Ask These 7 Questions to Get the Honest Feedback You Need

Friends and colleagues will be politely reluctant to tell you your product has problems, unless you ask in a way that makes it safe to be honest.

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By John Boitnott

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As you build your business, you'll regularly seek feedback from those around you. Whether you're asking family, colleagues or your own team members, it's important to use the right wording to get the honest answers you need. If you don't, those around you may politely tell you each idea is great, regardless of what they really think.

You need solid feedback. An honest opinion from someone you respect can help you refine your product and make it better. If you never know what people are really thinking, you could spend years spinning your wheels, only to see your business grind to a halt. This is why Steve Blank often espouses the idea that startup founders need to "leave the building" to see if their product works for real people. Here are a few examples of questions you should ask to get honest, usable feedback about each of your products.

1. How can I make this product better?

Instead of asking, "Do you like it?" or "Do you think I'm on the right track?" ask questions that get specifics about the other person's thoughts.

As you ask colleagues or beta users about a product, specifically ask for suggestions on improvements you can make. Note these suggestions and take them seriously. They can be handed over to your product design team and put into future upgrades. When your colleagues and customers see their suggestions were taken seriously, they'll feel a greater loyalty toward your brand and may even offer more ideas for improvement.

Related: Seven Simple Tips to Get Honest Customer Feedback Online

2. What weaknesses do you see in my product design?

This question directly requests that someone skip the niceties and point out problems. While some may still hesitate to speak their minds, the question also invites people to speak up about issues they noticed. You may want to show the person weaknesses that others pointed out and see if those ring true. This process is especially useful if you've allowed a group of people to try out the product and provide feedback. One of your main directives as you collect a group of beta testers is to identify any problems in the product's design so that those problems can be fixed.

3. When you look at this product, what comes to mind?

As you've worked to develop your business, you've likely spent a great deal of time on it. This has probably taken away some of your ability to be objective. Your colleagues and customers haven't lost that objectivity, though, and will have an impression you won't when viewing your product. Ask what they think of when they interact with your product, preferably getting the answer without allowing them to overthink it.

4. What problems did you have using this product?

As a user interacts with your product, they'll inevitably encounter challenges and bugs. If you can, provide a way for customers to report such problems on your website. The easier you can make this reporting process, the more likely you'll be to get accurate responses, reported as they experience your product for the first time. For app developers, bug reporting can be built directly into the software. For manufacturers of goods, a phone number and web URL can be included with the product packaging inviting them to report any problems.

Related: Leverage Honest Reviews to Rack Up New Customers

5. What would keep you from recommending this product?

Your friends and customers are the best resources you have for building buzz through word of mouth. That makes them the perfect source for learning about any issues your product might have that would prevent such a recommendation. If people say they'd recommend it to others, it's a good sign you have a product they would get excited about.

6. Are we ready to consistently deliver this product to meet demand?

Assuming your product is met with strong acceptance and heavy demand, having the necessary resources in place to not only produce, but support your products, is essential for brand success. Not being prepared for things like customer legal action or other unexpected events is often an oversight of budding businesses. "[80 percent] of the time, businesses taking off neglect to properly insure and protect themselves in order to keep the business running," says Sam Meenasian, partner at Business Insurance USA. "Especially in peak operating times with resources focused on product, you don't have time to scramble around dealing with legal issues or broken machines without the proper teams supporting you."

7. Would you buy the product right now?

This question is best used when you discuss your product with potential users who either give you nothing but positive feedback, or they won't point out anything you need to do to make the product better. The idea behind this is, if they love the product so much, what's stopping them from purchasing it right now? This is a great method for getting your interviewee to truly think about what will make your product better.

Not surprisingly, people are much more likely to give you honest feedback if you start talking about the actual money in their wallet at that moment. This method can be a bit confrontational, so only use this if you feel comfortable with whom you're talking to.

As you gather feedback on your business, it's important to ask the right questions. Devote a certain number of hours every week to talking with prospective or current users on an ongoing basis, until you're really getting the sense that product-market fit is successfully occuring (even then you should not stop checking up on customer opinions regularly). While you'll always find people who are reluctant to tell the truth, by directly asking for any problems or design flaws, you'll be more likely to get feedback you can put toward improvements.

Related: Find the Courage and Ask Some Clients How Your Company Can Improve

John Boitnott

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Journalist, Digital Media Consultant and Investor

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.

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