If you’re a product manager, UX researcher, or startup founder, you know how valuable customer feedback can be. You’ve probably heard the current buzzword “continuous delivery” and recognise that learning about your users’ problems and experiences on an ongoing basis makes for better, more creative, and effective product decisions.
You no doubt have also discovered how time-consuming getting this feedback can be. Scheduling meeting and calls, rescheduling meetings and calls, being stood up for meetings and calls, spending time at meetings and on calls… These are all part of the territory if you talk with users.
Connecting to Customers
When I started working for the popular video communication app Marco Polo, I had an idea – I could dogfood the app by connecting with customers. Little did I know I’d be creating a goldmine that gives us access to customer feedback continuously and, along with automating other parts of the process, makes getting input so much easier.
Though Marco Polo is designed for people to connect with friends and family in a more meaningful way than texting, it turned out to be pretty useful for my research needs. Connecting with users no longer required scheduling, and we could see people doing things in their normal lives.
Not only do we get the benefit of our users’ feedback, we also build relationships with people who have a strong interest in making our app better. We’ve had the amazing experience of our users sharing their real lives with us and helping us see how important the app can be in meeting their need for connection with friends and family. Some of the stories we’ve heard from this program have been incredibly powerful in helping us truly understand how people use the app.
But even if you are building something completely different, I think giving users a tool to show you what they experience on their own time would be a game-changer in terms of obtaining actionable feedback.
How we set it up
The Marco Polo Helpful User Group (HUG) started with users invited through support. We created a link on our knowledge base that connects to a Typeform that asks users for information about their usage and who they are. Using Zapier to automate the workflow, we put the answers from the form into Airtable. That’s when the magic begins!
We contact each user who signs up via Marco Polo with a prerecorded video message, saved in a solo conversation on our account. Our first message tells a little bit about the expectations of the program and then asks the user for feedback on a question. A number of us have access to this account so that we can keep track of answers and be responsive.
When the user responds with a helpful answer, we change their status in Airtable to “Approved”. Another Zap triggers an email from Mailchimp to the user explaining how the program works, and yet another Zap goes to Printfection, which sends the user a link to pick out swag.
Each week, we send a question to the group through Marco Polo. I record one Polo and then forward them into each participant’s one-to-one conversation, so that users don’t cross-contaminate. Because Marco Polo lets you see people’s faces, hear the tone of their voice, and lets them show you things in their environment, it’s more effective than any survey or even, in some ways, a Zoom call. (We still use Zoom for in-depth conversations with users).
We use a self-made Airtable system that takes some inspiration from Polaris, WeWork’s user research system, but tailored for our needs. Each person’s weekly feedback is transcribed by our amazing research team member, Thyra, and added to an Airtable. Then we categorize the feedback. Each idea related to a problem or feature is entered separately and classified with topics, the name of the team working on that problem, and tags, to help us find useful information later. By using Zapier, when we assign the insight to a problem, it can go directly into the relevant team’s Slack channel, so the input is fresh and useful immediately.
The Benefits of Regular Customer Feedback
Over time, our HUG program has provided feedback on problem spaces we’re exploring, specific features we’re planning or have released, and sometimes even early warnings on bugs or problems. These users are amazing and generous, and the best part is that asking and answering questions works on their own time. And because of the relationships we’ve built, they are also often happy to jump into a usability test when we need synchronous feedback.
Whether you’re at a startup where you only have a few early users, or at an established company where information can get siloed, having an ongoing source of customer feedback and discovery can make a huge difference in making sure you’re building the right thing at the right time. Feel free to reach out if you want to try out this system and please share your tips for getting regular input from the people who you want to serve.