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How Our Business Captures, Analyzes and Acts on Customer Feedback

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The most important thing that too many startups aren’t doing.

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There are a lot of dangerous myths in entrepreneurship.

The myth of the TechCrunch article propelling your business to long-term, sustainable success.

The myth of the easy lifestyle business that comes without hard work.

The myth of “if you build it, they will come.”

But perhaps the most dangerous myth is that of the telepathic business; the one that tinkers long and hard, hidden away in their lab, and comes out with a product that instantly and magically delivers revolutionary value to the market.

We hear stories about inventors like Edison, and builders like Jobs, and it normalizes the idea that we can simply dream things up, create them, and have a winning product on our hands.

For the overwhelming⁠—and I mean really overwhelming⁠—majority of us, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Experienced builders know that the best products come from working insanely hard to deeply understand the people you’re selling to, and getting feedback from them at every step of the way.

Of course, there’s skill involved in knowing who to get feedback from, how to do it, and which feedback to listen to and act on.

That’s what today’s post is about.

5 Reasons Customer Feedback Has Been the Cornerstone of Our Growth

In our earliest days, as we built the first version of Groove, we didn’t collect much customer feedback.

And we paid for it. Dearly.

Years ago, we wasted six months and nearly $50,000 building the wrong product.

It was wrong because we built it based on our own assumptions about what the market wanted, rather than on deep research and conversations with our future customers.

It took us another six months to fix that mistake and point the ship in the right direction, and gathering customer feedback has been a cornerstone of our growth strategy ever since.

Here’s why:

1) We build a better product

This is perhaps the most important reason to collect customer feedback.

It lets you pull the best possible product out of your customers, rather than pushing a poorly-conceived one onto them.

When we set out to collect feedback, we always get insights on what’s important to our customers and how we should be making our product better.

There’s simply no other way that I know of to build a product that people will want.

2) We get a better understanding of who our customers are (with some surprises)

We’ve always had assumptions about the personas of our customers. And many of them hold true in the customer conversations that we have.

But as we’ve grown, things have changed.

We discover new use cases for Groove that we hadn’t considered before. For example, dozens of our customers are schools that use Groove to offer IT support to students and faculty.

Often, we’ll find enough examples of a previously-unknown persona that we decide to build case studies to try and attract more users that fit those personas, or at least test the market to see if there’s a strong fit.

3) We do better marketing

We’re always working to improve the way we position and write about Groove.

Hearing our customers talk about the app and its benefits, along with their personal stories, challenges and goals, is the only way we can write marketing copy that actually connects.

Talking to our customers is the only way to talk like our customers talk.

While we hear a lot of phrases that we’re already familiar with (“Zendesk was just too complicated”), we’re also constantly spotting new trends that end up appearing prominently on our marketing pages.

4) We forge stronger relationships with our customers

This benefit can’t be understated enough: the number of positive reactions, even from customers who complain about bugs or issues, is huge.

We hear quite often from many of our customers that no other businesses that they used were soliciting them for feedback in a personal way (more on that below), and that the gesture of asking them for their thoughts⁠—not just with a mass-emailed survey, but by reaching out for a one-on-one conversation⁠—meant a lot to them.

We’re also able to score quick “wow” wins when our customer development conversations uncover small edge-case bugs that can be easily fixed.

Once, a customer told me that about an issue they were having CC’ing people from a certain domain.

This was a weird bug, but something we could fix in just a few minutes, and we ended up pushing a fix for her issue that night.

It’s amazing how easy it is to stand out with a bit of effort.

5) We improve our onboarding and support processes

Another thing that we noticed when we started actively collecting customer feedback is that often, customers would mention particular challenges they faced that could be solved with new features or functionality.

“It’d be great if you guys could build _____,” they’d say.

Except, sometimes they were features we already had; for example, specific third-party app integrations or automation rules.

When we show them the feature, we usually hear a painful⁠—but valuable⁠—reaction:

“Wow! I didn’t know that existed.”

That was a clear sign that we needed to improve our onboarding as users get more deeply engaged with Groove so that they can better discover these features.

This has helped us build⁠—and continue to improve on⁠—an onboarding process that ensures that new users will quickly learn how to make Groove do exactly what they want.

How to Capture Customer Feedback at Every Stage

We collect feedback in three stages of the customer lifecycle:

1) New customers

Every customer who signs up for Groove gets this email:

This email asks a critical question: why did you sign up?

With this question, we’ve been able to transform our messaging based on what we learned is most important to new customers, and we’ve been able to build deeper relationships with those customers by helping them with whatever unique goals or challenges drove them to sign up.

I still read⁠—and act on⁠—every single response I get to this email.

2) Active customers

While I always try to ask customers I’m speaking with for their thoughts on Groove and how we can do better, there are two “formal” feedback collection processes that make up the cornerstone of our strategy.

The first is NPS surveys, which I’ve discussed here. But for this post, I want to talk about the actual conversations that we have with customers, as I find these to be even more valuable.

Every few months, a random group of our active customers get an email that looks like this:

When a customer agrees to a chat⁠—this will happen far more frequently than you think⁠—I send them a Doodle link to sign up for a time:

And then when call time comes, I don’t use a script or canned questions.

Instead, I try to get raw, off-the-cuff insights into how our customers think and feel about Groove… not how they think about specific questions regarding the features and elements that we think are important. I don’t want to influence any of the feedback I get with leading questions.

Instead, at the beginning of each call, I simply say something like:

Hey, thanks so much for agreeing to chat. I won’t take too much of your time. The conversations I’ve been having with customers have been invaluable in helping us shape the product and our plans for the future, so I’m excited to get your feedback.

My goal is to get an overall feel of how you’re using the app, what you like, what you don’t like, and what we can do to make it better. I’ll let you take the floor.

Usually, the very first thing that people start with turn out to be the most important part of their user experience, from their perspective, though sometimes I need to dig in a bit deeper (“why do you feel that way? How do you think that process could be better?”).

I compile the feedback into a Google spreadsheet, which you can find and steal here.

3) Churned customers

Finally, if a customer decides to cancel their Groove account, we send them this email:

This email gets just under a 14% response rate.

That’s 14% of our ex-customers, who aren’t even doing business with us anymore, still taking the time to respond and help us do better.

We’ve gotten some incredible insights from this email.

Specific bugs that our active customers weren’t telling us about.

Hang-ups in our user experience that we didn’t catch.

Workflow inefficiencies for use cases that we had never considered.

It’s a stage at which most businesses abandon the customers who are abandoning them. But by doing the opposite, you can learn things that will transform your churn rate (and your business).

What to Do With the Customer Feedback You Collect

It can be really intimidating to stare at dozens, hundreds or even thousands of pieces of customer feedback.

In fact, many businesses have the feedback, but never act on it because they’re too overwhelmed to start doing anything with it.

Here’s how we approach this:

Step 1: Organize Feedback to Help Spot Trends

In our feedback tracking spreadsheet (here’s that link again), we add labels as we go (e.g., Search, Mailbox, Support, Automation, Pricing) to capture the most important things covered in each feedback conversation or email.

This helps us go through the data at a glance and see which topics trended throughout the conversations, so we know what customers are most vocal about.

Step 2: Process the Data

Once things are organized with labels, it’s easier to go through and decide how to act on various trends.

Core fixes and feature requests that bubbled to the top get serious consideration for the roadmap.

More ancillary features or less popular ones that had potential get added to our wishlist for future releases; we continue to collect data on these requests.

Step 3: Line Up Customer Case Studies

This process also helps to unearth customers who are having a lot of success with Groove, as well as (like I mentioned) new personas that we hadn’t been targeting before.

Those are both great candidates for new case studies to feature as example of Groove’s value, so we ask those customers for further interviews to be featured in case studies.

Step 4: Send Thank You Emails

If a customer takes time out of their day to give you feedback on their app, it’s a gift. They have a thousand other better uses (from their perspective) of their time.

So thanking them is important.

I’ve always appreciated a thank you more when it was personal and made me feel like my contribution was valuable, so I try to do that with my own thank-you’s.

Each thank you notes included a brief recap of our conversation, along with any action I’m taking because of it, if any.

How to Apply This to Your Business

Getting qualitative feedback isn’t a tactic.

It’s a way of doing business that startups need to live and breathe.

It has changed our product, our business and the way we think.

It’s certainly been responsible for any growth we’ve had.

You don’t have to go on a mission to talk to every single customer.

But I hope you’ll start by reaching out to a handful today. You might learn something that will change your business.

And if you haven’t yet, please take a few minutes to help us keep valuable content coming, and fill out our reader survey.

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About the Author

Alex Turnbull is the CEO & Founder of Groove (simple helpdesk software for small businesses) who loves to build startups and surf.

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