Episode 119 | How to Solicit Feedback from Your Customers

Show Notes


[00:00] Rob: In today’s episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Mike and I are going to be talking about how to solicit feedback from your customers. This is Startups for the Rest of Us: Episode 119.

[00:09] Music

[00:18] Rob: Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.

[00:27] Mike: And I’m Mike.

[00:27] Rob: We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, Mike?

[00:32] Mike: So, last night I got Linux support working for AuditShark.

[00:35] Rob: Very nice. So, now you have a component that installs on Linux servers that – you can audit Linux boxes instead of just Windows servers?

[00:43] Mike: I can do Linux boxes but it has to be remote. So, I don’t have a native Linux agent yet. Down the road, I’ll be looking to see what I can do with Mono to take the agent that I have and be able to direct him —

[00:53] Rob: I see —

[00:54] Mike: …put it out on to those machines. But for the time being, this is kind of an intermediate stuff. You know, I expect that some people are going to look at it and say, “Well, no. I’m not really comfortable with that.”

[01:00] Rob: Now, is this something that was built by customer request?

[01:04] Mike: I look through the people who were…who would basically wanted to be in as part of the early access who I’d essentially ruled out because they’re specifically asking for Linux support and concentrated on just the people who are looking at Windows support and realized that there’s a fair number of them that want either Linux or Windows and Linux. So, I looked at it and just said, “Well, just based on the numbers alone…” and it wasn’t like I didn’t know that I needed to go in this direction eventually anyway but I kind of wanted to take a look to see how much effort it would take. And it really didn’t take very long to do. I had to refactor some code but it wasn’t too bad. So, I got some basic Linux support working. It works at the command line right now. I still have to make some of the hooks with the UI to make the rest of the work for the customers and it really wasn’t nearly the amount of effort that I thought it would be.

[01:48] Rob: Nice, yeah. If you have a good architecture, I guess that speaks to that, right, if it’s easy to add code or functionality to it.

[01:55] Mike: Yeah, I mean I planned on doing it eventually anyway. So, there were a lot of places where I just kind of let hooks in and said, “Oh, well, if it’s a Linux machine do this. If it’s Windows machine, do that.” And all the stuff for the Linux machines, we’re just kind of commented out or it didn’t do anything. So, all the hooks were there. There were just wasn’t the actual mechanism to connect in into a machine through SSH.

[02:13] Rob: So, you now have support Windows and Linux and you have essentially an e-mail list of people who need your product, need AuditShark for either Windows or Linux. But what are you looking at in the next couple of weeks in terms of wrapping up your early access and everything is public and you’re officially launched and marketing, so what is that look like?

[02:31] Mike: So, there’s one hang up right now and that’s the installer for the Policy Builder and it’s basically to auto-update it right now because everytime I spin a new build, you have to update that locally which is a royal kind of a nightmare because you have uninstall it and then you have to download the new version and reinstall it. The developer I have working on it has been running in to a lot of problems because he’s using the WiX code base from CodePlex which is an open source package but unfortunately, there’s no documentation for it. So, in order to figure out how its work, he’s had to go in and actually read the source code for it which is apparently just a nightmare.

[03:03] So, that’s been an ongoing struggle for the past couple of weeks. I would hope that he’ll be done in the next couple of days but I can’t say for sure that that’s going to happen. So, it’s kind of wait and see how that turns out. But if that turns out well, then the rest of the stuff should fall in this place pretty quickly. You know, I should be able to hand it out to people who are running either Windows or a Linux over the next couple of weeks.

[03:22] Rob: What have you learn from the early access? I think you’re about a month in. Have you received a lot of feature requests or UI improvements or things that you’ve now wrapped in to the product to make it so that it’s better than it was a month ago?

[03:34] Mike: I’ve got a list of things that I’m looking at making changes too and most of it is around, I’ll say user experience because people looked at it and they said, “Oh. Well, I don’t understand this,” or “What you’ve done here implies X or Y and I don’t quite understand it.” So, I really just need to rework some of that in the UI but otherwise, product functionality is there. It’s just how it’s presented is a little bit off, it’s a little bit misleading in some cases. And obviously because I don’t have as much documentation as I need that makes it a little bit more complicated because people have to look at it. They draw their own conclusions or interpretations about what something means or they look at and they have absolutely no idea what a particular term means and have to guess. I have to either reel them back in through e-mails or you know, talking to them on the phone and saying, “No, that’s not what I mean. It means this other thing over here.”

[04:21] Rob: Very good. Well, I started something I’m excited about. I have a new split test going on at the homepage for Drip, so at GetDrip.com. What I’ve done for the past couple of months is I’ve had a single design of a landing page and then I’ve had three different versions of it with different text, different headlines. Just testing up the value proposition to see which one resonates the most. And right away, one of those just failed miserably which is great because it shows me that I shouldn’t use that particular verbiage to describe Drip and the other two have  been battling back and forth. There was a longer form one and a short form one. They’ve been battling back and forth and they’re actually very, very close in performance. Well, it’s a bit of a bummer I guess [Laughter]. We’d prefer that…that one of them be a clear winner.

[05:01] But what I did today is I actually rolled the ultimate design for the marketing site is all done in slice and we converted the homepage of that marketing site into the landing page. So now, I’m testing two completely different designs against one another. It’s the original landing page that Derek did, he’s the product manager for HitTail and he’s working on Drip as well. And he threw it, you know, that one together in a day and then the marketing site that had a designer design is a much more in-depth, you know, exhaustive kind of marketing design. So, it has a lot more design elements to it and I’m really curious.

[05:36] This is kind of a – it’s maybe a David versus Goliath thing, right, where it’s a nice minimalist landing page versus a heavily designed, heavy drop shadow, lots of textures in the landing page and so, I’m curious. I know which one I like visually but I’m curious to see which one converts because they have in general, they have the same content. It’s all just a visual change and are both just asking for an e-mail address.

[06:00] Mike: Interesting. Do you have any inclination about which one is going to do better at this point or no?

[06:04] Rob: It’s really – this is one of those that’s really hard to say because it’s like I know that the professionally designed marketing app looks more professional. We just spent more time. We spent more money because we know we’re going to have this site for a few years, right? But at the same time, it’s often the simple minimalist designs that do better because they get out of the way of your copy and of your message. And so, I’m actually I really am curious to see which one I don’t really have a leaning at this point. It’ll definitely take a few weeks to figure that out because the site doesn’t get a ton of traffic. I haven’t really started much marketing to it. I think I will resume some paid acquisition sending some traffic there so that can maybe help with the split testing as well.

[06:43] Mike: Very cool. So, the other thing that I’ve been working on is a new Twitter strategy for AuditShark and basically outsourced the actual implementation of it but I kind of wrote down exactly what I wanted to be done and when I wanted it to be done. And so, I’ll be measuring the progress of that over the next two months or so and the basic ideas to follow a bunch of people who seem relevant in the security space and then go out and continuously find links that are relevant to the security world about what machines are being hacked and why they’re being hacked and going in to different communities like, for example, the Rails community and finding information that’s relevant to the security in the Rails community and then tweeting that out. And following people who are members of the Rails community and just kind of identifying different clicks of people who would be interested in that type of information.

[07:32] Going back and looking through at the number of people who follow the AuditShark account back and see who’s actually kind of interested in it because obviously, it’s just following somebody else is going to get them to kind of know about that particular account. And if they follow AuditShark back, then it shows that they’re interested in that kind of information. I’ll be measuring the progress of how many followers the account gains over the next probably six to eight weeks.

[07:55] Rob: I see. And are you doing that to see which niches this resonates with? Or are you actually looking at this as a lead gen, as a way to get clicks back to your website?

[08:04] Mike: I haven’t followed that thought – pattern through yet. So, I’m still kind of working out in my head exactly what the end goals of it are. The reality is it didn’t take me a lot of time to put together that marketing strategy itself but mostly it’s around providing awareness that the product is out there and then giving it kind of a social presence in Google and Bing and whatever other search engines that are out there that are spidering through Twitter’s content. And assuming that there articles that the AuditShark accounting is retweeting or tweeting out there that people are then retweeting, then that should hopefully lead to some people finding out about AuditShark who would not have found out about it otherwise.

[08:42] Rob: Got it. So, I have two thoughts on it. One thing is if you could potentially put your picture instead of your logo on it, it makes people more open to following you. I don’t tend to follow most company accounts that have logos as the picture because it’s just as not as personal. I think you’ll probably get less interest just because it feels more like a corporate thing rather than, you know, they’re following AuditShark versus Mike Taber. It’s just less appealing.

[09:05] The other thing I would think about is to put a short timeframe on this experiment. Obviously, we’re all for experiments but in the experience of marketing HitTail as well as my other apps, Twitter has really not been that helpful. The only time it’s helpful is it’s really helpful for personal brands stuff and like with the Academy and MicroConf and the podcast. I mean all that it makes sense because it’s all are conversation but just marketing B2B apps has been less successful. If you’re actually doing content marketing like KISSmetrics and Buffer app and Bidsketch and that kind of stuff, then that’s…that’s really when Twitter comes in to play because you get followers and then they actually click through to your website and then you either get an e-mail to follow up with or they just become fans and subscribers of your website.

[09:47] So, but just doing Twitter as a strategy and just to aggregating content, I don’t know if I  have seen anyone do that successfully in the beat of the space without having enough really in-depth content marketing also going on.

[09:59] Mike: Right, yeah. I mean content marketing is something that I’m going to be looking at down the road a little bit. It’s just that it’s not this week. It’ll be probably, you know, two or three weeks out. I’ve been trying to evaluate what my content marketing strategy is going to be and I’m still trying to figure that out. Part of it is try to find out which of these, you know, niches are responsive to the things that the AuditShark account is tweeting out. The other thing is in terms of following people, there’s kind of I’m putting essentially an artificial cap on the number of people that is going to be following on a weekly basis. So, it’s not like it’s going to go out and follow like 30,000 people and then wait to see who follows it back. That’s not really what the intent of it is. The intent is really kind of established that two-way communication between people and find people who are interested in the product and the type of problem that it solves.

[10:46] So, part of it is doing that and then the other part of it is as you kind of diluted to was going after kind of a content marketing strategy. I’ve put a timeframe of 6 to 8 weeks to say okay, let’s re-evaluate this to see where this is at after that 6 to 8 weeks and then take a look at it then and say, “Is this something that’s going to continue or is it something that should just kind of fall off to face of the earth?”

[11:08] Rob: So, long-time friend of the show Michael Frankland, he launched a theme site for RapidWeaver mac web design software and he actually dropped me a line and said that he was basically kind of the way we preached about finding a tight niche and going after it. And so that’s, you know, RapidWeaver mac web design software is pretty small and so far, you know, it’s going pretty well for him. So, I’d just want to give him a shout out and his URL is yuzoolthemes.com, yuzoolthemes.com if, you know, RapidWeaver space probably worth taking a look. Last update for me is, remember the t-shirt that WWRWD that we talked about a few weeks ago?

[11:44] Mike: Yeah.

[11:45] Rob: That was not printed. It did not meet its goal.

[11:47] Mike: Oh.

[11:48] Music

[11:51] Rob: So, today we’re going to be talking about how to solicit feedback from your customers. Now, we had answered a question from a listener a few episodes ago on this topic and he had specifically asked on the HitTail website why I didn’t have some type of form or something prompting people to send feedback in and to ask for a new feature and such. And we talked briefly about the best ways to solicit feedback but I felt like there’s more to it than we are able to get in to in that Q&A episode. I’d just wanted to go in to a little more and you know, talk about some of the options and some of the things to weigh when you’re looking at soliciting feedback.

[12:25] The outline today looks like we’re going to talk about when you should solicit feedback, when you shouldn’t solicit feedback, some different services and approaches for doing that and then the options for actually distributing the forms or the surveys or whatever to your customers in a way that gets them to actually fill them out.

[12:41] So, to kick us off, we’re going to be talking about when you should solicit feedback from your customers. And I have two points in the outline. The first one is when you’re in your early days of your product, when people are still canceling and drove because you don’t have enough features, you should absolutely be soliciting feedback from everyone who cancels even if that means sending a personal e-mail and or getting on Skype or over the phone with them. This is the time where you need to iterate very quickly and start figuring out why people are canceling because at this point, you are just plugging a hole in your funnel essentially. You’re plugging a whole in your churn rate and you’re trying to get to the point where you have a stable enough customer base that you can actually start growing your customer base and growing your revenue.

[13:26] Mike: I think the important piece of that that you just said is that it is about plugging the holes in your funnel and the really important piece of how you want to plug those holes is that if you are able to prevent 15 or 20% of the people who come in to your application from leaving through that, that’s 15 or 20% who were going to stick around and contribute more to the bottom line of your product which means that your lifetime value for those people is going to go up rather that down.

[13:51] Rob: Right and even beyond thinking about it in terms of numbers and churn and lifetime value, you want happy customers, right because happy customers stick with you and happy customers talk to other people about your product. They spread the word. And so, I find it that that there’s this race to just build features. I guess as developers we always want to rely on just building more and more and that is almost never the right solution. If your product isn’t catching the attention of customers, it’s typically more of a marketing issue. But if you have customers using it and they are canceling, that typically is a lack of features.

[14:27] So, there’s a big difference between those two things and that’s why when people say, “You know, I have a SaaS app and it’s not doing well,” that’s not enough information to know how you should troubleshoot this and the next question I always have is, “How many customers have come through and actually either sign up for a trial or paid you some money and then not continued with it?” Because if the answer is five, then the response is you need to…you need to get more people using it, right? And once you get those people using it as they cancel, then you should follow the directions in this podcast to solicit feedback from them as they do.

[14:57] Mike: Well, I think the important piece to keep in mind there is that is exactly what you just said is for your SaaS app and I think the things are significantly different when you have a downloadable app that people have paid for because they paid for it once and then maybe they talk to your support team, maybe they don’t but you have a lot less data to work from if it’s not a SaaS app.

[15:18] Rob: That’s true and the interesting thing with one-time product downloads is you basically have two groups of people, you have customers and you have prospects. And often the customers who have paid you with that one-time fee want different things that your new prospects do and that’s always a push and pull as well. And so when you solicit feedback from customers, if you have one-time downloadable software, you also want to solicit feedback from prospects and you should have a prospect list like an e-mail list, hopefully, been gathering e-mails from people who come to your site. If you’re not, then you should go to GetDrip.com right now and sign up to be notified because that is absolutely a way to not only figure out from your customers what you can do to get them to continue upgrading, but it’s a way to talk to the prospects and figure a way to get more of them to buy.

[16:07] But there’s a big difference between prospects and customers when it comes to downloadable software with SaaS apps, the difference is not so big because if you have a customer and they can cancel anytime and stop paying you, then realistically, they’re – about as valuable to you as a new prospect, right? There’s more of an equitable relationship there where customers and prospects are almost the same because either one if they paid you next month, they’re going to pay you the same amount of money. While I do still think you should differentiate between them. I don’t think there’s as much – it’s not as critical to talk to prospects when you have a SaaS app and you already have people paying you.

[16:38] Mike: Yeah, I think that’s one of the downside in the enterprise software space is that they can leverage their marketing and product managers to tell you which you want to hear in order to get you to buy it. And then once you’ve bought it, they don’t care. [Laughter]

[16:50] Rob: Exactly because they’ve already delivered it and they’ve already made their money. That’s actually advantage for customers of why SaaS and an ongoing subscription model can be better.

[16:57] Music

[17:00] Rob: The second point in time when you should solicit feedback from your customers is when you’re essentially moving in to a new market. So, if you already have a successful app and selling well to a certain group of people and you’re basically moving your way in to a new niche or perhaps you’ve even going horizontal and you’re backing out of a niche and trying to takeover an entire horizontal market, that’s when you need to re-solicit prospects and customers. It’s a big unknown, right? If you have a known product but you don’t know the little tweaks that you’re going to need to make in order to satisfy that new group of people and what you will notice if you have a recurring billing app is as soon as you start moving it to new markets, you’ll notice your churn will go app and typically your conversion rate will go down a little bit because it’s just your marketing to this unknown factor and you don’t have all your pieces optimized yet.

[17:48] And so, that’s a really good time to go and solicit feedback from those people in your trial sequence who you know are from this…this brand new market and trying to figure out how do they refer to your product, how do they talk about the benefits because often they will actually phrase things differently. It’s the same benefit that your existing customers get but they’ll use different words for it or they want to communicate it in a different way. And so, that’s why you don’t actually going out and soliciting this feedback can be helpful.

[18:13] Mike: And that’s very helpful for segmenting your market and in terms of your marketing strategy because you’re going to want to build a different landing pages that are designed for different keywords that either you do paid advertisements or tweets or you know, very short bits of information out there where they drive people back to your landing pages and those specific features you’re going to want to call out and different marketing collateral. And based on that that you called out, you’re going to want them to drive them to one landing page or another based on which of those segments that you’re trying to market to.

[18:44] Rob: So, now we have a couple of points in time when you shouldn’t solicit feedback from your customers.

[18:49] Mike: So, the first time that you should not be soliciting information from users is when you’ve stopped learning anything new. And if you gone out there, you’ve asked a bunch of questions from people, you’ve learned a lot of information and then you start hearing the same things over and over again, it’s about that point that you should stop trying to do that yourself. I mean it’s not to say like if somebody cancels, you should never ask them, “Hey, why is it that you canceled?” But at the same time you might want to back off from doing it yourself at that point because you’re the one who’s going to make the judgment call as to whether or not you learn anything new. And if you stop learning new things, that’s the time to pull the plug on it and that’s the time that you outsource it, that’s fine but you shouldn’t be going back to those people and continually asking them when you already know what the answers are probably going to be.

[19:33] Rob: Yeah, I’m a believer in short burst of soliciting customer feedback. Compiling all that feedback, making a roadmap, putting a feature list together, prioritizing everything and then attacking it and iterating on your product, adding features to it. I am much less of a fan of having this ongoing feature requests coming in via e-mail and just constantly having to deal with them, reprioritizing things. There’s a certain amount of agility that has to be there and especially on a very early days, you’re just going like crazy and you are reprioritizing. But once you get at least a little bit stable and you have that customer-based, kind of running around and just constantly having new feature request and all that stuff coming through, it actually scatters you.

[20:15] I feel like it’s counter productive. And so the approach that I recommend is if every maybe four months or six months, put it on your calendar and you do an outreach to solicit this feedback using them as we’re going to talk about rather than having this ongoing, “Hey, I want to request a new feature type of thing.”

[20:31] Mike: And which you just said kind leads in to the second time when you shouldn’t be soliciting feedback is if you’re already converting visitors to customers and they’re sticking around. So, if you’ve gone through that process of soliciting the feedback, you execute that roadmap and then you start seeing your churn rate go down, then those people who are visitors are converting in to customers. They’re sticking around. They’re contributing to your lifetime value and at that point, it’s probably not worth going back and saying, “Okay. Well, you know, how much further do I want to optimize this?” Because there’s a sealing on any of these optimizations that you can do, so there’s always going to be low-hanging fruit elsewhere.

[21:05] So, you can squeeze as much as you want out of, you know, trying to plug the funnel but at some point, there’s going to be such an insignificant return on the amount of time that you’re putting in to it that you’re much better off going to look at other parts of your product, just trying to figure out where those things can be improve, where other marketing efforts can be improved so that you’re not wasting your time spinning your wheels for like a tenth of a percent gain when you could just spend 20 minutes or 30 minutes some place else and get like 1% or 2% gains.

[21:32] Rob: Yeah, that’s what I was trying to say. You know, I’m not trying to imply that I’m a fan of like every six months and get this big feature list and then just build it and not listen to your customers.

[21:40] Mike: It’s almost like space invaders where you got the guys that are coming down and they’re really low at the ground and those were the low-hanging fruit. You want to kill those guys first because the guys are up at the top, they don’t matter so much.

[21:51] Rob: Exactly. I do think that developers and founders and people who are building their apps, they overcompensate. They tend to lean too heavily towards the “I need another feature” that if my app is not selling, if my app isn’t where it needs to be, if I don’t have the revenue I want, then I’m lacking features. And most of the time, that’s an excuse, that’s the resistance talking because you want to go back in to your basement and build more features rather than get out there and figure out what is really going on with your positioning, your marketing, the way you’re selling it, your niche, your channels. There’s all these other things that people I think in general avoid and you can – getting this constant feedback, you’re constantly going to be getting new feature request but going in to…in to your tunnel and sitting down and building them is counter productive. So, I think you should lean way from that, not to say you should never do it but I think by nature, we lean towards it too heavily and so, I think you should lean away from that and lean in to doing more marketing.

[22:50] Okay, so we covered when you should do it, when you shouldn’t. Let’s talk a little bit about options for distributing, essentially distributing the surveys and distributing the feedback solicitation mechanism, right, a form of some kind. Now, the two options that I’ve used that have worked the best are e-mail and a splash page, when someone logs in to your app. This assumes that you’re targeting people either prospects or customers, you know, who you’re having some contact info for. Now, far and away, a well-drafted e-mail typically coming straight from the CEO as plain text, not using the fancy template that you might have paid the designer a bunch of money to design but just a plain text e-mail asking sincerely for feedback but not just that saying, “How would you like to improve the app? How would you like to improve your user work experience?” And actually putting it on not on the customer but making them realize that they are going to be improving it for themselves, that has always converted extremely well for me. And if you have a nice list, a 4-figure list, you’re going to get way more feature requests and you can handle just by doing that.

[23:54] And then the second option I mentioned is to have like a splash screen when someone logs in to your app and you can use a tool like intercom.io. They’re pre-built SaaS app to allow you to message your customers. At HitTail, we just have like an if statement when someone logs in and we do a little mod, mod 2, mod 3 and you know, if there’s a remainder of one for all you programmers out there, then we display a certain welcome screen or splash screen or whatever and I can just set that up pretty easily. It does require modifying some code though. So, if you’re a non-developer an intercom.io might be a better option for you. Both of those work. Now, the issue with the log in is it takes a long time. Unless someone is logging in to your app everyday, it could take you weeks to get enough feature requests. That by definition, you’re going go get your most active user first responding to that rather than everyone who’s on your e-mail list.

[24:42] Mike: Yeah, I was going to point out that the downside of that is that the active users, you’re going to hit them multiple times and that is as a user, that’s incredibly frustrating to get bombarded with the splash screen every single time you log in. And —

[24:56] Rob: So, just for a note, we don’t — either cookie someone or since they are logged in, you know who you are —

[25:01] Mike: Oh, I know —

[25:02] Rob: And —

[25:02] Mike: But I’ve seen the ones where you log in and every single time, it’s – I’m just – it’s just a warning to people who are going to implement these themselves to make sure that you don’t bombarded people every single time they log in.

[25:13] Rob: So, those were the two options, to e-mail your list or put a splash screen on log in.

[25:18] Mike: One more option is to directly reach out to people based on some criteria that you put together. So, if you’re going to say, “Okay. Well, these people who have not logged in for more than a week or two weeks, I’m going to reach out to them and I’m going to start asking them some questions to try and figure out why they’re not logging in and learn what it is that’s preventing them or causing them to not log in.” And that’s helpful for you to determine what level of engagement is typical for your users. But in addition, you can find out if there are ways to help bring them back in to use your software more often, to make them more dependent upon so that they will use it more often, so that they don’t cancel down the road because a lot of times there are ways to predict who is going to cancel and who isn’t based on the usage of your software. And that may very well be that if somebody hasn’t logged in for 7 days or 14 days, that could be an indicator that they’re going to cancel soon.

[26:10] On the other hand, it may not. They may only need to log in once a month or twice a month or something like that. It really depends on what your application is but those are the types of things that you’re going to want to be able to find out from these people and calling them and talking to them directly to the phone versus through e-mail or through having them send you a feedback through a splash page. There’s almost no substitute for talking to somebody on the phone and asking those questions directly.

[26:34] Rob: Absolutely. Now, in many of my apps, we don’t even ask for phone number when people register so we don’t have them. But I think that long term, if you have customers who do stick around, collecting their phone number over the course of your relationship with them will help with a lot of things. It’ll if they have billing issues, it’ll help if you want feedback from them.

[26:53] Now, let’s take a look at four different options kind of services that you can use for collecting the feedback in an intelligent way because the wrong way to do this is to set – tell someone to, “Reply to this e-mail with your feedback,” or “Just send us a e-mail at feedback@ your domain name .com,” because what you get is this big mass of e-mails if someone then has to go through and try to pars out what people are saying.

[27:18] A better approach is to have some kind of lose – at least loosely formatted form that feeds in to some type of spread sheet or database or an app or something. And so that’s what we’re going to look at now are four different approaches to doing that. The first one and it’s probably the one that I use most often because it so amazingly simple to set up. It’s fast. It’s free. It’s pretty cool. You go in to Google docs. You create a new spreadsheet and then in the menu, you can just create a new form from that spreadsheet. And so, you create several columns in the spreadsheet and when you create the form, you can just put a text box and say anything someone types in to that, put in to that column of the spreadsheet. And literally like 5 minutes, you can get a reasonable looking Google spreadsheet form up on the web, on the public web. You just share it everybody and then, you know, has long URL and you just include that URL right in your e-mail or in you splash screen, you know, ask people to go and check it out and give you some feedback.

[28:14] Now, you have to be careful here. You don’t want to constrain the feedback too much. If you have specific feature options that you’re thinking about and you want people to rank them or you want people to select one of the five or something like that, then you can definitely ask them some strongly type of questions but I also encourage you to have a text box or a text area where people can do an open ended feedback and open ended suggestions because that’s only going to provide kind of new ideas that might this person creativity. It’s more of a brainstorming session.

[28:40] Mike: So, one that I’ve used before is Wufoo and I really like Wufoo for putting together the surveys because you can tightly define what it is that you’re asking the users and then on the output side, you can export those spreadsheets. You can then take those spreadsheets. You can load them in to the Google spreadsheets or you can just take a look at them and you can use them inside Excel and you can filter them in any way that you want. Wufoo is actually what I use to solicit a bunch of people initially as my early access users for AuditShark. So, I took all those people and you know, had them fill out Wufoo surveys. I posted a link on my blog and just have people fill it out. It’s very quick, very easy to do. The surveys themselves are pretty easy to format. Obviously, Wufoo is a paid piece of software as opposed to Google spreadsheets.

[29:22] Rob: Right but Wufoo allows you so much more flexibility and you know, it is free up to looks like three forms and a hundred responses per month.

[29:30] Mike: Right.

[29:31] Rob: So, give a fairly – user base that could use, you know, you could use it for but it’s also 15 bucks a month if you want to go beyond.

[29:36] Mike: Yeah, it’s not that expensive.

[29:38] Rob: Yeah and did you know what Wufoo is named at? So, it’s a combination of Wu-Tang clan and the Foo Fighters.

[29:44] Mike: [Laughter]

[29:45] Rob: This next one is a service called Qualaroo and it used to be called the KISSinsights. And you know KISSmetrics, right? They also own the KISSinsights. They sold it to Sean Ellis.

[29:55] Mike: Oh, really?

[29:56] Rob: And Sean has since – he already had an app going that was dealing with like rating of free apps. It was called CatchFree.com or something. He was doing customer development. He learned about what these apps actually wanted and so, he went and acquired KISSinsights and renamed it to Qualaroo. And what it does it essentially allows you to put a really simple pop up survey. You can put it on the public website. You can put it inside your app but it’ll just sit there with a little plus thing and it’ll bounce up after a certain amount of time and you can ask really simple questions.

[30:26] The nice part about this, how it goes beyond what like Google spreadsheet or Wufoo does is you can put a different survey on each page and you can give all different types of configuration variables, right? So, you can make it pop up only once per customer, once per customer per week or whatever and you can get specific feedback about that page, how they’re using it, what they’d like to see improve, any feature request, that kind of stuff. So, this might actually be something that you could do more of an ongoing basis. I think you might get too much feedback if you do that like more feedback than you can use. It’s something to think about using. It’s definitely not cheap. It used to be free and I think it’s like 80 bucks a month now. So, it’s a non-trivial amount of money for this kind of thing but if you’re looking for surveys where you can ask specific questions about specific pages, I do…I do think it’s a good service.

[31:10] Mike: I’ve definitely seen this particular type of form before. So, it looks very familiar and I can definitely see signing up for this for like a month or two months just to get the data that you need and then cancel the service because you’ve already got that information. I mean I think you’re right. I think going and taking this to an extreme is just not going to help you very much. But once you’ve got that information that you need in order to improve your product or improve your website, then the software has served its purpose.

[31:35] Rob: And rounding this out, the last couple of services I want to talk about are UserVoice and Get Satisfaction. There wouldn’t be a podcast episode about soliciting feedback if we’re not going to include these. So, I’m not a huge fan of UserVoice and Get Satisfaction. I think they do a very good job of getting feedback and if you have a massive user-based. I mean 10,000 customers/users or more who are going to give you feedback, it is – these are both good options for you because they allow up voting and I think down voting. There’s a lot of options for it. It’s for amassing a lot of data in to a useable format.

[32:09] However, unless you have that large audience, it can seem like a ghost town like if you get your UserVoice thing up and you put a little tab on left side of your website whichever one was doing a few years ago, if you only have a few hundred or even in the low thousands of users, a lot of them are going to participate and you’re going to have some feature requests that are on there but not a lot of votes. I really question the value of something like this trying to have it up there as an ongoing thing because as we said earlier, when you stop learning anything new, you should stop asking for feedback. And pretty quickly, you’re going to watch the features move to the top that you should implement and you’re going to watch the other one just kind of flail. And once you have that information, in my opinion, the UI distraction, the noise of having that that little tab on the left-hand side goes away as well as people who log in to your site a lot of times are going to start tuning that out visually.

[32:56] And so, these aren’t necessarily something I recommend. They have been popped for options for a long time. Actually, if you’re listening to this and you have use this ongoing and you just love UserVoice or Get Satisfaction, I’d be interested to hear your take on it because at this point, I have great success with, you know, e-mails and splash screens and the other options we’ve talked about.

[33:14] Mike: Yeah, I totally agree with – basically you want to have this critical mass of people who are actually using those services because if they’re not, it does look like a ghost town. If they don’t see anything like this, they’re going to assume that lots of other people use it. But if they see that you’ve put up UserVoice and you’ve only got, I don’t know, 10 or 12 different comments on there, they’re going to rightfully assume that, “Oh, well, maybe he’s only got 20 or 25 users. What are other people using instead of this particular product?” And then at that point, you could have this mass exodus. I’m not saying that, you know, using UserVoice is going to cause that but you have to be careful about what the perception is of the users who are using your product and the information that are going to glean from these types of services.

[33:58] Music

[34:01] Rob: Now, we’re going to look at one listener question and this one is about going moving from contracting to consulting products. It’s from Vlad and he says, “Hello. Thank you for all the experience you guys share. It makes me really evaluate what I do for a living. I have a strategic question and I’m hoping you can help me find the answer.” Basically, Vlad is working as a contractor and he works through recruiting agencies and ultimately, he wants to get to selling products. The issues he says that he works a lot of overtime. For instance, this month, he booked 201 hours.

[34:34] So, that means moonlighting becomes really problematic. He can’t build a product because he can’t allocate enough time to it. He says taking time off is not really a possibility as the client’s attitude is usually that everyone should work as much as they possibly can. So, he’s considering moving to consulting. He hasn’t done it yet but he says he’s looking at finding his own consulting clients, charging a weekly rate that’s roughly two times over his current rate is and during an inevitable gaps, he would have enough money that, you know, would cover that and he would work on the product.

[35:02] But he says, “What I don’t know is if this is actually better than contracting. The idea sounds good on paper but I’m curious is I’m not accounting for some things that will not allow me to allocate enough time for my product. Finding client is an obvious unknown for me. Presently recruiting agencies do all the footwork and I just have to give them a cut. So, my question is would finding and closing the deals actually take so much time and effort that building a product would become impossible?” So, there are few other questions after this but why don’t we tackle that one first.

[35:32] Mike: My view of this kind of thing is that finding new customers can be extremely time consuming and if you find one customer who ends up being an extremely long-term customer, then you’ve got it made. I mean that’s a golden opportunity at that point but you know, if you start finding because of your rate, you end up finding all of these much shorter term contracts that don’t last nearly as long partly because your rate is so high, then you’re going to run to this issue where you’re going to have a lot of down time. And during that downtime, your primary focus is not going to be working on your product, it’s actually going to be finding your next contracts because you don’t know how long that’s going to take and that’s one of those problems that is never going to go away. It cannot be solved by spending a little bit of time on it. It’s an all consuming effort to try and find those new customers because you don’t know when it’s going to be. It could be one month, it could be a week, it could be a day, it could be six months. You have no idea and because of that uncertainty, you’re going to have to sit there and you’re going to have to devote the time to finding those new customers rather than spending that downtime working on your products.

[36:39] So, my advice would probably be to stick with the people who are feeding you that work and kind of go by the rules that we’ve kind of talked about in the past episodes of this podcast where you basically have to have it at least a couple of things you either have time, money or expertise. And obviously, you have the expertise. You don’t have the time but you probably have the money. So, you could probably outsource the development of other product as long as you know what that product is going to be and that way, somebody else is building it for you versus you spending your time doing it. And then you can do code reviews in your spare time which admittedly is probably not a lot of time but it really doesn’t take a lot of time to do a code review of somebody’s code on a daily basis as long as you stay on top of it. If you wait a week or two weeks or three weeks to do code reviews, it’s going to be a lot of time and effort to do it. But as long as you allocated a little bit of time each day or each week to go ahead and do those code reviews, you should be fine.

[37:30] Rob: Yeah, one thing I left out – Vlad’s e-mail is pretty long so I summarized it but one piece that he mentioned is that most of his contracts are six months to two years long and so that’s why he’s looking at moving in to what he’s calling consulting which is the shorter geeks. I was in quite a similar situation maybe 6, 7 years ago. The thing to think about is if you have so much work, you’re working 200 hours a month, then you can be pretty picky about the work you accept and that’s a situation I found myself in was I had more contracts than I could possibly do and that allows you to start dictating some of your terms. As Mike said, the first thing is you either have time on your expertise. You obviously have expertise and I bet you have a lot of money because you’re working so many hours and you’re billing contract or rates.

[38:15] So, the outsourcing is a great idea. I think acquiring an app that someone else had built to give you a head start is another good idea. I don’t think if you’re billing, you know, a triple digit rate that you should spend several hundred hours building some SaaS app that you can hire someone to build for much less cost. This is a common situation for people to be in. The second piece is that you can kind of start dictating what you want to do, right? If you’re working 200 hours a month, think about talking to the clients that are hiring you. I know that I did this. These aren’t necessarily easy conversations to have but letting them know that you can stick around but you can’t keep working – what is that? I guess that’s 50-hour a week. It’s not the end of the world. But if you have a family and that can be a problem.

[38:56] And ultimately, moving down to part-time which is something that I did. I’ve moved down to four days a week and then three days a week and this was all as like a contractors/consultant. That allows you time to…to build your product. But I would think about it before doing that because if you are billing all this time at this high rate, then why give that up? Why not look at getting an app out there, getting it launched, getting it marketed and outsourcing as much as you can. At least getting it to a point where it’s making enough money that it can fill in those gaps. So, even if it’s bringing in a thousand bucks a month, well, you can back off, you know, maybe to 40 hours a week. And then once it’s making a few thousand bucks, you can back off a little more.

[39:34] So, it’s much more of a gradual approach. I agree with what Mike said, moving from contracting to a more short term freelance work, double the price, I really question that approach. I think you’re going to spend so much time finding the work and handling all the business aspects of it that you’re going to be better off in basically in the situation you are and figuring out how to make that situation work for you. Hope that answers your question, Vlad.

[39:56] Music

[39:59] Mike: So, if you have a question or comment, you can call it in to our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can e-mail it to us at questions@startupsfortherestofus.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. You can subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for startups or via RSS at startupsfortherestofus.com where you’ll also find a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.


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2 Responses to “Episode 119 | How to Solicit Feedback from Your Customers”

  1. Really interesting podcast.

    I’m working on a Saas app which will allow Android developers to get useful feedback from app buyers, much like you guys describe (see here: http://www.thankbee.com )

    The developer can design custom email templates for users who buy or for users that cancel their purchase, and these are automatically sent.

    Any feedback is appreciated!