One of the most intimidating parts of building a product can be talking to your users. Many founders either don’t know how or are afraid of it, yet it’s one of the key pieces of advice that Y Combinator gives its companies (we’re in the current Summer 2012 batch). We learned the value of it almost accidentally when we first launched Kippt as a side project last winter. Since then it has grown to become one of our deepest values:
We do our best to answer every single email and tweet from our users.
When you are a small startup it’s understandable that you’re busy, but that shouldn’t be an excuse not to talk to your users. During our YC batch our response times have been slightly longer, but we still try to do our best.
Past year, we’ve learned a few things that we try to live by. I’ll do my best to highlight them in this post. It might not work for your startup, but unless you’re already actively talking to your users, it’s a good way to start.
Make it easy: add a form (no, seriously)
The biggest driver of user feedback for us has been a feedback form. This might sound hard to believe, but instead of a nasty popup, we’ve had a subtle link to a feedback form in our header since day one. It has really surprised us how much people use it and how nice they are when you ask them what you could do better.
Once the user submits the feedback, it gets delivered to a mailing list which goes to everyone in our team. When someone has some spare time, they answer the feedback and use “Reply All” to loop everyone in the mailing list to the discussion. This way we keep track of all the conversations and everyone gets to be part of them.
We usually get a lot of feature requests. Some of them are valid, some of them less so. But once you’ve read hundreds of feedback emails, you get to spot patterns. For good suggestions we create a Trello card then copy & paste the user’s email address to it. This way when we finish the feature we can easily ping the user and hopefully make them happy.
Use your own name and be honest
We’re a small team and we don’t try to hide it. As a user familiar with getting feedback answered in the middle of the night (I’m looking at you Ev, from Mailgun) you may know the warm and fuzzy feeling and it’s addictive. This is what we want our users to feel and it’s the main reason why we always use our own email addresses to reply back to our users. This way, they get to know us and in exchange we get to know them better.
With emails and other communication, we try to be as honest and direct as possible. We might talk about our ideas or future features and there’s really no good reason to hide them. This also gives us a good way to validate our ideas before implementing them. It’s also nice to get a thank you email from your user after months of talking to them, when you finally implemented the feature you were talking about together.
When your users get to know you, they will be in contact, and it’s really nice. Not only does it help you with the product, it makes you work harder as you don’t want to let them down. This is why you shouldn’t hire people to do your community management for you in the early days.
Talking to users isn’t hard and it doesn’t require complicated tools. You just need to start doing it and usually email works just fine.
The biggest benefit of talking with users is getting to know them personally; right now I’m in NYC meeting with a few of them and it’s fantastic to hear in person how they use our product!
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