Courtesy of Oliur Rahman via Unsplash

You can study it in school. You can keep up with the trends. You can ask your mentors and your peers. But when it comes to improving a digital product, there’s one source of information that trumps everything: your users.

Your users are the end-all be-all for decision-making information. If you can understand them and what makes them tick — their likes and dislikes about your app, their unconscious color preferences, their pain points when navigating through your software — you can create a truly excellent product. Information you learn directly from your users is the highest quality source of information you have access to because ultimately, they — the users — decide whether your product lives or dies.

Straight From the Horse’s Mouth

At Neon Roots, and at a whole lot of other digital creative studios, this is mantra. User feedback is the highest law of the land, and we try to gather as much of it as we can and incorporate it into everything. This is the case for many companies — at this point, just about every website has a method for leaving feedback.

But here’s the problem: most companies suck when it comes to effectively gathering user feedback. To understand why, let’s take a look at how they go about capturing user feedback. Or, at least, how they try to.

Failing at Feedback

Take T-Mobile, the cell network that’s making a big play to try and displace this Verizon as the market leader. They’ve been pouring plenty of money into their marketing budget, making the argument that mobile networks are essentially the same now and trying to position themselves as something of the ‘cool’ network — like Verizon’s hip younger sister. After all, they feature none other than DJ Khaled on their homepage.

Takes more than celebrities to win, T-Mobile.

A company that wants to be seen as fresh and cool ought to keep a direct line open with their customers, and feedback on the layout and content of their website is a critical piece of that. Unfortunately, T-Mobile falls short.

For starters, a feedback button is nowhere to be seen on their homepage. Even their monolithic competitor, Verizon, has a clearly visible option for feedback on the homepage:

Look at me! I’m unobtrusive yet easy to see!

But T-Mobile has nothing of the sort. Their Support homepage doesn’t do us much better — there’s no “feedback” button to be seen.

In fact, the only way for a user to leave feedback is if they’re randomly selected, as I happened to be. Some percentage of T-Mobile’s web users get treated to this message:

If they agree, they’re greeted with this:

Ok, I guess I can wait until I’m done using the site to provide feedback… but having it in a separate window is a little irritating. Once I click back into the site, I’ll lose that window behind my main browser. If I’m not fully savvy with navigating through my open applications, getting back to it might be a pain.

In any case, once I’m finished with using the website and get back to the feedback window, the session initiates itself. Keep in mind that this is a do-or-die moment — if I don’t like what I see, I’m easily inclined to click that red button up at the top left corner.

So what greets me?

Oh… how long is this?

Oh my.

Oh my Lord.

I’m sorry, but when I agreed to give some feedback to your website, I did not expect to have to retake the SATs.

Finally.

This is the key problem with how most companies go about gathering usability data and feedback. They rely on incredibly comprehensive methods — keep in mind that 22 of the 24 questions on this form were required.

If customers actually filled this out in good faith, it would be an incredible resource for T-Mobile. They would have a wealth of data about their website, their users’ experiences, and how they can improve. But good Lord, who has the time for this?

A New Approach to Gathering Feedback

So how do we avoid the same mistake? It’s simple: don’t ask for too much feedback in too much detail at any one time, and make it completely painless for customers to provide this feedback.

Kissmetrics has a great tool for this called Qualaroo. It lets you include a short, simple survey in an unobtrusive pop-up on your website.

Another company that’s doing this well is UserSnap. They let users report bugs and provide feedback that includes a screenshot of the webpage, also providing a tool to markup the page.

At Neon Roots, we created something even simpler — Feedback Emoji. It’s instant user feedback on your onsite content using the universal language of emojis.

User Feedback, Miniaturized

What’s important here is to notice the common thread between these tools: they make the process of providing feedback near-instantaneous, and they’re conservative in what they ask for. None of these tools are making the user take a test. It’s a quick, simple question with a quick, simple (and sometimes non-verbal) answer.

This is the key to gathering real, high-value feedback from your users. No one has time to write an essay about why they don’t like your site, and they’re even less inclined to do so when they’re dissatisfied — but it’s the dissatisfied users that you need feedback from the most.

If you really want to outdo your competition, you need feedback from your users. And if you want to get that, the rules are clear: make it quick. Make it easy. Make it simple.

Author

CEO and Co-founder of Neon Roots

Ben Lee is the co-founder and CEO of Neon Roots, a digital development agency with a mission to destroy the development model and rebuild it from the ground up. After a brief correspondence with Fidel Castro at age nine, Ben decided to start doing things his own way, going from busboy to club manager at a world-class nightclub before he turned 18. Since then, Ben has founded or taken a leading role in 5 businesses in everything from software development to food and entertainment.