- basically as long as you’re in business.
Here are five easy ways to get feedback on your product:
1. Customer Surveys
The most efficient way to garner feedback from customers is through surveys. To ensure the highest response rate possible (usually a typical rate of response is around 5 percent, and 10 percent or higher is exceptional), we recommend keeping the survey to a maximum of 15 questions. Include questions that relate to the overall industry your product fits into and whether or not customers would like to participate in any future product testing or marketing events. We use Google Forms for short questionnaires and SurveyMonkey for more in-depth surveys.
We used information from our latest survey to not only improve our product, but to ask for product reviews, case studies, more in depth feedback calls and of course to gain a larger picture of the space we play in -- Google Apps.
2. Support Forums
Support forums aren’t a revolutionary idea, but the most successful forums are highly interactive. Customers should be able to give their input, comment on others’ ideas and see that you and your support team are taking active roles by responding to every single request. We use Zendesk for our forum, as well as ticketing and overall product support.
We’ve already added 15 of the most popular customer suggestions left in the forum to our product and have another 15 slated for development in the coming months. Could we have thought of those 30 ideas on our own? Probably. But ideas are generated a lot faster when you can ask a customer base of 12,000 companies what they’d like to see. Plus, you never have to worry if you’re adding features people will actually use.
3. Let Customers Provide Feedback Inside the Product
To make sure you’re gathering input from customers on an ongoing basis, include an easy way to leave feedback directly within your product. While some companies choose to pop up a review or feedback form on the third or fourth login, we chose to add a feedback window users can view or hide as they please. The widget is set up to track the exact page users leave feedback for, giving us an even better understanding of issues, suggestions and engagement on different facets of the product.
4. Wireframe Reviews
In the earliest stages of product development, we showed wireframes -- the bare bones of the product UI -- to “trusted testers” using Protoshare and GoToMeeting. Our user experience designer actually gave control of his mouse and keyboard to the tester, giving them a task to accomplish within the application and closely watching how they went about accomplishing said task. Feedback from these initial reviews surfaced several early problems with the product layout, including a very unpopular “edit” icon.
Today, we continue to create wireframes and set up UX and creative reviews for every new feature we develop. Everything from colors, layout and copy are up for criticism.
No matter what your product is, if you're solving a real problem, there are people out there who want to see it solved too. Comb through user groups and forums to find your first trusted testers. These people should be experts on the area your product addresses and have real experience working with competitive products or their own self-made workarounds. Keep in mind that if you can’t find at least a handful of people willing to help with wireframe reviews, it may be time to take your idea back to the drawing board.
After you’ve released your product and have actual customers walking through wireframes, find a few unhappy customers who aren’t afraid to voice their concerns. Don’t take criticism personally -- it only helps to move your product further along.
5. Feature Contests
Feedback has been so abundant that we decided to launch a feature contest. During the month of the contest, 59 feature requests, 155 votes, 87 comments and over 2,500 views were counted. We incentivized our customers to participate by ensuring the winning feature would actually be built into our product before the end of the year.
Participation was so high that we decided to choose not one, but two winners and shared the results with our entire customer base via the company blog, social media outlets, an email newsletter and even through a Google Hangout On Air.
If you make an ongoing effort to gather customer feedback throughout the product development process, at the end of the day, you’re left with better ideas, a more robust product -- and a loyal customer base who knows you actually care about their opinions.
David Politis is the founder and CEO of BetterCloud, the maker of FlashPanel, the number one cloud management tool for Google Apps, and the Google Apps resource site, AsktheGooru.com. Follow him @DavePolitis.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.