No doubt, as a startup founder you understand that the customer is your greatest asset. You are building a product for them, right? So yes, you should listen to customer feedback. And no, you shouldn’t.
For a startup to be successful, the product has to be where the ideas the founders want to bring to life and the needs and wishes of the customers coincide. But how and where do you find that intersection?
Should you ignore or listen to customer feedback?
Clearly, you never want to ignore customer feedback altogether. A startup lives so long as its products satisfy the customer’s needs and solve their problems. So, of course, you have to listen.
By efficiently using customer feedback you can identify weak points, come up with new concepts to improve your creation, and discover insights to guide product development. It can be a valuable source of inspiration and your waypoint toward true innovation.
This does not mean you should blindly follow the customer’s demands: quite often it’s smart to ignore them.
Why startups should selectively ignore customer feedback
Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder, and Greylock partner, says entrepreneurs need to both listen to what customers say and selectively ignore them.
Due to the scarce amount of a startup’s resources, the founder has to be very picky about how to distribute them. Bowing to the customers’ every whim is foolish. Bluntly following their desires will rarely lead to innovative products. Like Steve Jobs used to say, in most cases, customers don’t even know what they want until you create it.
Dig deeper into the customer’s issues
Be very cautious when someone says “I need the product to have this” or “... be able to do that”. You need to take a closer look at the core of the problem and figure out how best to achieve the desired outcome. Look past the feature the customer requested and ask them to tell more about the experience they would like to have. It’s your job to come up with a spot-on solution.
Add feedback to the product-building pipeline
Collect customer feedback as a first step in your product development journey. Feedback should not be your call to action to create a new feature, but rather serve as a reference point for your design team to brainstorm ideas. Ask your product managers to factor customer feedback requests into your backlog and label them as “things to consider”.
Should founders take part in feedback gathering?
The most successful startup founders create an open line of communication from inception and stay closely connected with their customers throughout the lifetime of their business.
Any business venture begins and ends with a relationship. Responding to customer feedback fuels that relationship. Don’t just take our word for it, learn from the grand masters:
Elon Musk consistently keeps track of Tesla, SpaceX, and Twitter customer complaints over social media and often takes to resolve them himself. Once, it took him a little over 3 minutes to help fix a Tesla Model 3 application issue.
Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, regularly checks up on customer feedback from passengers of his Virgin airline flights.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, also takes customer service seriously. Recently, he used his Instagram to reply to a complaint and defended his brand’s support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Domenico Dolce, one half of the Dolce & Gabbana brand, shortly after receiving a stiletto with a broken wafer-thin heel, had it repaired and returned from Italy back to the States. The customer received the fixed product in just 36 hours.
Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s CEO, believes: “If you’re intent on building a product enamored by consumers and investors alike, viewing yourself as a high-level mastermind detached from product details as small as a finicky Wi-Fi connection or poorly lit living room photo is a sure-fire way to screw over yourself, and your company.”
Maintain a healthy balance between care and disregard
Startup founders often have the best chances to maximize high-quality customer feedback and transform it into a refined product. Because of their role and reputation, them noticing a complaint, feature request, or proposition instantly grants the idea more credibility.
Having a founder personally promote a customer-centric approach can create traction, reduce costs on marketing, improve the brand’s image, and raise customer satisfaction. All play into product and startup development. But it also raises customer expectations.
According to G. Tomas M. Hult, one of the leaders at the American Customer Satisfaction Index, if a founder involves themself in the customer service funnel, they need to know when to step in and when to step out. Continuously augmenting traditional customer feedback channels is not a sustainable business model.
How to collect customer feedback for early-stage startups
In the early stages, you are probably working on going from nil to your first two-figure, three-figure, four-figure, etc. customer headcount. At this point, we recommend going with a direct feedback approach.
Since the amount of feedback you’ll be getting is not too overwhelming, it’s a great opportunity to create personal relationships and build the foundation for customer loyalty. Here are the best ways to collect direct customer feedback:
Schedule and conduct online video calls with your customers. Ask them to describe their problems, needs, and wishes in detail. Encourage them to show exactly how they interact with your product in real-time or ask them to provide snapshots and videos.
Create group chats in Slack or a popular messenger like WhatsApp where you can regularly share your products, news, and updates, and communicate with customers in a more informal, clear, and concise form.
Share your personal contacts like phone, email, or social media to let the customers know they are welcome to hit you up with a call or DM any time they have a problem, want to pitch an idea, or need to ask a question.
Ways of gathering customer feedback for growing startups
Once your customer base grows to significant numbers, collecting customer feedback gradually becomes much harder and less personal. That’s when various types of customer surveys take center stage. Of course, you may lose engagement.
Encourage more feedback, provide an incentive
Consider offering rewards for the effort of completing your customer feedback surveys. Not only can they increase your feedback pool, but they can also motivate customers to give more thorough and honest responses.
Suggestion boards are the most effective way of collecting feedback from customers. Boards allow users to add posts and describe their issues using a rich format, including text formatting, styles, embedded media, and emojis. Other users can upvote and downvote these feedback posts, as well as add comments. This way you can immediately determine popular issues.
The great thing about suggestion boards is that they are built for collaboration. This means you can use them to integrate real-time customer feedback into your product development pipeline.
Adding board columns labeled something like “Up for discussion”, “Backlog”, “In development”, “Up next”, and “Completed” will allow the management, design, and engineering teams to join in and collaborate in one convenient workspace. Allowing customers to view the whole process for more transparency or making parts of it private is entirely up to you.
Quick in-app surveys
In-app customer feedback surveys allow you to prompt users right after interacting with a specific feature in a web or mobile app. It’s quite effective since a user only just had some experience and it's fresh on their mind, so the quality of the feedback is superior.
Customer Satisfaction Surveys
A satisfaction survey prompts the user to rate how happy they are with the product or services provided. These types of surveys are easy to create and don’t take too much of the customer’s time.
Customer Satisfaction Surveys are used to collect net promoter scores (NPS) and customer effort scores. Send them periodically to gauge customer experience after major initiatives like new features or products launched, updated interfaces, etc.
Exit-intent survey popups
Exit-intent surveys are triggered when a user decides to leave your website, delete your app, unsubscribe from your service, cancel a product purchase, etc. Customers are prompted to share the reasons why they became disappointed with your product.
Startups can use this valuable insight to eliminate weak spots, improve customer experience, and increase their engagement while also reducing bounce rate and battling cart abandonment.
Website feedback widgets
Feedback widgets are usually displayed as a sidenote you can leave in a custom format. Embedded into the main content of the site, widgets are one of the most effective tools for gathering customer feedback. There’s no need for customers to interrupt their experience and switch to a special feedback channel, it all happens on the spot.
Transaction emails are sent to customers right after they sign up for a subscription plan. These are great for engaging customers in conversations about your product. Congratulate them on the purchase or subscription and send them a brief multi-choice question or better yet a one-liner.
Ask about what they would like you to improve. The elation after just getting their hands on a newly purchased product can spark up a desire to share and provide a useful review.
Long form-based surveys
Form-based customer feedback surveys are sent to highly engaged users who are actively using your product and eager to share their experience. Usually, these customers are signed up with an account, so you can send the survey directly to their email. Of course, other channels and different tools to create form-based surveys are also at your disposal.
Don’t get too carried away though. The longer your surveys are, the more likely are customers to skim through the questions. Get rid of superfluous questions that serve no real purpose. Make them on-point and result-driven.
How our Go Global World team collects customer feedback
Want to hear a story from a real founder? Well, Danil Kislinskiy, founder and CEO of Go Global World, started the tradition of creating chat groups in messenger and used other methods too:
"Initially, I created a community that is genuinely of high value to our customers who are startup founders themselves. I was a part of and still contribute to many startup communities, so having a deep understanding of my customers' needs, I talked to them face to face a lot.
And it pays off, as customers feel connected and our customer success team can be more helpful and provide by providing services as well as gathering feedback. I check these chats at least once a week to see the key questions my customers are asking and make sure I’m always there if an urgent matter appears.
As a bonus, check out the real questions we use in our forms to understand our customers better. Feel free to use them as a template. If you are a startup founder or an investor, we would appreciate it a lot if you fill them out:
How to collect feedback: best practices
Start your journey by creating a basic customer feedback portal. It’s never been easier for startups, since there are plenty of website builders and platforms on the market. Make it a place where customers can report bugs, make feature requests, share their ideas, and talk about their experience with your products.
By doing so, you will be able to:
Share your product with customers early and often.
Get to know your customers and build customer profiles.
Make it easy for customers to provide feedback.
Regularly gather customer feedback in a consistent format.
Ask for feedback at the right time and place.
Start small, grow with your audience
At an early stage of your startup’s development, you should start small and concentrate more on the quality of your interactions rather than on efficiency. Understand your target audience, build relationships with the customers, and look for inspiration to improve your product.
As your business grows, acquire more customer feedback channels and connect more sophisticated software to help punch your way through the struggles of arriving at product market fit.
Make sure feedback comes from your target audience
Not even God can make everybody happy. You’re only human! Stay focused on your goals and the groups of customers you have targeted. Pay more attention to how you can earn and improve their loyalty, rather than people rambling about how your product is not “all-inclusive”.
Don't wait too long, collect feedback on the spot
As we’ve mentioned, valuable insights come from feedback captured at the spur of the moment. Track your key customer touch points and engage with them as close to the moment as possible. Make the surveys, short, easy, and entertaining.
Divide and conquer
The best way to track and analyze customer feedback is to categorize it into areas like functionality, usability, and design.
Collect feedback from multiple channels
Take advantage of usability tests, surveys, customer interviews, and live chatting. Combining various sources allows you to gather both quantitative and qualitative feedback to use in your analysis. Be proactive and don’t wait for the customer to come to you with a product review.
Apply customer segmentation
Dividing customers into selective groups allows you to prioritize design and development tasks. You can easily shape your product to accommodate your business goals and make product launches more strategic.
Look for real patterns, not single complaints
Definitive changes are made based on data collected from multiple complaints, feature requests, and customer feedback surveys converging into a uniform, recognizable pattern. Sometimes one person can source a great idea but it’s rarely the case. Investigate theories and make your decisions only based on a strong foundation.
How to recognize and use good feedback
As we’ve discussed, not all feedback is credible to use for product development. So how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? Here are some ground rules to follow:
Good feedback describes a customer’s problem or a clear way for them to gain benefits.
It is actionable by making the product better and can be achieved in a reasonable time.
Quality feedback is detailed. It explains how, where, and when a problem is encountered.
Delivering improvements must satisfy not one person, but the majority of customers.
Once you’ve found a basis for refining your product, forward these insights to your backlog and ask your team to use them in ideation and design.
Recommended customer feedback tools and platforms
We’ve prepared a list of customer feedback software we recommend for startups to empower product innovation. We hope using them will bring you closer to your goals.
For creating surveys
You are advised to use one of these powerful tools:
SurveyMonkey for years now has remained one of the most popular customer survey tools. It offers a large collection of templates. They are generic and simplistic, but easy to use.
Delighted offers surveys that are more focused on customer feedback and are extremely customizable. You can easily personalize them for your brand and audience.
Typeform gives you forms, customer feedback surveys, and quizzes that people enjoy responding to. The tool lets you apply beautiful design layouts and themes to make surveys interactive, engaging, and entertaining.
For collecting reviews from around the web
We recommend using Trustpilot as a ubiquitous tool for sending invitations and getting reviews from customers regarding their overall user experience.
For web and mobile app usability testing
We advise taking advantage of the UserTesting tool If you have an application or website that requires a usability update.
For product development and road mapping
With the Trello collaboration tool companies can create a feature request and suggestion board and integrate it into their product development process.
Complete customer feedback platforms
Choose from our recommended options:
Hubspot takes root from its established CRM platform and ecosystem. Among the provided services are powerful tools for creating customer surveys, analyzing customer feedback data, visualizing it via dashboards, and sharing key customer insights with teams.
Hotjar makes it possible for companies to see how users behave on websites using techniques such as heatmaps, recordings, feedback sentiment, and surveys.
Qualtrics is an experience management platform that enables businesses to collect feedback from every stage of a customer’s journey. The collected data is then analyzed via Qualtrics AI software to uncover trends and patterns. Businesses use the insights to predict customer behavior.
AI-driven and OpenAI GPT-4 powered feedback analysis
Using GPT-powered tools for your customer feedback analysis needs gains you access to actionable intel into the customer’s problems, thoughts, feelings, and wishes. With trained OpenAI GPT models the software can categorize and tag customer feedback, identify emerging sentiment patterns, and generate personalized responses to common customer requests.
Several GPT-4 powered customer feedback tools have already emerged on the market. We recommend trying these out:
Viable is a platform that generates natural language reports. Customer feedback from different sources is bundled together and automatically translated into insights with highlighted themes according to the issue urgency, customer group, customer churn probability, etc.
BetterFeedback is a powerful platform for qualitative customer feedback analysis with automatic topic discovery, sentiment analysis, and trend discovery. The software allows you to integrate all of your customer feedback channels in one place. It’s capable of analyzing feedback to identify trends, pain points, and insights in real-time.
Bear in mind that OpenAI’s GPT models are not entirely credible and are sometimes prone to faults. So don’t entrust these types of software with life-and-death situations. Always double-check to see if the insights are valid.
Conclusion: use customer feedback as inspiration
Gathering customer feedback is the key to acquiring groundbreaking ideas for product development. However, blindly following every customer request is wrong. The feedback should be used as a reference point for further ideation and design.
Startup founders must integrate customer feedback research into the product development and delivery pipeline. That way all the teams can openly collaborate in a convenient environment that promotes transparency in customer relations.
If you are looking for more guidance and professional advice, join the global community of founders where you can discover industry insights, meet like-minded individuals, and also move your startup into the spotlight of major investors.