Start closing the end-user feedback loop

The most important feedback loop in any software development project is the feedback you get from end-users. The reason for this is simple: since they’re the ones actually using the product, it’s them paying for it, either directly or indirectly. If your product isn’t being used, I can guarantee you development on it is going to end sooner than later.

Common knowledge

Unfortunately, it seems this isn’t common knowledge. Instead, we tend to focus on the feedback of the client and (implicitly) assume that when the client is happy, the end-user will be happy. Also, since it’s the client that pays us, it only seems reasonable that it’s only their feedback that counts. Well, it turns out clients in general aren’t that much better in figuring out what their users want. Instead, they rely on feedback from those actual users to decide what the next feature is going to be, or what needs to be improved.

Having efficient ways to gather such feedback is therefore of extreme importance, yet often overlooked. In a lot of cases, feedback is only being gathered by physically talking to the users. While this results in high quality feedback, it’s not very efficient and the probability of missing things is very high.

Luckily, we, as developers, can help: there are a lot of technological ways to gather feedback more efficiently, and it’s our responsibility to make those methods available to our clients. Below are 5 techniques you can use to start shortening the feedback loop today.

Five things you can start doing today

Analyse web server log files

The web server logs contain a wealth of information. For example, it can help you:

  • Find out which features are used most often by looking at the request path.
  • Look for bad user experiences by seeing which requests have high response times or error responses.
  • See when your users use the product most. Does that map to what you expect?
  • Figure out which users are heavy users.
  • Track individual users as they browse through your site/app.

It’s easy to analyze log files with some custom code, or you can use something like Log Parser.

Setup Google Analytics events

If you’re using Google Analytics you can use events to track user actions. Use this to see what buttons they’re clicking, whether they’re scrolling, etc. Use this to figure out if users are actually interacting with your site/app as expected.

Install chat software

In-page chat widgets are popping up everywhere. You can install one to provide an easily accessible way for users to contact you. Make sure someone is actually answering the chat, though, or you might leave a bad impression.

Investigate abandoned funnels

Funnels can be abandoned for many reasons: it might indicate a use case you didn’t expect, maybe there was a technical problem or the user changed their mind. Either way, it’s interesting for you to know why. Use any method you have available to figure out why they happen: correlate logs, events, chats, etc. If you have an e-mail address, send them an e-mail to ask why.

A/B testing

A/B testing can help you figure out what your users care and don’t care about. Both are equally important: if they care about something, do it more. If they don’t care about something: don’t try it again and focus on things that do work. You can write the infrastructure yourself, but there are off-the-shelf solutions available as well.

Truly care

Just setting things up is not enough; you should also deeply care about the results. If anything looks inconsistent, you should investigate it. If data isn’t being collected, you should find out why. If some hypothesis is not coming true, you should think of ways to figure out why that is. Do whatever you can to learn more about your users.

Every person on a development team should be aware about who the users are, why they’re using your product, why they keep coming back, etc. It’s not just for one single role within the team (think Product Owner) to care about this stuff; everybody should feel responsible. If everybody in the team cares deeply about the users, the product will become much better, there will be more alignment and your work will be more satisfying.

(Dit blog verscheen eerder al op mijn persoonlijke weblog:

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