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Ten ways to get great product feedback from early customers

Illustration of a person holding a bunch of balloons.
15 April 2019

Working on a new product? I have one word of advice: talk to your users. Building a new product from scratch is hard (believe me!), but thankfully early adopters are often super willing to give you feedback. As a founder, you should aim to get their feedback as often as possible while you’re in the early stages of development.

Here are a few suggestions and lessons from how we do it at Dovetail.

1. Prominently show a feedback button in-product

Position your feedback button prominently in your application; not hidden inside a menu.
Position your feedback button prominently in your application; not hidden inside a menu.

Chuck a feedback button somewhere in your product and aim to strike the balance between in-your-face SEND FEEDBACK and completely hidden in a menu. Don’t just pop a feedback dialog randomly – most of your feedback will be “how do I get rid of this annoying feedback dialog?” We iterated on this a few times in Dovetail and ended up with a button in the bottom of our sidebar. It’s easy to find, it’s on every page, and isn’t intrusive.

In terms of how to implement the button – there are plenty of products around that can do this. NPS products like AskNicely will show surveys in-product where you can collect feedback, and of course, there are chat apps like Intercom. Even Jira has a (not very well known) feature called the issue collector which you can embed in a website.

At Dovetail, we set up our own form which posts to a Front form inbox. This means user feedback goes directly into our support system so we can respond if necessary. We then save all feedback in Dovetail for storage and analysis, via Zapier.

2. Configure automatic feedback prompts via email

We’ve had good success with automated emails that prompt users for feedback. One of them is sent to users who have performed a key action (in our case, adding a highlight) in the past 30 days, with the simple subject line Feedback? The other automated email is sent to people who didn’t convert after their free trial with the subject line Let us know why you didn’t upgrade. In both cases, the email will be sent at most once to ensure users don’t get continually bombarded with requests for feedback.

Products like Mixpanel and Vitally let you automatically send emails based on user behavior (or lack of). These emails can be triggered by specific actions, or manually sent to a customer / user segment.

At some point, we had plain text emails that pretended to be manually sent by me. I think most of our users see through these ‘pretend’ personal emails so we ended up just making them look like our regular ones. That didn’t change much – I think the copy is more important than the template or whether it looks automated or not. Here’s an example of what the email looked like:

An obviously automated email requesting feedback, with a small personal touch.
An obviously automated email requesting feedback, with a small personal touch.

3. Setup feedback-orientated social media pages

Social media isn’t so hot right now (sorry Zuck), but don’t be turned off by the idea of setting up a page or forums for user feedback in public places like Facebook Groups or Discourse. Also, get involved in discussions about your product on Twitter or LinkedIn. We don’t really maintain our Facebook page but we do try to chat with users on Twitter as often as possible.

Monitoring social media and forums is a great way to stay close to what people really think about your product. Also, public content, discussion, and testimonials about your product adds an additional layer of social proof for potential leads to discover. Win, win!

4. Create a Slack community and encourage users to join

A Slack community for your product is a great way to encourage people to post feedback.
A Slack community for your product is a great way to encourage people to post feedback.

We have a public Slack community and welcome all of our users to join via links in the welcome email, on our website, and in-product. This has been a fantastic way for us to engage with users, get to know them, and of course, get great feedback. But don’t just create a new Slack and start setting up channels without a plan.

Think about what sort of feedback you’re after, how customers interact with your product, and how having them signed in to your Slack workspace can facilitate that. Consider setting up automated bots to welcome people to the workspace and explain where to post what.

5. Create dedicated channels in your Slack

As mentioned above, using Slack can be a great way to get quality feedback. We set up dedicated #feature-requests and #support channels so that customers know where to go. If you don’t do something like that, we found that users will take things into their own hands and start choosing an array of channels to post their feedback or questions.

Slack has also enabled us to have live and personalized conversations with customers. This is really only possible for a while before it becomes unscalable, so make good use of it!

The complete list of public channels we have in our Slack:

  • #feature-requests – a place for users to post feature requests

  • #general – general discussion about Dovetail, maintenance notifications

  • #interesting-articles – a place to share blogs and articles

  • #introductions – a place to introduce yourself to the community

  • #support – ask questions and get help with Dovetail

6. Add an NPS tool like Delighted or AskNicely

Setting up a Net Promoter tool like DelightedAskNicely, or Vitally helps you track user satisfaction over time with a quantitative score called NPS. Make sure you find a timely moment to show the survey or email it to users. Otherwise, as I mentioned above, you’ll get feedback like “how do I get rid of this annoying feedback dialog?”

While the NPS score itself is interesting and great to track over time, the real data lies in the free-text, qualitative information you get from users answering the second, and most important question in an NPS survey: “What is the reason for this score?” Answers to that question will actually help you improve your NPS score, rather than just look at it.

7. Store and analyze user feedback with Dovetail

Collecting feedback is only half the battle. If you collect user feedback, but don’t read or analyze it, then you’re completely missing the picture. Feedback isn’t useful unless you read it, categorize it, and share it with other members of your team.

Quick plug – Dovetail helps you make sense of all of the qualitative user feedback data you’ve collected (like NPS survey responses) with easy-to-use features to help you and your team categorize the data, identify patterns, and quantify recurring themes. You could use spreadsheets or sticky notes, but that’s definitely doing it the hard way.

In Dovetail you can quickly highlight and tag user feedback:

A screenshot of Dovetail showing a piece of feedback with associated tags.
A screenshot of Dovetail showing a piece of feedback with associated tags.

And search across all of your feedback to easily find things later:

See all of your feedback on a specific topic, from multiple sources, in one place.
See all of your feedback on a specific topic, from multiple sources, in one place.

Dovetail is also cloud-based and collaborative which makes it super easy to share user feedback, customer research, and insights with the rest of your team or clients.

8. Prompt people to give feedback at the end of demos

If you’re in the early stages of developing a new product, then you’re probably giving customer demos. After a demo, your product is fresh in your prospective customer’s head and they’re aware of its features and its shortcomings. Have a plan for how you’re going to capture this feedback because sitting there and just listening isn’t as valuable as capturing the recording or at least a few notes to analyze and share with your team later.

If you are recording demos, ask for permission to record at the beginning. We recommend using Rev to transcribe audio / video recordings. If you’re not recording your demos, take lots of notes and document all feedback and feature requests. Dovetail’s great for that, too.

9. Share early designs or wireframes with users

During development, designers and developers can get too close to the product and may struggle to see the wood for the trees. The best way to combat this is to get everyone in front of users as early and as often as possible during the design / development phase.

At Dovetail, we’re extremely lucky. We have researchers, designers, and product managers as our core users. They tend to give great product feedback since they’re usually building products themselves!

We often have video calls with users on Google Hangouts Meet where we walk through early designs and prototypes in Sketch. Sometimes we even hold literal sketches up to the camera. We also do this in customer demos – we try to be transparent with upcoming features and want to get as much feedback as possible from everyone.

10. Call your most active customers

Last but not least, use the phone. Sometimes the best way to get feedback is to get on the phone and start dialing. I know, in the world of low-touch SaaS, phoning your customers is a scary option, but it’s often appreciated by customers.

Don’t put someone on the spot. Open up lightly with the intention to schedule the call at another time. Normally customers will give you five minutes there and then, so, as always, be prepared. Have a script and ask if would be okay to record the conversation or at least take notes.

To wrap up – nothing I’ve mentioned above is a particularly innovative idea to capture user feedback. Nor do you need to implement every single technique. Choose a few of the techniques that resonate with you the most, then do it. Talking to your customers and understanding their needs is the most effective way to build a great product. You might also make some friends along the way, like we have!

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