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Collecting user feedback through meaningful user research is one of the most important things you can do as a product manager to make your product successful. Take a moment to ask yourself: what makes my product stand out? Is it unique in the market? Does it have amazing features? Do customers really love it?

In my own work, I asked myself these questions throughout each and every one of my roles from ecommerce to hotel room bookings to subscription-based online dating. Here is what I’ve learned over the years about best practices to collect user feedback. 

Why Is User Feedback Important?

According to a study by PWC, more than 73% of consumers cite customer experience as an important factor in their purchasing decisions.

If you nail a good user experience, you likely have a winner! (And, conversely, poor user experience is often the kiss of death.)

Lots of people have lots of ideas and feature requests for your product. How do you do a good prioritization to inform your product roadmap? First of all, you need to find out about customer needs and pain points that you can address through your product experience. A new product that is sleek and amazing in technology, but doesn’t solve a real customer need will not be taken up. This can become an expensive and time-consuming mistake.

Therefore it is important that you get product feedback early and often throughout the whole product lifecycle. Asking users what they think is a cheap way of validating an idea. Then you can follow up by creating a simple prototype and iterating on it. This is still much cheaper than developing working software.

Through continuous user feedback loops, you are ensuring at every point that you are working on something useful and valuable to customers. This reduces risk and cost throughout the development cycle massively.

Related Read: How To Create An Effective Customer Feedback Loop For Product Teams?

Some Guiding Principles

There are various user feedback tools and channels that enable different types of user feedback collection at various stages. Some principles are important throughout:

  • The right audience: be sure that you define who your users really are. What use cases and pain points do they have that your product experience can solve? What age group, demographic, other attributes do they possess?
  • Unbiased questions: let your users explain what they do and how they understand your product. Don’t be afraid of negative feedback. If they cannot see your fabulous new feature on the page, as far as they are concerned it doesn’t exist!
  • The right time: focus on the specific questions you need answered for your upcoming development in order to get actionable insights. It is all too easy to get overwhelmed by data and end up stuck in too much information.
  • Open format: involve the whole product team in customer sessions. A good understanding of your customers will help everybody to develop a better product.

Different stages of a customer-centric development process require different methods of collecting user feedback. Here are some of the best user research methods throughout the product lifecycle.

Related Read: 10 Best User Feedback Software To Improve Customer Satisfaction

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5 Best Ways to Collect User Feedback

1. Exploratory Interviews

When you are exploring ideas at an early stage, open and exploratory interviews are very useful. First of all, you want to find out what needs your users have that your product experience can address, and then you'll want to analyze the interview data to inform your product backlog.

For example, if you are building a new way to find and book a hotel room, ask them to describe in detail how they go about finding a hotel first. This will give you an understanding of what is important at what stage in the process and how you should present it.

Only then, do you talk about your own ideas and ask for user feedback. A great step-by-step guide on how to validate your ideas is the short book Mom Test.

2. Testing Prototypes

Once you have validated that an idea looks promising, it’s time to design some prototypes to show your functionality to users. You want to find out two things at this stage:

  • Have we solved their problem in a way that they would want to use (value proposition)?
  • Do they understand how to use it (usability testing)?

The prototype walk-through can be done either face to face or in a video call. Ask the user to explain what they see and how they would use this new feature. At the end, you can ask them about their thoughts on the whole process. Typically, this takes a few iterations until you get it right. You can read more details in our article about rapid prototyping.

First Prototype test for new concept Screenshot
A first prototype to test a new concept can be very simple and quick to create.

3. Testing Work-In-Progress Software

You have validated that your customers like your new feature and are able to use your design. At this point, you want to start building actual software.

While you are doing this, you can still continue to validate that the work is on track to deliver what your customers need. You can do this with some dummy data before the software is fully functional. One good way of getting user feedback quickly is through a remote testing tool like Usertesting.

4 Quantitative Feedback through Analytics

When you have validated your software throughout the development, there should be no big surprises after launch. But your user feedback comes full circle when you find out how your users take it up in real life by checking your analytics metrics. This is your chance to get quantitative customer feedback on a larger scale.

KPI graph before and after launch Screenshot
Comparing KPIs before and after launch shows the effect of your launches.

Related Read: A Guide To Product Analytics: Benefits, Metrics & Why It Matters

5. Net Promoter Score as Customer Satisfaction Survey

Net Promoter Score (NPS) is one common way of measuring customer satisfaction through NPS surveys. Ultimately your incremental new feature releases need to add up to a whole product experience that customers love and recommend to their friends. It is therefore important to keep an eye on this high-level metric over time—even though NPS has its flaws.

There are often also other departments that have good data on customer satisfaction, for example, marketing managers, customer support teams, or social media teams.

Other Methods

A complete guide would not be complete without mentioning some other quantitative methods like A/B testing or surveys to gather feedback. They have their place, but it is generally better to get qualitative feedback first and only then validate it through a quantitative method.

If you start out with a quantitative method, you are only validating what you already assume. You might miss some important point that you never thought of because your customers cannot tell you about it in a survey.

Additional qualitative methods you can deploy post-launch are feedback forms and exit surveys to get customers' immediate thoughts as they are using your product. 

A Practical Example of Gathering User Feedback

Collecting user feedback is not a one-off activity, but ideally, a continuous stream repeated for everything you build. When you do this regularly, each individual activity does not take long as you are focusing only on a problem at hand in the next few weeks. By doing this often, you are also building up a valuable knowledge base for future cycles.

Here is an example from one of my previous roles:

In one of my jobs, we booked a regular slot of two hours for the whole product team every two weeks, when we would invite 3-4 users and collect customer feedback about whatever was important at the time.

Most of the time everybody turned up to observe. We had the luxury of having a proper UX lab with screens, mirrors, and microphones. If that’s not possible, a researcher can be with the customer in a separate room and the team can watch a recording afterward.

The UX designer/researcher invited the participants and ran the sessions. She also created any prototypes required, but often we showed them work-in-progress versions of the software as well.

Our product was a consumer subscription product and we invited mainly people who were registered, but not subscribed in order to find out what makes them tick and how to convert them into subscribed customers.

The more you can make this a regular event, the more likely it is actually going to happen. There is always too much time pressure in product development and it is tempting to take shortcuts. However, this rarely pays off as you are bound to make some wrong decisions if you don’t get customer feedback early.

Related Read: 10 Best Free Prototyping Tools For Product Design

Get Started Today!

If you have not incorporated any regular user feedback into your work so far, start today by simply inviting a few customers and asking them to tell you how they use your product and what they like or dislike about it. Ask them to show you a typical use. I am sure you will discover some surprising things. From there, you can build out your user research into more regular events.

If you are interested in learning more about the best practices in product management, sign up to our newsletter.

Related read: 10 Best Rapid Prototyping Tools

By Kerstin Exner

I am a senior product manager with 15 years experience in a variety of companies, amongst them some of the best practice Product companies in the world like eBay and Guardian News & Media. In my varied roles I have worked in companies of various sizes and at different stages of maturity of their Product Management organizations. I have been the first product manager of the company in several of my roles and tackled introducing Product Management into a business. My other passion is User Experience. I undertook an MSc degree in Human-Centred Systems at City University London from 2010-2012. The combination of Product Management and User Experience means that user insight is always at the heart of my work. I believe that real-life Product Management can be quite daunting and the solutions to numerous challenges cannot always be found in textbooks. I hope that sharing my own experiences of what works in real life helps product managers to succeed and their products to thrive.