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User feedback helps companies deliver the best products and services possible. Identifying needs, incorporating ideas and listening to customers questions are all ways to help solve problems and ensure development efforts remain focused on what really matters. By creating a conversational relationship, a company is able to better understand what it’s customers truly value.

A customer feedback loop can be one of the best resources for sourcing great new ideas. It’s an open line of communication between customers and businesses, which allows a business to gain valuable insight into its customer base, and customers to voice opinions. This continual give-and-take builds strong relationships and even stronger products. So why is it that once our product ships or our site goes live, we almost immediately forget about the customer feedback loop?

Too often, we pivot and focus all our efforts towards getting someone to buy. While our product may be groundbreaking at the time, the truth is that as soon as it hits the shelves, it’s already becoming outdated. That’s not to say that in order to stay competitive you need to continually change. In many cases, constant change is distracting. Change isn’t what brings about the “next big thing.” Instead, we need to improve. Improvements deliver value, and value drives business.

How do we best identify what our next improvements should be? Easy. Just ask your customers!

The Many Types Of User Feedback

There are many ways for us to receive and process user feedback. With the click of a button or the send of a tweet, we can reach and interact with our customers in ways we never could before. However, each kind of interaction with our customers is unique, and should be used for the right situation. Try to incorporate about two or three feedback methods to start, and then build out more afterwards. Remember: small recommendations that you follow through on are better than a mountain of recommendations you do nothing with.

General Feedback

Great for: Big data, fair and balanced experience, large companies, significant product changes

  • Surveys -- Get a pulse on the state of your customer base. Whether you poll your customer after a specific action (purchase, support call) or at a certain point in time (quarterly check up), surveys allow you to audit the current state of customer satisfaction. Pick out key themes and incorporate them into future improvements.
  • Forums and Communities -- Understand the topics that matter to your customers. Company forums/communities are a great way to empower your customers to speak their mind. Instead of being the one that poses the question, allow customers to craft the conversation themselves. Common questions will present themselves as opportunities to create (or continue to deliver) value.
  • A/B Testing -- Test how changes to your website affect aggregate user behavior. By running a variation to a webpage against the current one (A vs. B) to a segment of your total audience at the same time, you can measure the overall user impact of the change before implementation.

Individualized Feedback

Great for: Focused feedback, providing VIP/personal experience, smaller companies, proof of concepts

  • Private Beta Program -- Test your newest product/service with a closed group of private adopters. People who beta a product or service typically love giving feedback. They love to test, challenge, and report back on the changes that were made, allowing you to see whether the changes resulted in positive or negative feedback. It’s a great way to establish a relationship with a core group of evangelists.
  • Customer Advisory Boards -- Create a direct line with key clients and customers by building them into the improvement process. By inviting a select few of your top clients, they feel that their needs and opinions are valued. Your top customers know what they need from you, so what better way to understand where to improve next than to have them tell you?
  • Social Media -- Connect with users in a way that is most convenient for them. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook put us face to face with our individual customers, and allow us to react to input from anyone who choses to provide it. Social media poses a great opportunity to invite feedback in a public manner, but be open to the idea that it may invite criticism.

Incorporate, Or You Will Frustrate

Get creative with how you engage your current user base -- make it fun and rewarding for them to provide you with their opinions. If you’re able to establish this type of feedback relationship with your customers, you drastically increase your chances of delivering value.

Once this type of relationship is established, there is now a trust that needs to be tended to. Customers expect a return on their time and effort so if you create a user feedback loop to gather opinions, but don’t take action on the recommendations, there is no incentive for your customers to participate in the future. Always use this feedback to grow, to improve, and to humble yourselves.

Title image by Hash Milhan (Flickr) via a CC BY 2.0 license