How to Use Outcomes to Turn Feedback Loops into Ellipses | Hacker Noon

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@dirtyroninThe Dirty Ronin

I believe that good design is good business. If it ain’t love, it’s just noise.

Remote work has given us wonderful autonomy. But, there is a problem. It’s easy to forget that remote communication lacks the overall richness of face to face (F2F) interactions:

Video calls try to recreate some of the magic. And, video calls do help facilitate better understanding than email or Slack. But, Zoom fatigue is real, and there is a more rigid order to speaking than what we experience when F2F.

Written communication lets people think of what to say, and concepts can be more deeply elaborated on. But, it can be hard to account for emotional depth, and messages can be misinterpreted. Reading takes work.

Even within the freedom of keeping your own hours, it’s easy to become lost in ambiguity, anxiously wondering whether you understand someone or a situation correctly, or are understood. This affects colleague and customer relationships.

In either scenario, some context may be missing. You will always have to fill in the gaps along the way. That’s what good remote workers are constantly doing. Remote work never really ceases. And, as we all know, to develop a relationship you need to be consistent to build familiarity.

While good communication has always been a skill, in remote settings communication has become another job, a responsibility to both our colleagues and our customers.

And online, you have to over-communicate.

To appropriately fill in the missing context, set up and close feedback loops quicker in remote settings to develop a better connection with colleagues and users. Do that by semi-automating feedback using evaluation tools: surveys of any kind.

Prepare to receive feedback, and close feedback loops quicker to avoid misunderstandings down the road.

Why use evaluation tools to create quicker feedback loops?

1. It saves everyone time

2. It creates huge data sets that are easily parsed

3. It feels more personal & private

4. Respondents will be more engaged—it keeps them from thinking too much. They just have to read and respond.

5. It lets people know you’re listening

6. You can close the feedback loop quicker by acting on data trends

This principle works within any organization, big or small, B2B or B2C. Put these nets down to catch feedback wherever people are, and whenever they are at an important point of a process. Embed surveys in a product or on a website as a widget. Place them after respondents complete important internal processes. Send surveys over email or via text. Remove friction wherever possible by meeting your respondent where they are.

People will be more inclined to reveal their honesty if you do most of the thinking for them, and assure them that what they are sharing is kept private. No longer will the loudest voice win. Instead, responses are aggregated and made to become an evaluation tool for the organization. It becomes big data.

And, people can keep their autonomy. Whether they’re a customer or a colleague, you won’t be holding them hostage over a video call or trying to interpret a slew of written communication. Craft a well-thought survey, keep it fun, and let others keep their freedom.

Create beautiful surveys that people will want to take:

1. Creativity is crucial. Treat them as you would any design.

2. Keep them short or include a progress bar

3. Use simple language

4. Get right to the point. People appreciate candor. Ask what you want to know.

5. Ask respondents if it is okay to contact them

6. Promise to give them personal feedback right after taking the survey

Build relationships with customers

Courting customers of digital products has normally taken place in a remote setting. Though, now for the foreseeable future remote is all we really have. That doesn’t mean it’s any less important to stick to your customers like glue. Just don’t be overbearing. We’re all people. Do it in a fun, caring way. Be available. Customers always want to be able to get in touch with those building the products they use, they just hate seeing it as a requirement.

The difficult part for product and customer success teams may be judging which contexts are most appropriate to bug customers for a bit of feedback. That goes for the kind of survey itself. Luckily, Survicate is a great tool that provides an innumerable number of templates designed for just about every situation. They offer a plethora of integrations. And plus, it’s free!

An important point of understanding for product people that is commonly overlooked is the “How did you hear about us?” survey. The ROI on these kinds of surveys can not be overstated. Figuring out where your customers come from, and why, makes future customer acquisition that much easier.

Such a survey can be the first of many touch points between you and your customers. Identify important parts of user flows and establish gateways for feedback to flow through. It’s an incredible way to understand whether your CTA’s are really doing their job. There’s no better way to hear it than from the horse’s (customer’s) mouth. Surveys are great conversation starters, and can help you provide better services for your customers.

Survicate is just one example, but there are plenty of alternatives:

1. UserTesting

2. SurveyMonkey Enterprise

3. Podium

4. Hubspot Service Hub

5. G2 Marketing Solutions

Foster transparency in organizations

Remote work demands a reliable response rate. Colleagues have to be available at the drop of a hat. This work culture is neither realistic nor healthy. There’s a reason professionals regiment time to respond to email and other messages, it cuts into productivity. When you’re responding, you’re not working.

Remove the weight from the shoulders of your employees and instead set up evaluation tools that help them help you. Submitting an important report? Gather feedback from the recipient once it’s been submitted. Just had an important video meeting? Follow-up with attendees to gather their thoughts and questions without halting their workflow. Doing quarterly performance reports? Build a questionnaire that provides personal feedback to respondents. Automating these sorts of communications are important steps towards letting people maintain healthy autonomy. Confidence in the workplace makes for better results.

To increase the speed of feedback loops, partial automation is an interesting option. You might be afraid that automation inherently means “loss of a personal touch,” especially within larger organizations. That’s not necessarily the case. For example, ReportR is a unique tool by Survey Anyplace that allows you to make text paragraphs variable according to the score of the respondent. Once respondents have filled out a survey or assessment, they receive a  personalized report that makes staying in touch with employees much easier, and feel more genuine in a remote setting.

Use these to assess regular feedback from employees, or to provide them with a bit of your own. Management can use evaluation tools for a variety of internal benefits.

Instead of writing up a detailed report manually for every single person, you can provide them with personal feedback (advice) that is exactly suited to the responses they’ve given in your survey. You simply preset the variable widgets (for every answer in the survey, there is a variable feedback text in the PDF report) in the tool, and ReportR generates the personalized PDF reports automatically for your respondents.

Survey Anyplace is just one example, there are plenty of alternatives in the feedback software market: 

1. SurveyMonkey

2. Typeform

3. SurveySparrow

4. Canvas

5. Alchemer

The only difference is that they don’t have an auto-generated PDF report option.

Okay, I made my survey. Now what?

First, you must establish an internal process for responding to feedback and closing the loop. Here are some examples:

Flag negative feedback, and follow-up with earnest to alleviate pain points

Use the data to establish any future business outcomes (OKRs)

Track positive feedback as well.

Flag ambiguous responses. Follow-up in an appropriate context. It could be a video call, an email or a Slack message. But, only do this if you are sure you need an additional conversation.

It all comes down to action. You have to follow up. Talk to colleagues and customers. Be personable. Surveys do a wonderful job of getting a foot in the door. Sometimes, that’s enough. Normally, people say how they really feel and think. But, sometimes a survey is just the first step. That’s okay. It’s still done its job to acclimate the respondent to the conversation they are about to have. When you make things personal to people, they will care more. It keeps things focused.

Only when you give each voice its proper opportunity to speak, and you listen to it, will you truly know if the crowd thinks the same, or people are just following it.

Set your guidelines and go. Grant those collecting feedback the autonomy to follow the breadcrumbs.

Use outcomes to guide you

“An outcome is a change in human behavior that drives business results.”

You can establish outcomes you’d like to see your customers attain, ones you’d like your internal organization to attain, or both. Either way, nothing can be accomplished unless you are able to measure a change in a behavior.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet from Outcomes Over Output:

The Program Logic model

Resources → Activities → Outputs → Outcomes → Impact

In the end, businesses want to make an impact. It could be an increase in revenue, or better customer or employee satisfaction. Outcomes provide value beyond the output that takes place.

Feedback from evaluation tools are the resources necessary to create activities that sustain an output, which will in turn generate an outcome that has a definitive impact on business results. Consistently evaluate relationships inside and outside of your organization, establish both customer-based and organization-based outcomes, and create hypotheses that you believe will create those outcomes. Then, experiment.

If and when you fail, gather more resources and try again. Those pesky feedback loops will soon become ellipses that deliver continuous value.

Be mindful that there may be more than one way to achieve a desired outcome. Focusing on outcomes removes the pressure to work hard. Instead, work smart. Your method will be indicative of the situation, and to be adaptable you need data on current behaviors you’d like to change.

And, no, that doesn’t mean you just tell people how to think or act. In fact, respondents should be telling YOU how to think and act. Their feedback is an imperative step in first understanding them how best to help them help you. Then, connect with your respondents to figure out how best to gently nudge their behavior to a degree that creates a business result. Context, context, context.

Create a culture and a brand that encourages your mission, and outcomes that benefit your business in pursuit of that mission.

Close the feedback loop quicker by using evaluation tools. Always be learning, always be listening. That’s the key.

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