How to Talk to Your Very First Customers

How to Talk to Your Very First Customers

This story originally appeared on Help Scout

Creating valuable products requires getting valuable feedback. Who you talk to early is very important.

A few weeks ago, my co-founder and I started testing our company’s second product privately.

Our first product, Exist, has been in public beta for almost a year. We have made many mistakes which we have fortunately learned.

This time we know what to do differently – so we can make new mistakes this time, no doubt. Here are some lessons I would like to share.

Choose your users carefully

Our biggest mistake with beta testing was choosing the wrong users. We have tried to protect our fragile egos and have only invited people we know. Our hope was to get honest (but polite) feedback to help us improve the product without being plunged into a pit of despair before we even launched.

Related: 6 Tips for Getting Customer Feedback and Making It Workable

Reality struck even harder: we heard crickets.

We weren’t able to get the feedback we needed because we weren’t talking to users who cared. Our “users” were people who had five minutes to spare and who didn’t really want to tell us what they wanted to do with our product.

Why? Because it was not people who needed our product. We did not solve any harm for them. They did not see the value and did not stay long. Most of them disappeared after logging in or came back once a month if we were lucky.

Don’t waste time (on both sides) with users you don’t serve. You will never get the feedback you need from people who don’t need you.

To do this, choose the users of your target market

For a new product, you need to look for users who are in pain, see a need, and are willing to invest to get value.

As you grow your business over time, it becomes much easier. With our second product, we are focusing on the same type of customer as we did with Exist, so we already have a targeted group of people from which to draw the beta testers. When you connect with people who use your products, they are often more likely to be interested in other projects you are working on.

You can also see it in other companies. When Basecamp was still known as 37 Signals, it had several products targeting the same user base. It is much easier to find beta testers, and possibly paid users, among a group of people who already know and trust you.

If you start with your first product, you obviously won’t benefit from an existing user base, but you can create an audience in other ways. More than six months before launching Exist to the public, I started a series of regular content on our blog which focused on news and new products in the Quantified Self area. As I continued this series every week, we built an archive of content relevant to our target market and developed an audience of people interested in these subjects.

We have created an email waiting list for Exist to keep our potential customers informed of our progress, and through regular email updates and the creation of content that interests them, we have been able to establish a relationship with many customers before they use our product.

Related: 4 Steps to Attract and Build Better Customers

In subsequent rounds of beta testing, we surveyed our waiting list to find people who were interested in our product and who understood its value. In retrospect, we should have adopted this approach much earlier.

Ask for feedback

The faster you can get feedback, the better. Good ideas can speak and failures are silenced.

It is dangerous to misunderstand your users. You will not know which direction is best for your product and you will not know why customers are leaving (or why they are staying). Feedback is the solution.

It is easy to feel that you are bothering people, especially at first. But like everything in life, you won’t know until you ask, and often people are much more willing to help than you think.

Expecting customers to send you unsolicited comments expects too much. You are responsible for starting the conversation.

Do the right thing: ask often and in different ways

Talking to my clients in real time (in person or via Skype) is one of the best ways I have found to find useful feedback. When you talk to a user one-on-one this way, you can dig into the little things they say and let them go on tangents. It’s the best way to get a complete picture of who that user is and how your product fits into their life.

But sometimes it’s not the kind of feedback you need. When we wanted to know which parts of our product were the most popular, we sent a survey to all of our users by email. It was not as personal as an individual call, but we were able to gather information from many users in a short time and we were able to ask for exactly what we wanted to know.

Sometimes you just want a clear overall assessment of your product or service. In these cases, you can use a simple question like “Would you recommend our product to a friend?” Or you can ask your customers to rate your customer service after solving their problem.

How you request feedback should depend on the type of feedback you are looking for.

Stick to one major feedback approach at a time in the early days. Dilution of responses and embarrassment of users can occur if you feel like you are bombarding people. In the same month, you make concerted efforts to carry out development interviews. Do not send polls that annoy people for similar information. Continuous and targeted feedback creates the most meaningful information.

Related: 4 Reasons You’re Lucky An Angry Customer Cries At You

Listen to the voice minority

Ah, the vocal minority. When you have trouble getting feedback, any tiny piece looks like solid gold.

This makes it too easy to fall into the trap of the vocal minority. You hear a handful of users asking for a feature you’ve already considered and suddenly you think every user must want it. Obviously, they just didn’t have time to tell us! Let’s send it already!

Worse, you hadn’t considered creating a feature, but six or seven users requested it on the same day. The next thing you know is that you are deploying something with almost no context. It’s easy to jump the gun with a sense of urgency and a demand that isn’t really there. It sounds silly, but we are all sensitive.

To make people want, you must first prove that they really want it.

Doing the right thing: confirming the hypothesis

Feedback is best used to hypothesize what the majority of your users might want. As Des Traynor says, “Treat every grouping of comments you see as hypothetical, then don’t build it, check it out.”

You can then continue with customer development to see if your hypothesis holds.

If it seems like the majority of users are feeling the same way, it’s when you can start digging deeper to find out why they want this particular feature and how you can fix it for them (it’s friction , not functionality).

For existing comments, we use Help Scout and tags to keep an always updated number of requests for a particular feature. Adding a tag is quick and easy when we are responding to a client, and seeing the number of requests per tag makes it easier to choose what to work on without being overwhelmed by the vocal minority.

Feedback is a multifaceted part of building a business. Whether you receive too much, have confused or inconsistent comments, or hear only crickets, you are not alone.

Choose customers carefully, ask for feedback often, and always test a hypothesis before implementing what you hear from customers.

It’s easier said than done, but every improvement I make in managing customer feedback has allowed me to create the best product for my users.

Related: Bringing Your Business To Life With Customer Focus

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