12 Tips to Increase User Feedback

User feedbackWhen you start out with a new software product, you may find it difficult to get feedback from users. Here are 12 ways to get more feedback.
1. Release a Beta
Launch a beta release, either publicly or by invitation-only, to gather feedback before a major release. This helps you discover major problems before releasing major changes.
2. Ask other developers
If you hang out somewhere online with other developers, ask them for feedback or offer a free license in exchange for testing and comments. ASP members frequently get valuable feedback from knowledgeable colleagues in the ASP newsgroups.
However, keep in mind that colleagues are often more knowledgeable than your average user and may provide a different kind of feedback than a typical computer user.
3. Ask friends or family
It may be useful to expose your software to friends or family members who have experience close to your average user. Sit them down in front of a computer and watch them go through the process of using your software. Even consider starting with having them visit your website, download, and install to provide you insight into the entire process.
Just remember that this is a major favor to ask a friend and is at least worth a beer. 😉
4. Make it easy to find your contact information
Clearly, if you don’t have a contact form on your web site, you won’t get much feedback. The same is true for hiding your contact page. I’m always surprised when sites hide their contact info.
Link prominently to your contact page, not only from your home page, but from every page. Some sites even go so far as to add a full contact form at the bottom of every page.
5. Provide multiple contact methods
Offer different ways for users to get in touch with you. Some users prefer a contact form, especially if they use only webmail. Some prefer a direct email address that they can click on to launch their email client and keep a record of their correspondence. Some prefer to pick up the phone. The more ways you provide to contact you, the more likely you’ll hear from them.
6. Add a comments field to your order form
Most ecommerce providers do not put a comments form on your order page by default. If you have the ability to add custom fields, make sure one is for comments. I prefer a simple text box where users can dump whatever is on their mind, from testimonials to feature requests.
About one in five (20%) of my customers puts something in this field.
7. Point users to your contact page when they have questions
Make sure that users contact you when they can’t find answers to their questions on your site. At the bottom of each FAQ, write “If you have further questions, please contact us” with a link to your contact page.
Some people might point out that large companies don’t do this. Too often, that’s true. They have their FAQ’s, then make it difficult to get further information. Often these large companies also have a reputation for poor, impersonal customer service and unresponsiveness. One of your advantages as a small hands-on shop is your superior customer service. Use it.
8. Ask for feedback
If you want feedback, ask for it directly. In your registration email, write “Please let us know what you think.” At the end of every support email, write “Let me know if you have more questions.”
Reading those types of phrases gets people thinking about what comments or questions they might have. Some will send that feedback to you.
9. Provide a user community
Make an area where users can post their ideas and feature requests publicly. This might be a private forum or even a Facebook page.
A major advantage of communities is that sometimes when one person posts feedback, it encourages others to post as well, or to comment on the first poster’s comments. A dialog may develop, giving you a better notion of how popular an idea or request is.
Software for creating forums includes open source solutions like phpBB.
10. Solicit blog comments
Turning off the comments feature on your blog sends the message that you don’t want feedback. Blog comments are another way for users and potential users to tell you what’s on their minds.
Publicly posted comments can even produce reactions from others, producing advantages similar to a community.
11. Run a survey
Make a survey form on your website and send an email to your mailing list asking users to fill it out. This can get information on more specific subjects than most other feedback methods, since you control the questions asked.
A baby version of this method is to post a poll on your blog or forum. By sticking with one or two questions, you can quickly find out how the participating users feel about something specific without running a full survey.
Many survey solutions are available, including WISCO Survey Power, which you can host on your own web site.
12. Create an uninstall survey
Consider prompting users who uninstall to fill out a short survey about why they are uninstalling. This could be a simple web form or an embedded module that emails you the results. One option is to open a web page from your uninstall program, such as this sample script for Inno Setup.
While many users will decline or not enter useful information, even occasional feedback gives you an idea of why people choose not to use your software. This gives you a different perspective than comments from happy users on an order form.
How do you to encourage user feedback? Share your tips in the Comments below.

Laura Look serves on the ASP board and is project manager at Bitsmith Software.