Surveying the Crop of User Feedback Startups

For companies, getting user feedback that reveals meaningful insight about user or customer sentiment has never been easy, but new digital and web-based tools are arguably making it easier than ever before. Startups in the space are leveraging new technologies to approach the problem from very different angles, and coming up with solutions that help make the process of gathering feedback more direct, more targeted, and more contextually relevant.

Under the radar Australian startup Floq, founded by Jonah Cacioppe and Michael Kruger, believes that changing people’s perceptions of surveys is the key to higher success rates. “Asking questions and getting a bunch of answers from your friends and colleagues is the most natural thing for people,” Cacioppe explained in an interview. “But when you mention the words ‘surveys’ or ‘polls’ people’s eyes glaze over.” Floq aims to make it easier to ask people outside friend and family networks for their input, and avoid that disinterest.

To accomplish this, Cacioppe says “context is king.” “While there are a ton of other survey applications out there, none make questions and answers truly global, open and shareable,” he noted. “If you create a survey or poll on SurveyMonkey not only does it take ages but you’ll never know what anyone outside your group or clients think about the same topic and questions.” Floq, by contrast, builds benchmarking right into the product by allowing users to compare their businesses with others using the platform on specific questions. Cacioppe said his inspiration comes from the notion of collective intelligence, and examples set by Q&A sites like Quora and Yahoo! Answers.

Cacioppe also aims to make gathering knowledge through Floq as easy as possible, through planned social media integration that will allow people to share questions via Facebook, Twitter, Yammer and more. He also envisions an email sharing tool that will allow busy respondents to do everything right in their email client without even clicking a link.

Ease of use and access is the name of the game when gathering feedback, and reducing friction is key to getting results. Other startups are hoping to accomplish that by making in-person surveys as quick and easy as the online variety. Toronto-based TabbleDabble has created QuickTapSurvey, a fully-customizable iPad app that lets users create their own surveys based on simple touch input buttons and fields, using a SaaS model to provide a range of features and options to suit the needs of different-sized businesses. People using QuickTapSurvey can load their questionnaire and hand it to a customer or stakeholder; the on-screen navigation and variety of customizable shortcuts make it faster than writing information out by hand. All results are available as an Excel-friendly .CSV export, making it easy to work with data once collected.

Another product aims to provide an alternative to pop-up surveys used frequently on ecommerce sites. PopSurvey, co-founded by David Hauser, Siamak Taghaddos and Josh Pigford, aims to make pop-up surveys more user-friendly with an approach that focuses on design and usability. CEO Pigford said in an interview that PopSurvey was founded based on the idea that “surveys can be fun and […] respectful of your time,” something he doesn’t see anyone else out there making a point of addressing.

“There are hundreds of online survey companies out there,” he said. “The problem is, they’re all just trying to out-feature each other. There’s no real, unique innovation in the online survey market and there hasn’t been for a number of years.” By contrast, PopSurvey is aimed at making the process as simple as possible, something Pigford claims makes survey creation “40 percent faster” than at competitor SurveyMonkey.

PopSurvey also combines desktop and mobile products in one, by automatically making every survey it creates available in a mobile configuration that works well on small screens with touch-based input. Mobile surveys can’t be customized separately from the desktop version, but Pigford believes that’s a selling point, not a downside. “We’ve already done the work and have tailored the design and functionality to work flawlessly for mobile devices,” he pointed out. “Sure, some people will want some amount of extra control, but that’s not who we cater to.”

Feedback startup Usabilla, as its name suggests, is all about usability feedback testing for websites, and it provides a product aimed at making that process both more useful to designers and easier for end-users to participate in. Usabilla lets designers gather feedback about specific elements of a design, overlaid directly on top of that design. It tells companies where users are clicking, allows them to leave notes providing more detailed explanations about specific elements, and works on both desktop and mobile-focused designs.

It’s a much more advanced system than testing with paper-based prototypes, and it allows for data-driven design, since feedback can be collected and exported via .CSV files for use in spreadsheet applications. Usabilla co-founder and CEO Paul Veugen said in an interview that the speed and accessibility of Usabilla and tools like it are crucial to today’s development cycle. “In the past few years development cycles became shorter and we saw an increase in simple and short tests,” he said. “Lean startups, lean & agile development cycles, testing assumptions, scrum; it’s all about speed. Offline tests are still very valuable, but are often combined with simple online tests.”

Usabilla recently launched its Discover product. Asked about that move and the future of UX testing, Veugen said he believes design testing is the future of the space. “Design and user experience is becoming an increasingly important differentiator,” Veugen maintains. “We’re building a big data set and are looking for patterns in HTML structure, visual presentation and emotional feedback.” In the end, that data-driven approach will allow Usabilla’s customers to see at a glance “your product list is similar to these five other lists, which score better at X & Y,” Veugen said. It’s a take not unlike Floq’s, albeit with a slightly different target audience.

With the means to gather, process and make sense of large data sets increasingly available to cloud service providers and SaaS vendors, it’s hardly surprising that startups like those listed above are leveraging the tech to help businesses make more informed decisions about new initiatives, websites and their existing brands. Another interesting angle is aimed at individuals, who may or may not be business users, including Kibin, a professional proofreading and editing feedback provider, and VidPrep, which allows users to publish videos and receive feedback on their technique for virtually anything.

The internet has made it easy to offer opinions, and people have taken to doing so in forums, social networks, public discussion boards and beyond. Online feedback startups are trying to find the best way to capitalize on this urge to help businesses and individuals gather targeted information straight from users, which in theory should provide those customers with a much clearer, more fine-tuned picture of how their brand and products are being perceived and received. Now, with companies like Floq and Usabilla moving to models that also build in the ability to quickly judge how one brand is doing in comparison to another, businesses should ignore this space at their own peril.