When we first look at a new thing, we are bound for that first impression. This first impression is sometimes the barrier, stopping us from starting a conversation with someone, choosing something to eat from the counter and of course buying a product. “No second chance for first impression” is a well known saying. For a SaaS business it might be a major differentiator between success and failure.

Most of our potential customers are anonymous for us, and their purchase decision process is often the same as with all SaaS online sellers:

  1. The customer needs a service/tool.
  2. Searching the web (usually Googling for key words matching the services they need).
  3. Evaluating several of the found alternatives, to see which one best fits their needs.
  4. A purchase decision for one of the options evaluated is then made.

This is of course the short version of the process, which can be a longer, more complicated one, in some organizations (involving people from different departments, internal demos, questions sent to the vendor, quote requests and other).

I will not discuss the process of how to be one of these user-found-me-on-the-web alternatives. The online activities of advertising, the SEO, social media, and website quality are all aimed to bring your product/service/tool to the right place to be included in the evaluation process of potential customers. I personally don’t believe anyone has found the Holy Grail of how to do it right (yet?). I will also not discuss here what makes a good first impression, or what and how to make your tool look better compared to the alternatives.

The purpose of the post is to list several techniques of how to get a second chance for first impression… that’s right. It’s possible.

What we want to do is learn from first time users, how do they see the application on that first impression, what are their thoughts and what can they say after the first few minutes/then hours of using it. Improving this first impression experience will give us a second chance… with the next new potential customers, on their first impression of our service.

“Real” User simulation

Asking a friend to try your product, or paying a company to get you a focus-group, have both the same meaning of bringing new users and learning from their reaction, real-time actions while working with the product for the first time, their questions while doing so and their direct feedback.
You can learn by watching them, asking them questions, and even use professional tools like “eye movement tracking”. If you are under budget restrictions (aren’t we all..), you can do it all online, and send a survey to users, hoping that results will be meaningful. The downside with all of this effort, and this type of users, is that they are not your actual real users, and much of their input might be irrelevant to you or to your real potential user/customer.

Asking for feedback from users

Asking our current users how to improve the process, one they already saw, is another option. These are users who voted already for you, they are usually happy to help and give feedback, and they already know a bit about your app. The problem here is that these users are not exactly relevant to your target audience for that first impression we are looking to improve. You are looking for that fresh new look at your product, that first-time when feelings and impression play the main part, not the logic, expertise or knowledge. Your current users/customers are the experienced users. More than that, they probably have, at this stage, a positive view about your product (after all they became customers). But you are looking for those with either no set mind or even those with a negative position. Another disadvantage of this effort is the survey content, the questions asked. Our experience shows that users will always give you ideas and feedback according to your questions. They will rarely bring up a new approach to the table even if asked for it, and it will be difficult for them to go back to their initial impression and get the data you need from them, about what worked back then, that made them stay and continue the evaluation.

High priority for “how-to” support emails

Another place to get good, solid information is an easy one to implement. Support emails are full with information and knowledge, businesses will usually pay to have. Why not use it if it’s already there?
Whenever a user sends a question or request, it should raise several follow-up questions by you:

  1. Why do they need our assistance, maybe our product is not clear/intuitive enough?
  2. What should we improve? Is there anything missing?
  3. And for me, the most important thing, is asking the user what were they trying to do and why.

In many cases the user might ask a simple “how-to” question. You can answer the question, explaining how to do it and ‘close’ the case. That’s wrong. Consider asking them what were they trying to do, and more important – why. What is their process, work-flow, and how do they use your application for that matter. You will find that you can improve many areas in your solution, change how things work and make it useful for the (real) users.
While this method seems not strictly related to our first impression discussion, it can be so. By continuously improving you product you will have a better product and obviously a more user friendly one, making a better impression even in the first look.

Using freelance testers

A recent practice I learned from using freelance testers (using online resources such as oDesk and others) is that they are a great source for that first-look-impression feedback. You can hire many testers for a relatively low budget, and ask them to use (test) any part of your product. Since these are experienced testers, they will send you great, valuable feedback which will not only help you with the testing but will provide ideas and insights to get better first-time impression. Direct them right, sending the exact expectations, and get that feedback right back.
Although not what we defined earlier as ‘real’ users, they do have the QA skills and will know to tell you about the usability of your product, some possible improvement directions, perhaps a few bugs found on the way :-)

 

All of the above mentioned options, to get that so-important feedback on how to improve the first time impression are valid, good to use, with their advantages and disadvantages. At Testuff we found that giving high attention to a customer’s email, wisely asking them those “what” and “why” questions, lead us to improvements that most of our users liked. And using freelancers testers gave us that useful fresh look of our product, and led us many to good new enhancements ideas.