You've toiled and slaved over your B2B product, and finally you have some initial customers. How can you elicit honest feedback to keep them happy and improve your product?

Qualitative customer feedback is crucial for startups. Data is great, but it draws an incomplete picture, as the underlying reasons or important missing features aren't always uncovered.

At OwnerListens, we help companies communicate with their customers via text and instant messages. Listening to customers is built into our DNA. Here are five tactics we use that you can implement today:

1. Leverage your initial customer relationships

Your first customers are taking a chance on you. They must be excited about your offering and you're probably giving them a break on price. Make providing feedback part of that price. Build it into the contract.

In the early days we spent 20 hours a week speaking with our first customers. It helped us avoid a costly mistake:

Initially, when businesses signed up for OwnerListens we would send them a $20 starter kit to help market the program to their customers, believing it would make it easy for businesses to deploy.

However, speaking with customers yielded almost exclusively negative feedback about our starter kits: "doesn't match our colors" (a retail store), "head of marketing wants different text" (DIY hardware chain), and "don't have the time" (a franchisee with 15 locations).

We grew to 2,000 businesses a few months later. Continuing with starter kits would have cost us $40,000. Instead, we now directly work with marketing departments to help them design customer communications. For smaller businesses, we built a do-it-yourself signage generator they can customize themselves.

2. Get out of the building

My mentor Steve Blank taught me that the best way to learn is to get out there, observe and get unfiltered feedback (watch this). In B2B, chances are those who made the purchasing decision are not the (only) ones who will be using it. To get true feedback, go to the end users.

We gained a key insight after spending a day at a retailer using our service for customers to summon help in the aisle. We observed customers who were afraid that when messaging us, their mobile phone number would get spammed. We changed signage in the store to make our privacy guarantee larger and noticeable. The result: 20% engagement lift.

3. Every interaction is an opportunity.

Feedback should be baked into your product. It's not an afterthought or a survey at the end of the month. Enable customers to convey their thoughts in-the-moment. Make it extremely easy to contact you and remind customers they can do so. At OwnerListens, we encourage customers to save our number to their phone. It's instantly available when a thought enters their mind. All they have to do is text (or WhatsApp, WeChat, Messenger...) us.

4. Follow up

Customers will stop providing feedback if they feel ignored. Updating that you've taken action will motivate continued participation in the future. Additionally, knowing they've had an impact on product makes them more invested in your success and increases retention.

This approach paid off in spades for us. An end user sent a brief note about a feature he wanted. We ended up shelving that feature due to other priorities but our head of product responded with a note explaining the decision. Four months later, we released a new product (Message Mate). This same user was the first to test it and sent us a long unsolicited email with over 10 good ideas about the product.

5. Don't Get Lost

Feedback can be overwhelming. Done right, you'll get many opinions and ideas, and they will often conflict with each other. Resist the urge to give every customer exactly what they want. Step back and validate, evaluate, and prioritize.

  1. Validate that a concern for one customer is shared by many.
  2. Evaluate the implications of making the requested changes or building a feature (engineering, product, marketing, etc.)
  3. Prioritize your next step relative to other needs and available resources

Stay disciplined about this process. It will make the difference between being customer-inspired vs. customer-led.

Got feedback? Need more ideas? Text us at 650-825-1166 or find OwnerListens on any mainstream messaging app.

Adi Bittan is the co-founder & CEO of OwnerListens.com, a messaging platform .for businesses and customers to communicate directly OwnerListens enables real-time customer communications using SMS and other mainstream messaging apps such as WhatsApp and WeChat. The OwnerListens routing engine analyzes and routes messages to the right person system, or department for quick and efficient responsiveness. OwnerListens currently serves 10,000 businesses worldwide. In addition to running OwnerListens, Adi mentors entrepreneurs at StartX a Stanford University affiliated startup accelerator and at UpWest Labs, an accelerator for Israeli entrepreneurs. She is also on the leadership team of the SFO-TLV Direct Flight Initiative (sfotlv.org).

Adi holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an LL.B LL.M (cum laude) from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Prior to her time at Stanford, Adi was a Captain in the Israel Defense Forces and an attorney for the Israeli government's top planning and urban development commission Following Stanford and a short stint at Google, Adi founded a fintech startup and worked at Peter Thiel's Clarium Capital.

Published on: Jan 28, 2016