John Turner is CEO and Founder of UsersThink, which provides user feedback on demand for landing pages. He’s passionate about usability, UX, feedback, helping people, dancing, and high fives. Check out his free email course on the 7 biggest landing page conversion killers (and how to fix ’em).

 

This is the second part of a three-part series on user feedback. Be sure to check out Part 1, “Why User Feedback Matters” if you haven’t already.

 

In the first post, I covered the importance of getting user feedback. In this post, I’ll cover the different ways you can find and collect feedback, before covering how to turn that feedback into action in the last post.

There are lots of different ways, approaches, and sources for feedback on your projects, and the best one for you will depend on a lot of different factors, all of which are unique to your circumstances. Here are some of the most common ways to go about getting feedback:

1. Existing users via email or an in-app option

This one assumes that you have existing users, which is kinda frustrating advice if you aren’t that far along with your project. BUT if you do have any users, even early beta users, this is a great place to start.

First, figure out a good point at which to ask for feedback. Don’t do it the first second they sign up or use your project, but also don’t ask them a million years after they last used it. This point in time will be unique to each project, so try to estimate a good starting point for this, and adjust as you get more feedback.

For UsersThink, I set up an email (it can be an in-app message prompt if you have a login) to send two weeks after a customer receives a feedback order from us, asking them how their order went. Here’s the real email I use:

Hey [FIRST NAME],

Just wanted to send you a quick note to see how you found the UsersThink feedback, if you have any questions or concerns, or if there’s anything I can do to help.

Thanks!

John

There are two key characteristics of this approach: keeping the message short, and keeping it open-ended. Oh, and to be clear: this isn’t some sort of trick. You have to actually want to know how their experience was. By keeping your original question open ended, you can start a discussion that will help you learn a ton about what works and what doesn’t. Just go off their lead and what they focus on, and do your best to help them tell you more, and do everything you can to help them if they have real concerns or issues.

2. Call or talk to your existing users

This is a slight tweak on the above approach, with a slightly different intent. Instead of asking them for feedback in your message, you’re asking if they are willing to talk to you. Try to not take too much of their time and focus again on what their experience is like using your project, not about you. You can use a scheduling tool like YouCanBook.Me to let them schedule a time, and then you can call/video chat with them via Skype or Google Hangouts.

This is a great way to dig into questions like why they started using your project, what they used before, and what their day-to-day is like. This will give you broader context and greatly inform what to change. The downside, unlike the previous option for feedback, is that you have to schedule the same time free as someone else to hear their thoughts.

3. Talk to people who you think would use your project

This can be a handy way to research who might use your project. But this isn’t the same as sales. You’re not trying to get them to buy right now (although that wouldn’t be bad if they wanted to), but just learn about what they’re looking for. This requires a bit of research and, at first, guessing, in terms of who would most likely benefit from what you’re building.

Figuring out these personas can be tricky at first, but again, go in knowing that you won’t know everything ahead of time, and adjust as you learn. Now, finding these types of folks can also be hard, but luckily the internet is a treasure trove of places and resources to help you.

For more business-oriented projects, LinkedIn can help you find the right folks. For other options, try sites like Reddit, Quora, or forums around the topic of your project. Then, send emails to these folks (if you can find their email address) or contact them directly on these platforms.

Be upfront, honest, and brief in your email, basically saying “Hey, I’m working on a new project, and you seem like someone who might benefit from it. Can I have a few minutes of your time to talk to you about how you work on this problem right now?” Not everyone will agree, but you’ll be surprised how many people are willing to help when you’re respectful of their time and upfront about what you’re looking to learn.

The scheduling process (and hassles) works the same as the previous approach, but when you talk to these folks, focus more around what their day is like, what all they do, the concerns and pain points they suffer through, and just get a sense of them.

This quickly moves into customer development, and for that, check out the blog of Steve Blank or The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development.

4. Talk to users of a similar project as yours (or even a competing project)

Again, you will follow the same steps as the last approach, but now the focus is on people who already use a project similar to yours, or even a competitor. This isn’t about trying to steal them away from another tool or project, it’s about understanding what they like, don’t like, what problems that project solves and what problems they still need to deal with. And in many ways, sourcing these folks is a lot easier. Look for on-website testimonials, or social proof, like people praising such a project on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or any other place where those users might talk openly.

For example, in the case of UsersThink, maybe that means talking to people that use other feedback services like mine, or some of the on-site tools I’m going to talk about later on, or even projects and tools that I could imagine my customers also having interest in, such as heatmap tracking and simulation tools, CRO services, A/B testing companies, or landing page creation tools.

Not only will it give you a better sense of what’s already being worked on and solved, but even things that are still a pain point, things you might be able to help them within your project.

NOTE: there’s a big tendency to find a project that already does roughly what you want to do, and then say “they have that covered, I would be a fool to do anything remotely like that!” That can be true, but not always. It would have been easy to say “no reason to make UsersThink, there are already a bunch of tools and services that cover that!” but I had a few realizations in terms of what wasn’t being covered that I thought would work, and UsersThink has developed into a project that solves the feedback pain point in a very different way.

5. On-page (or in-app) chat

This is a great approach if you already have a fair amount of traffic and/or users.

You know those little widgets on the side of a website? Basically one of those, a service like Olark, Tawk.to, or Zopim, which you can setup on your website for chatting live with users or website visitors. Normally their setup is pretty easy. Just add a line of code to each page of your site, and you’re good to go.

The best way to use these is to just have them on your site, and don’t set them to spring load open after a certain point in time. You’re better off letting people decide to use the chat options on their own, otherwise it has that “ugh, spam!” feel about it. You also have to be available to chat for this to work. This might be fine in certain circumstances, but in most you can’t be there to answer right away, making this a less ideal option.

Another concern with this approach is that at low traffic/usage levels, it’s probably won’t be that helpful to you. There isn’t much point to this if there aren’t many people checking out your project. But when it works, it can not only double as a great way to get feedback live but also work for customer service and troubleshooting on the fly. For someone on the fence about what you’ve built, that can go a long ways towards loyalty and becoming advocates for what you’re making.

6. On-page (or in-app) survey tools

Concerned about not being freely available for the chat widget, but think you have enough traffic to warrant feedback with that approach? This is where on-page survey tools, such as Qualaroo or Hotjar come in handy. Instead of needing to be free to respond to a user, these widgets (which are similar to install as the live chat options listed above) can sit on your site and work 24/7.

As opposed to the chat option above, which I recommended not having it open by default, you should set these survey tools to be triggered after a certain amount of time or pages navigated, but again, you don’t want to spring this on users right away, for fear of overwhelming them before they even know what your project is about. But much like the previous option, you might need significant traffic levels for this to give you feedback at a quick enough pace, so lower traffic sites and projects will not work as well with this approach.

7. Talk to people you know

In many ways, this will seem like the most direct way to recruit people for feedback. After all, what’s easier than asking friends, family and colleagues (coworkers, classmates, etc.) for their thoughts on what you’re building?

But this, along with the next few approaches, will require you to not only think through what to ask users about your project, but also require you to keep a straight face when they say both good and bad things (and the bad can feel quite bad).

Also, since these are people you know personally, they might not always give you the most honest feedback. They might be worried about hurting your feelings more than strangers (who don’t have a preexisting relationship with you), or think that saying only nice things will help you the most (it won’t), so this can be tricky.

Plus, they already know how hard you’ve been working on your project, and probably heard you talk about stuff you were planning to build, so their feedback might lean towards comments based around preconceived notions of what you were going to build, not what you actually built.

Objectivity is really important in feedback, so losing that in this approach can be an issue. That doesn’t mean don’t try this, but maybe take feedback gained with this method with a grain of salt.

8. Show your project to strangers (in-person)

This might be the most tried and true approach for feedback, and certainly one with a very long history. This used to have a much more stuffy lineage (think formal lab settings), but with wireless internet and laptops, it’s become much easier and cheaper to do in the wild.

You can use the tactic of approaching people in a coffee shop or mall food court, asking them if you can have a moment of their time in exchange for some sort of incentive (a coffee, free meal, gift card, etc.).

If you’re more shy, you can post an ad on Craigslist asking people to meet you in a public place for in-person feedback.

Despite how direct this is, it’s a pretty time consuming process. But you do gain a lot of insights from talking to people in person. It can also take a while to figure out what to ask someone, or how to keep your cool while you’re learning so much at once.

For more on this approach, I really recommend you check out Don’t Make Me Think and Rocket Surgery Made Easy, both by Steve Krug.

9. Use a service or remote tool (like UsersThink)

Obviously, I’m a little biased to recommend this approach 🙂

But I built UsersThink as a way to make it easier to get small amounts of focused feedback faster and without the hassles of other methods. The idea with UsersThink (and other services like it) is to handle all the user recruitment for you, so you don’t need to worry about manual outreach or traffic levels. As long as you have a publically available site, you can get feedback.

These services will often also take care of the format of questions asked, and organize the results, as well as vetting the people giving feedback to make sure they’re delivering useful feedback. Probably the biggest benefit is the time savings. You can basically set up a round of feedback in a few minutes, and you can do it at any time of the day, without having to worry about availability of others. The idea with services like UsersThink is to remove a lot of the hassle and complexity of the feedback process, which can be helpful if you’re short on time and patience.

10. Use a mix of the approaches above

The suggested options above are not all the same, and while there is overlap among a few approaches, I wouldn’t suggest that you use only one approach. Even in my case, after having built a feedback tool, I still reach out to existing customers via email. So don’t be afraid to try new things, experiment, and work to figure out what will work best for you in each stage of your project.

In the final post for this series, I’ll show you how you can take all this feedback and turn it into action.