How well do you really know your customer and her needs? How do you really understand how she is using your service? Who are the heavy spenders? An understanding of fundamental questions like these will help your entire team make better decisions on products, features, partners, and overall priorities.
This post is inspired by a recent post by Andrew Parker, Observing the Typical Internet User. where he talks about getting qualitative data (vs. quantitative data from ComScore, etc.) around user behavior on these questions:
- What needs does the internet fill for people, on average?
- Where do they go to fulfill those needs?
- How long do people spend online, on average?
- What are the means of access?
While Andrew tries to answer these questions for the internet as a whole, these are similar to questions you should be asking yourself about your business everyday.
So how do you get there?
If you have time or the resources (ahem, likely post Series B), you will want to do some “Customer Discovery” work, a fancy term for figuring out what your audience cares about. This may include:
Sitewide survey – starting with your existing users is a great start. It’s always great to expand that to people who have never heard of your company, but they are harder to target. Here is an example of a survey summary I worked on in 2008).
Surf-alongs – Actually watching how people navigate your site or similar sites can generate some surprising insights. This is best done in people’s homes on their own computers, but a usability lab can also be very effective.
Segmentation - Developing customer groups that are similar based on individual characteristics and behaviors - this is great to figure out what each group is doing on your site or at least see if there are any distinctions between user groups. This is usually a combination of both survey results, the quantitative data and surf-alongs, the qualitative data. I will write more on this in a future post.
If you are in startup mode or resource constrained, doing some customer discovery work will take some discipline. When there is a million other things to do its really hard to say, lets call a few customers and chat. But that is what I am urging you to do. You will need to pull yourself away from your existing product and with an open mind do the following:
Call your customers – People share a remarkable amount of information. Your customer/member will likely be flattered that you care about their opinion and spend some time telling you what they like, don’t like and want to see. Calling as little as 5 people, you will likely find some trends that will be valuable to you.
Quick survey – Ideally you will find out exactly who is answering the questions (some demographic information, etc.), but if you want some fast answers sending a few questions to your members can yield great insight. Email can work, but some argue can a slider that asks randomly selected people the questions right on your site works even better.
User testing - Test drive new features is a great way to get feedback. Find local people in your community using your product and offer them an Amazon gift card or small amount of cash to spend some time using your site. I’ve seen companies recruit from Craigslist, ask people in the Starbucks line, beg friends of friends – do whatever works for your company and product. This is also a great way to find people who have never seen your site – fresh eyes.
Mine your data – Can you get any information on what features are used most? Most frequently asked support question? Top selling categories? Spending a little time mining the data that is right in front of you can often quickly point you in the right direction.
Poll your employees – I am a big fan of anonymous feedback. Open meetings are great, but once a company gets bigger than a few people some may be intimidated to go against the popular belief. This includes contractors, interns, etc. Don’t let them sit on a pile of valuable information. Make it easy for them to give it to you.
The earlier the company, you may want to do this quick analysis of your user base more frequently. Your customers 3 months ago may not be the same today. Do you have any other quick and dirty tactics?