Workshop: How to Listen to Your Users

By Rock Health Intern Jess Hershfield

Watch the full workshop below, or read on for a full recap.

As an entrepreneur, you pour your time and energy into your company, and couldn’t possibly imagine any other way to design your product, right? But what if your customer doesn’t agree?  They are the ones paying the bills, so maybe you should listen to what they want.  While gathering customer input is extremely tedious and sometimes difficult to do, Pete Koomen of argues it is the most important part of entrepreneurship.  So, we invited Pete to discuss the process of gathering user feedback.

According to Pete, the manner in which you approach listening to your users varies tremendously depending upon what stage your company is in.  So, lets start by looking at a very early stage company.  At this point, your product is barely there and your user-base is few and far between; but you truly believe you have the next BIG idea.  Quite bluntly, Pete demonstrates that while your idea may seem great, it’s probably not.  First and foremost, you must find 10 potential users, and put viable mocks in front of them.  And by mocks, Pete means mocks, not fully realized products!  He talked about how one of his greatest mistakes was working for months perfecting one of his early stage companies only to find that his users were using it completely differently than he believed they would.  So stick to simple mocks orwireframes.

Once you have developed a couple of good mocks, put them in front of your 10 users, and talk to them.  Make sure you understand what problem you are going to solve in their life.  Ask them when and how they would use your product.  And finally determine how they would find out about it.  By performing this exercise you can save yourself valuable time and effort by understanding what your potential customers actually want/need, and actually build on a good idea.

So you’ve taken your 10 initial customers’ feedback and gone back to the drawing board.  You are in the beta stage of your company, with a very basic product and a handful of users.  At this point, analytics are not important; you don’t have enough users to follow statistics.  Instead, talk to your customers and ask them questions.  You do not need to worry about scaling at this stage, and instead can keep it personal and build a really loyal fan base.  A great example of this comes from Survey Monkey, who actually wrote hand written notes to their initial users.

During this stage, don’t be afraid to sell early and sell often.  Pete believes that entrepreneurs are so concerned with building a large customer base quickly that they forget that they are building a revenue-based product.  Instead, Pete believes you should start selling from day one.  And sell it yourself!  You should be the one who is asking the customer to pay for it so that you can tell if your prices are too high, too low, or right on the money.  Also, paying customers will be a lot more discerning as to how they feel about your product.

Finally, make sure to talk to your users when they stop using your product. During this time you should attempt to understand what was it about the experience that caused them to leave, and what you can do to fix that.

If you are truly listening to user feedback, and refining your product, you will eventually start to see great growth in your company.  During this growth stage, your product should be polished and your users will be growing.  Now is the time when analytics matter.  You have many users, making talking to them individually impossible and a poor use of your time.  Instead, Pete recommends utilizing analytics programs to understand the needs and desires of your users. He suggests Google Analytics, Kissmetrics, Flurry or Kontagent as resources.

Ultimately, Pete emphasizes the importance of continued testing.  Your customer’s wants are constantly changing, and in order to continue to put your best product forward, you need to regularly receive user feedback.  A great way to do this is A/B testing on your website.  A cool tool for this is Pete’s Optimizely, which easily gives you the ability to test different websites against each other.

If you follow all the steps outlined by Pete above, and truly listen to your users, then your product will be great and you will have lots of users.  You will have reached success!