The Process

How do high-functioning startups deal with this problem? Insights from our conversations with 50+ founders and leaders at customer-obssessed companies.

Capture feedback diligently

Capturing structured customer feedback is a marathon, not a race. If feedback is truly fueling a startup’s product development, it should be coming in from users every day. This is understandably daunting. But turning that feedback into actionable insights requires diligence. Every conversation, every message, and every text should be fed into a repository. That’s why Notion has over 200,000 tagged interactions with their customers.

Feedback is the only way to objectively prioritize. We know what we need to build for the next 5 years, but sequencing can only happen by understanding feedback.

Akshay Kothari, COO at Notion

How to solicit feedback from customers

It’s tough to get customers to open up about the problems they are facing. That means your team needs to make it as easy as possible for users to provide feedback.

Here are some channels you can leverage to do this:

  • Periodic surveys—ask for feedback along key checkpoints on the user journey. For example, when a new user turns into an “activated” customer, try to set up a call or just solicit feedback over email. You can also use these surveys to ask multiple choice questions to segment your users. This can be helpful later on, when looking to qualify customer problems.
  • In-app feedback—provide an omnipresent widget in your UI for getting a customer’s gut reactions when they are frustrated or elated. Make the feedback form simple (“Is everything OK? Which of these emotions are you feeling today?“)
  • New feature feedback—whenever your team ships a new feature, accentuate it in your UI and ideally provide a one click way for customers to provide their initial thoughts on it. Does it help them? Is it an eye sore?
  • Always-on chat—many companies choose to have an always available chat widget in their app. This is another great way for customers to provide feedback, it’s a widely recognized pattern. But it also comes with the expectation of a near immediate response, so beware.
  • Easily discoverable feedback email—this might be obvious, but it helps to also have a group email (hello@, support@, etc.) address that any customer can contact with feedback. Customers might be thinking about your product even while they’re not using it, and it’s easy to give them a common email address they can send messages to when they’re not in your app.

Every conversation has an insight

Your customer-facing teammates meticulously work to delight customers by answering questions over email and chat. They take copious notes during user interviews. However, unless special effort is taken, it is hard to build long-term learnings after even years of these efforts.

First, the team must recognize and agree that every conversation has an insight. It follows then that the insight embedded in each of these conversations should be tracked somewhere.

It’s very important for us to get insights to the team. We think about it a lot. We use Notion for our internal knowledge base and have extended it to include a board for customer insights. There, we have a ranked list of features that people want, and for each feature, we have a list of all the people that have wanted it in the past year. It’s nice for us to know the number, to have a sense for how popular a request is. This is key. For now, we just want to know how many people want something and who they are.

Daryna Kulya, Co-Founder at OpenPhone, in a Userstand Interview

How to capture insights from feedback

It’s fairly easy. Just save the following information about every quote:

  1. A brief, verbatim customer quote from an email, chat, video or phone call, etc.
  2. The customer providing the feedback.
  3. A sentence (“tag”) that describes the root of the customer feedback.

Sometimes, one conversation has more than one insight. In this case, just extract multiple quotes from the full customer conversation and associate them with one tag each.

This approach is beneficial for a few reasons:

  • Using a verbatim quote from the customer allows you to use the customer’s words as leverage. It is a powerfully ally for convincing teammates and making data-driven decisions. Yes, often, the quote may lack context, and your team may need to follow up with the customer to dig deeper, but if a quote is captured, it is unmistakable that the customer said that once. Avoid paraphrasing the words of the customer if possible, as it opens up concerns about “lost in translation” issues.
  • Limiting customer feedback to a brief, verbatim quote allows others to more quickly review customer feedback.
  • Keeping the feedback associated with a tag allows your team to easily see how often the same topic has been raised by multiple customers.
  • Keeping the feedback associated with a customer has many benefits: it allows you to reach out to the customer should more details be needed, it allows you to inform them individually when you ship an enhancement, it allows you to analyze what problems impact what types of customers.

The key to being data-driven is to meticulously capture these insights. Your team is already doing ~98% of the effort speaking with customers, adding the simple step of tagging insights, and getting them in one place will allow your team be data-driven.

Tag every single customer conversation

To be able to take a data-driven approach to analyzing customer feedback, it is important that every single customer conversation is tagged. When you selectively tag conversations, any decisions made on the basis of those tags will be susceptible to bias.

Again, it's OK to start slow here. Start with tagging a few conversations a week and scale up as the data-driven approach proves its value to your team.

If you have a lot of feedback, it’s hard to parse all of that. As we grow and more users come in, it’s impossible for all of it to come into mind quickly. We needed a system that boils down every conversation to the core piece of feedback with the user.

Rajiv Ayyangar, Co-Founder and CEO of Tandem