A core value in the lean startup world is feedback. Get feedback and iterate, rinse and repeat. Being able to think critically and provide feedback, and more importantly, to invite, process, and react to feedback (not always to agree/accept, but to make a deliberate decision either way), is a prerequisite for success. Feedback can come from many sources and we can learn from all of them.

Users

We are living (thankfully, finally) in the age of user-centered design (granted, not the be-all-end-all of good design thinking, but still super valuable and overdue). It is now a basic assumption that in addition to serving the business, we serve the users; that their satisfaction is necessary (if insufficient) for our success. Therefore, it follows, that we should get feedback from our users. We can do this in a few ways.

Usability testing: This is when we straight up ask the user what he or she thinks. This kind of qualitative research is especially valuable because of how open-ended it is. If you are careful not to ask leading questions, you can gain great insights, answering questions you didn’t even know to ask. When you give your users a chance to really let it out, while focusing them on the specific areas that you want to improve, you create a valuable opportunity to learn whether you’re achieving your goals and what new directions you can take that you might not have thought of yourself, to serve your users even better.

You can also find out not only whether you’re meeting your goals, but whether your goals are aligned with your users’ goals. It’s a fundamental understanding you’d hope you had a handle on long before you ever got to user testing, but a) you might not have; and b) goals (yours and theirs) are dynamic, and a periodic reality check is useful.

Social media: Listen to what users say to each other about you. Grab a drink before you start browsing user Facebook groups and similar forums because social media can be harsh. But loud angry people can be a gold mine. They are going to point you directly to competitors who are doing it better, in rants about leaving you for them. Users on social media also argue with each other, often proposing theoretical solutions to problems with your product, that if you listen to closely and dissect, you can implement.

Customer support: Listen to what users tell you by their own initiative. You’ll get some of the same angry customers here as you will on social media, but you’ll also get a lot of confused customers. This is a great place to find out how you are failing to grant users access to the wonderful thing you’ve built for them: they have a problem; you have a solution; but they’re calling Support because they’re stuck and can’t access your solution comfortably. Listen to them articulate the friction and iron it out for quick wins that don’t require as much strategizing as some of your user testing conclusions might.

Data

Sometimes users don’t know what they want, of they don’t know how to articulate it. For example, once upon a time there was a video messaging app that will remain unnamed, and users used it to send each other video messages. Ask any user and they’d say that they were using it like a walkie-talkie, or for text messaging-type communication with their faces, in line with the company’s messaging. However, when the team drilled down into the data, they found that overall, the video messages followed less of a text message pattern — short messages in long series of rapid back-and-forths — than anyone expected. The app branded itself as a communication tool, but users saw the biggest USP differently: users loved that their videos were stored on the app’s servers, not on their own devices, and were using it to store video for free. So people would send a message, not so that someone else would see it and respond, but just so that they’d have a copy in their outgoing messages that they weren’t paying to store (the app was free). Analyzing user behavior can answer all kinds of questions that users can’t.

Watch out for red herrings though. When using heat maps and other methods for collecting quantitative data, analyze results critically. It’s helpful not to use any of these tools in a vacuum, but rather, come at your research question from a few angles for a better chance of not making costly misinterpretations.

Colleagues

People within the same company know the brand inside and out. They know the business goals and the resource limitations and the users like you do. But they are also fresh eyes because they aren’t deep in your product/feature/whatever like you are. In my experience, colleagues tend to quickly come up with corner cases you might not have thought of and have ideas about how to save resources by recycling elements that have already been developed, whether they were ever launched or not. Colleagues who have been around longer than you will also have historical perspective on why similar initiatives failed in the past. Ask your colleagues for feedback because they are smart, critical people who want you to succeed and know sugar coating their feedback doesn’t serve anyone.

Feedback is not for the faint of heart but it is fundamental to creating anything that works. Seeking out honest feedback often and leveraging it to your product’s advantage always pays off.



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