Are you getting enough negative feedback?

It’s been widely accepted that a product should not be built in a bubble where feedback isn’t being collected from target users along the way. What’s not always focused on enough, however, is the pursuit of negative feedback, which is incredibly valuable when trying to address the needs of a market.

People naturally say pleasantries about how they liked your party, whether your baby is cute, or how they share the same hobby as you — all to be polite. It’s human nature to not want to say something negative to another person. The thing is, it’s crucial to hear negative feedback when you’re developing a product because it acts as fuel for improvements.

Examples of negative feedback from a user:

  1. “I can’t do X, so this is of no use to me.”
  2. “It’s an interesting premise, but I’m not seeing much of a reason to use it because I can already do X another way.”
  3. “Based on your website, I was expecting to be able to do X but then found that I couldn’t after I signed up.”

These are opportunities to ask questions to a user to learn more about what they’d specifically need to see in your product in order to use it, how they’d use it if it had a missing piece, what would compel them to keep using it, and (if applicable) what they’d pay for. This information will not only give you a clue as to what’s missing in your product, but you’ll also get a crisper understanding of the benefits that your product can offer (and then you can relay that into sales/marketing).

In some cases, a user could use the product to do X but just didn’t see how to, so you’d point them in the right direction and decide whether to add guidance within the product and/or FAQ materials to help ensure that other users don’t have the same confusion. Lack of guidance can lead to a poor experience just as missing functionality can.

A few ways to collect feedback:

  1. In emails to users (ask some users who submit a support request; include something about feedback in automated user emails)
  2. Run surveys (such as via a Google form)
  3. Schedule in-person meetings

When you ask someone for feedback, tell them that you appreciate their time and that any comments they provide will help to improve the product so that they can get more out of it. Say something specific about how negative feedback is welcome and that it’s often what ends up being most helpful (once they know this, they’ll be more open to give it).

A great way to get feedback is by watching people use the product in person. You can see first-hand where they get stuck, figure out what they were trying to do, and ask questions on the spot to better understand their goals. You don’t need to do this with a hundred users — set it up with five and you’ll learn quite a bit.

One of the best opportunities to get unfiltered negative feedback is when someone wants to remove their account or becomes inactive. Yipit offered $10 to people who stopped using their product because they saw significant value in getting them on the phone to hear why they didn’t like it. You can get some feedback by having a questionnaire be presented to a user when they remove their account (or unsubscribe from a mailing list), but providing an extra incentive to someone for offering their time — whether they’re an active or inactive user — is even better.

If you’re not getting negative feedback a few times a week, you’re either not talking to enough people, don’t have enough feedback channels set up, or people are being too polite and not telling you how they really feel. Break this trend so that you can learn more about what people really think, and then put that information to use.

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