The best way to get honest feedback

Have you heard of the 'shit sandwich' method for providing feedback? Its quite simple really. You start off with something positive, hit them with the all important area for improvement, before finishing off with another positive sentiment. Its meant to be constructive and if delivered appropriately, doesn't leave the person feeling like the titular object. 

I always embraced the 'shit sandwich' method. Both when I was on the giving and receiving end of feedback. I was educated in a mainly critical feedback-lite environment. People were scared of saying anything that might potentially be interpreted as harsh or combative. Surprising really. We were all 20-something intelligent individuals, training in a high-stress profession where the quality of care provided is of the upmost importance. (I studied medicine at uni).  

And yet it was more of a back-slapping, ego-massaging environment where everyone did an excellent job and no one could do no wrong. I imagine in the cutthroat realm of startups, there's little room for honeyed words and protecting an individual's feelings. People's hopes and dreams live and die at the hand of their mistakes and if you don't heed the criticisms of those with credibility then you're consigning yourself to failure. Please tell me if i'm wrong. 

And so, as STAMP crawls (oh so slowly) towards its beta test, we have set our minds on the best way to gather feedback. 

We're going for a combination of formal and informal - a smart-causal approach if you will. Let me elaborate. 

On the informal side, while our testers are using the app, they can tap through to the support page. Here they can instant message with one of the STAMP team. Sure - we can discuss the weather, politics or the state of the economy, but ultimately its a great way to talk functionality and get the low-down on the app in more or less real-time. I'm the worst for having lightbulb moments and then instantly forgetting what they were because i didn't write them down. The hope here is to give our users the ability to shout out their incredibly useful insights as they pop into their head whilst using the app. Genius!

On the formal side? Well it would be nice to obtain feedback in a way thats measurable and might help us throw together some useful bar charts or whatever. Here we welcome the questionnaire, emailed to our users [x] weeks after they start using STAMP, inviting them to provide extensive feedback on all aspects of the app. We're talking well constructed questions, with good response options, delivered in an easy to complete format. 

Of course, there's a few pitfalls we're trying to avoid:

  1. Leading questions. 'How much do you agree with the following statement? Creating STAMPs is really fun.' If you word your questions in a way thats geared towards positivity, you're subconsciously going to limit how honest your user might be. Keep it neutral and let them decide wether they want to give you a positive or negative response. You may as well throw feedback from these type of questions in the bin. 
  2. Questionnaire length. Out of all the users your app will obtain in the future, the beta testers are arguably the most motivated and dedicated. For the prize of early access and despite little or no reward, they'll do you a massive solid and test the shit out of your app. So after they've done all that, don't laden them with pages and pages of questions. Its quality not quantity and you'll probably get a better response rate by adhering to that rule. 
  3. Don't restrict white space answers. Useful feedback isn't solely wrapped up in a 1 to 5 scale where 1 is 'I hate it' and 5 is 'I love it'. Challenge your testers to provide meaningful feedback and think for themselves. Questions like 'What one thing would make you use our app every day?' or 'What one thing does [your app] do really well/bad?'. These invite unique responses that may be harder to collate but could be worth a whole lot more than any 5 point scale. 

Clearly, theres plenty more to consider when designing your feedback gathering techniques. Overall though, its worth taking a leaf out of your marketing handbook. Utilise multiple channels, make sure what you collect is broadly measurable and deliver it over a consistent period. 

Be prepared for something worse than a shit sandwich. Hopefully your testers are more brutal than med students and won't hold back when it comes to speaking their mind. Sure your morale may take a beating but ultimately it'll lead to greater and better things. Nevertheless, if your product is well received, you'll look at your questionnaire responses and realise that maybe, just maybe, you're onto something truly great that people are going to love. 

Till next time. 

S x 

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