Apoorva asks, in response to my post from SD on the House Of Quality:
But how does one reach out to a broad spectrum of customers? Getting feedback from a regular/power user is not that difficult - but how do you get passive users interested in participating?
This is indeed one of the great mysteries of software development - of anything development, really. People who care about your app tend to be vociferous in their opinions, so learning what they want and think is pretty easy. Determining why your other users don't care so much and remedying that situation is much harder.
The simplest and best way to turn customers-that-don't-care into customers-that-do-care is to show them that you care about them.
How do you do this? Phone them up and ask them how they use your app and what they wish it did. Ask to visit them on their turf and see what their job is like and how they use your app. Bring them into your office on your dime to brief them on your plans and see what they think.
Less direct techniques work too. A great way to start is to answer every question posted to your discussion group. Don't leave this to your marketing team either; rather, have your developers and testers and program managers respond. At one point during my Visio time I vowed to answer every last question posted to a specific newsgroup. I didn't really know what I was getting into, but it turned out to be wildly successful on many fronts. First and foremost, customers received prompt and accurate answers, which let them get past their blocking problems and focus on their real jobs. Let me tell you, happy customers are A Very Good Thing! Not only do they keep buying and recommending your app but they do things like email your boss and upper management singing your praises (which is a good thing come review time! <g/>).
Happy customers weren't the only benefits, however. During the year-and-a-half I was doing this I learned a huge amount about every aspect of Visio, which directly improved my testing. Solving many of the questions required collaboration with developers and PMs, so this work helped me build relationships that served me well when I was investigating a gnarly bug or was advocating for a bug to be fixed. Not to mention that some of my best bugs came from customer questions!
Another great not-so-direct technique: write a blog. <g/> Blogs provide transparency into your company and its product development process and show that there are real people behind that corporate logo.
The specifics of what you do are much less important than the fact that you're doing something. Open a conversation with your customer that shows them you care. Do this and you'll find that suddenly you don't have passive users anymore.
*** Comments, questions, feedback? Want a fun job on a great team? I need a tester! Send two coding samples and an explanation of why you chose them, and of course your resume, to me at michhu at microsoft dot com. Great coding skills required.