Should you survey your users? close

Mark McDermott
Mark McDermott
In Musings
21st June 2012
Should you survey your users?

One of the classic tasks discussed at any pitch is what will happen post go live. Often clients say they will definitely invest in testing their user base and iterating the product based on feedback from the target audience. I’ve got a whole epilogue on the types of things we’ll do together and it’s really exciting. I normally get lots of nods "yeah, definitely"s at that bit. We all feel warm inside. It pretty much never happens.

The reasons are numerous, usually budget related or because new priorities have surfaced. In all honesty I think a bit of project fatigue is probably also to blame. Most clients do immerse themselves in the quantitative world of Google Analytics but mostly to judge levels of inbound traffic from their promotional and search campaigns. Some take it more seriously, creating tracking funnels and even split testing crucial landing pages. But very few actually go out there and ask their users directly what they think.

Is it that in the infinitely measurable world of the Internet, where data spews forth at you with high velocity, there simply isn’t room for qualitative analysis? Could it be that we simply don’t trust what people tell us? Their comments often loaded with self-interest and denial. Maybe so. Equally it could just be that we don’t really care what our customers think? This is not as ridiculous a statement as it might sound. Steve Jobs famously said,

"You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new."

This quote has actually often been misconstrued to mean that customers do not know what they want so you need to go away, invent something, then convince them to use it. Actually what Jobs was saying was that you shouldn’t rely on your users to design your core features - that’s always going to be your job. However what users do know is what it will take for them to open their wallets and part with their money. They also know their own pain. The pain of not being able to solve that niggly problem that has plagued them for months. Jobs also said,

"You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology - not the other way around."

At Apple the customer was at the heart of innovation and never really excluded from the process. If I am being fair we have very rarely been involved in work where I felt the customer was being ignored but what I see far less of is the iterative process towards fully solving a problem. Raw data isn’t going to give you all the information you need.

So what should you do?

Probably one of the easiest and most effective methods is to survey your users. This could either be via email (if you have a reasonably sized mailing list) or promoted within your site. There are several great tools out there that help you do this such as Survey Monkey and

We recently performed this exercise with one of our apps - Twilert. Twilert is like Google alerts for Twitter.

Since launching in 2010 we have built up Twilert organically to 45 000 accounts sending over a million emails per month. Clearly there seemed to be an appetite for what we were doing so we felt it was time to think about where we could take the product, and also, begin to monetise it.

We had a great response to our emailed survey with 1500 users filling it in. Our first finding was that we have a very engaged audience. 92% of users said they would be somewhat or very disappointed if they could no longer use Twilert.

There were a whole host of suggestions, most of which we won’t implement. But some really strong themes emerged from peoples’ feedback. It was fascinating to see how others perceived the usefulness of the product in quite a different way to how it had originally been designed. Armed with this knowledge we now really understand what our users want and we have some great ideas emerging on how we can help them.

Is it time you reached out to your audience as well?