Tools for Improving Feedback

29 November 2016 by Joe Larson

This is part 3 in our series about feedback loops, improving data quality, and reducing the time between response and action. In this part, we’ll identify ways to directly improve feedback loops and highlight various tools which can help you communicate information into actions that will help you achieve your goals.

With many workflows, you have an ideal situation and then what actually happens. What remains is the difference, a gap between the expected and actual. For example, you’ve set a target for completing a goal and at the end of some time period you compare it to what actually occurred. How did you do? Did you exceed your target or fall below the goal? The gap between the goal and reality can help you decide what to do different, in the form of feedback. Not every situation will allow you to determine the gap; in certain settings you’ll require feedback from your customers or peers who understand the domain.

If information on the gap is merely stored without being utilized to alter the gap, it is not feedback. Arkalgud Ramaprasad (1983). On the definition of feedback.

Opportunities to Improve Feedback Loops

So where are your opportunities to close the gap and shorten the feedback cycle? As seen in this “loopy iteration” of the product triangle by Daniel Schmidt, there are various places within your process where you can improve efforts, communication, and resources to enhance the workflow. You don’t have to improve it all at once.

Loopy product triangle, by Daniel Schmidt

Focusing on the entire operation of your business is paramount, but there are smaller feedback loops occurring within the different parts of your organization that can be optimized. For example:

  • How can field personnel communicate back to headquarters faster and more informatively?
  • Is there a way headquarters staff can process field information more efficiently?
  • Can management make better decisions to aid the field in their next iteration of activities?

Within any of the branches in your organization there are different tools which can help you collect, communicate, and gather information to generate feedback and make decisions. Below are some great tools which may help you or your team become more efficient at processing feedback into actionable information.

Communication Tools

Live Chat

One great approach to enabling direct feedback from your customers is through live chat. Intercom is a “way for internet businesses to communicate with customers, personally, at scale” which incorporates a chat widget on your website, allowing your customers to engage with you directly. Intercom is more than just a live chat though, it also offers rich metric reporting and integrations with your other favorite tools like GitHub, Slack, Salesforce, and more.

Chat bubbles

User Forums

Instead of one-on-one interactions, a community forum is another option for aggregating conversations and feedback. Platforms such as Tender or Discourse can enable your customers or community to help themselves and each other, while still allowing you to monitor the discussion and gain insight.

Gathering Feedback

GitHub Issues

While GitHub the product is ostensibly a code collaboration platform, it can be applied to any other type of projects, as well. GitHub Issues are a powerful and very approachable tool for just about any member on your team. A repository can be created solely for tracking feedback, requests, or comments. This functionality provides users with a straightforward way to @mention team members and issues can be intuitively labelled or assigned appropriately.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is the most prevalent web analytics service on the web today. It’s slogan is, “turn insight into action”, which is quite suitable for our topic: feedback. By using an analytics package on your website you can learn how people are discovering your content, using your site, and where they’re located, along with thousands of other metrics you can combine and visualize.

Firebase

To track in-app analytics Google offers another product: Firebase. Similar to Analytics for the web, Firebase gives you revelations about how your app is being used by capturing different events which you define, and reporting the data back to a dashboard where the information is summarized. Event-level data on usage patterns helps to optimize for common user behaviors.

Fabric / Crashlytics

Crashlytics is a mobile SDK in the Fabric suite of development tools (a subsidiary of Twitter). Crashlytics gives developers precise information regarding issues that are causing their apps to under perform or crash. The feedback provided by tools like these can speed up feedback cycles for developers to get ahead of bugs, potentially even before the user has an opportunity to communicate the problem. While the aforementioned Firebase also has a Crash Reporting tool, it is currently in beta release.

Conclusion

We’ve outlined a handful of ways you can improve feedback by leveraging different tools available for the various steps in your business process. Are there any tools you’re using and enjoy which we missed? Let us know by dropping us a line and we’d love to hear about them.

About the author

Joe is an integration engineer with Fulcrum, and works with clients to help make Fulcrum work with their workflows.

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