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How to manage software Beta feedback

5 Tips for Managing Beta Feedback

Written By:
Matt Hubbard

When you’re running an alpha or beta testing your product, you’re likely to get more feedback than you can possibly digest without help.

We’ve written before about how to manage the beta process. Today, we go more in-depth on the specific topic of how to manage the beta feedback itself.

For anyone in this role, here are five tips to make your life easier:

1. Use the Right Channels

Hint: email is not one of them.

Managing your inbox is hard enough without getting blasted at all hours with feedback. There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting at a restaurant late on a Friday night and getting a negative email about your product. It can ruin your evening and make you feel like you aren’t making progress with your app – when you might have actually had a great week in aggregate.

Feedback should be digested in scheduled, focused, and manageable chunks, and it should be segregated as much as possible into a different channel than email. If you use email as your primary channel, feedback gets lost in the same way that other emails do. More importantly, if feedback is sitting in your inbox, no one else on your team can see it, nor can other users (who might want to support or refute that particular suggestion).

To accomplish this, we recommend a feedback management tool such as UserVoice. Their widget sits inside our app and looks like this when clicked:

Uservoice Interface to Gather Beta Feedback

UserVoice allows users to create ideas for your product, which others can then vote on. As a result, you prevent duplicate feedback and get to see which issues are most important to all of your active users (but beware: votes count as determinative factors, as we’ll explain below). As a service, we’ve been very pleased with UserVoice. It’s one of the few cloud tools that is easy to use, flexible, and does exactly what it claims to do.

We also use Intercom.io for our in-app tracking and messages. These in-app messages provide another channel for feedback, and you can use specific filters to hit users with automated messages at the right time in their progression through your app. For example, you can set a message to ask a user how they are doing after five sessions. Responses to these messages often contain valuable feedback, and Intercom has been an invaluable help in starting conversations with our users.

2. Pay Attention to the People

At FullContact, we talk about the “personas” of our users. Basically, who are the types of people who will use and benefit from our products? On the other hand, who are the types we should direct towards a product that’s a better fit? Not everyone is looking for your app – if your target market is anyone and everyone, you aren’t prioritizing like you should be.

As you are reviewing user feedback, investigate the users who make interesting suggestions. By learning a little bit more about them, you can start to understand the context for their feedback. Maybe they have a particular job that makes them want to use your product in an unconventional way? Maybe they are a software developer and are paying close attention to how your app behaves? Maybe you were entirely wrong about the type of people who want and need your product?

The best way to do so is use a customer support tool that displays a 360 customer view, so you can see the user’s picture, social network profiles, and other links. UserVoice and Intercom both offer this customer profile functionality. Here’s a screenshot of how a user’s profile looks in Intercom, with all the social network links included at the bottom left:

Intercom displays user profiles

If a tester submits a particularly interesting suggestion – or one that you don’t understand at all – you can go look up their public information to get a better idea of why they might be suggesting that idea. Additionally, if they are particularly thoughtful or influential user, you can follow them on social media to deepen your connection.

3. Respond As Much As Possible

What’s better, one piece of feedback or many? How about one temporary beta user or a future customer? The answer goes without saying.

If you respond to people who make suggestions, you’re likely to encourage them to make more suggestions because they know you’re listening. You’ll see their feedback become more constructive and detailed, and you can coach the person to start sending you screenshots or other helpful attachments. In turn, the user will start feeling invested in the product itself, which can also lead to positive business relationships when your product goes live.

For every piece of substantive feedback, try to respond in some way. At the very least, mark the idea as “Under Review,” “Planned,” or “Declined” so that all users can see what you’re up to. If you decline the idea, include a short rationale to explain your decision-making. Here’s how this type of categorized forum looks in UserVoice:

Uservoice feedback forums

All this management takes extra time, but it is a force multiplier when it comes to increasing the flow and quality of feedback.

4. Keep Digging for Answers

When you’re in an argument with someone and they complain about something small you’re doing wrong, is that small issue always the whole problem?

…or is there often something more going on?

As with most human opinions, there is often an underlying motivation to user feedback. Sometimes that motivation is obvious, but other times it is unconscious or hidden under layers of other ideas. When users tell you they wants a feature or other change to your product, ask why they want it. When they explain their motivation, ask them for more detail. What are the core values they’re trying to express?

During this process of digging deeper, you might find out that the user’s idea is a just a convoluted manifestation of a different need. He or she might tell you, “I want A,” but what they really need is B – which might be much easier to build or implement. You might save your development team significant work by accommodating (or educating) the user in a different way.

5. Beware Democracy and Groupthink

Just because an idea is persuasive or popular, does not necessarily make it a good idea. At the end of the day, your company has a core mission, and you shouldn’t stray from it to make everyone happy. You need to satisfy the needs (contrasted with desires) of your target demographic.

An open forum for feedback is a wonderful thing, just like freedom of expression in a democratic society. Yet in both you must beware tyranny of the majority and the human tendency to be persuaded by style over substance. People often say they want something because they see others asking for it, or because they don’t take the time to carefully consider what they really need instead.

Carefully consider any user’s feedback, but remember that strong, persuasive opinions or high vote tallies are simply a few data points among many. Is this user in the core demographic for whom you are building? If so, what does the user really need? Would this feature really make your app better, or is it just a fancy aftermarket part on a functional sedan? Stick to your core mission, and implement only the ideas that help you solve the major pain points for your target market.

We’ll write more about beta feedback in the future! What tips do you have for maximizing your beta feedback?

(And speaking of betas…have you signed up for our Cloud Address Book beta yet?)

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