When building products, you can easily lose sight of the intended audience and related use cases. Often, your product team, engineering team, or executive team can get so focused on how they see the world, you lose out on how things really are or where you can focus to deliver a truly amazing product experience based on how people are actually using the product.

Not to say that these internal points of view are not well informed or part of the overall flow of information to scope and prioritize features, but there are other, often times more valuable, inputs to drive product priorities.

There are great tools available out there for SaaS or web-based businesses, that help analyze, understand, and even directly engage users through your product. If you are in an offline business, the concepts around “audience engagement” are still applicable. Here are three broad categories of feedback you need to understand and be capturing on a continual basis:

  1. Understand how people use your product: Where do people actually spend time when working with your product? You’ll be surprised at the answers when you see them. Product features you thought not important can be high usage areas or the time/effort required to complete valuable tasks can be much greater than assumed.
  2. Understand where they get confused or frustrated: Building on the point above, where are your customers getting hung up? Do they make it past the instructions or tutorials? Do they complete all the set up steps to unlock the complete value of the product or do they get hung up in some way? Identifying these areas puts a laser focus on product priorities to remove “friction” from your product and puts you on the path of delivering an amazing user experience.
  3. Understand where they leave or put it down to complete a task: This is more about what your product does not do than what it does. You should strive to cover the entire workflow related to the problem your product is seeking to solve. If your customer leaves your product to do analysis in a spreadsheet, you have not covered the entire workflow. What calculation do they need? What data are they comparing or analyzing? Understand this step and add this to the product priority list.

Now that you have a framework to apply to audience engagement, let’s talk a bit about how you do it and some of the tools available to help you:

  1. Usage Data: This is the data generated from people using your product (SaaS or web application in this example). As people login, access functionality, run reports, etc. they leave behind very valuable information for product designers. What is the actual flow through the product? Where do people spend 80 percent of their time? Do they come back hourly, daily, weekly? What did you assume they would do? Use products like Evergage or Intercom.io to track, analyze, and understand user actions.
  2. Survey Data: This is the data generated by actually asking large samples of your customers questions about their product usage, needs, and requirements. A combination of open ended questions, priority ranking, and simple yes/no answers can shed a huge amount of light on internal assumptions and product roadmap priorities. Use products like Qualaroo for “in-application” surveys and Apptentive for a mobile experiences.
  3. Direct User Feedback: There is no substitute for a one-on-one conversation with your customer. Ask them about their experience, what they would like to see, where you can improve. You’ll learn a huge amount from these conversations and even more when you broaden them to include customers who have cancelled or people who tried your product and chose not to buy it. You can expand this to more than one person at a time into a focus group type forum. Regardless of format, have a tight set of questions, let people talk, and be appreciative of the time you are being given.

Audience engagement is a core component of successful product design and having a method to collect, analyze and act on it will elevate your product and make for many happy customers – plus long-term customer relationships.