19 December 2018

Learning from the biggest flop in film history

Rifling through the history books is always enlightening, even for an online business in the 21st century.

Heaven's Gate was an unparalleled disaster for United Artists. The film barely managed to gross $3.5m against a $44m budget, and received such negative publicity that it ultimately lead to the studio's collapse in 1980.

There were a lot of warning signs - neverending reshoots, exhorbitantly expensive set design, a director who locked himself in editing for months on end.

Ultimately, that might not have mattered had the studio reached out to audiences much earlier on.

Test screenings had been around for at least six decades prior, pioneered by silent film comic Harold Lloyd. The concept is simple - get the roughest cut of your film out in front of an audience as early as possible, and ask them questions to see whether they liked it.

Lloyd took this one step further for 1928 film Speedy, literally charting when, where and how loudly the audience laughed. This was then fed back into the editing process, adding gags to fill any space that fell flat with audiences.

This lesson is still relevant almost a century later. In any creative endeavour, it's important to test early and test often. It's difficult to see the forest for the trees when you've been knee-deep in your own product -things that make perfect sense in your own head can get lost in translation for your customers.

Back then, this kind of customer feedback was lengthy. You'd need to find an audience, schedule a screening, print the film then roll the projectors.

We're definitely spoiled in the 21st century - anyone from a software developer to an accountant can set up their customer feedback framework in a matter of minutes.

Platforms like Typeform, Google Forms and Paperform are all pretty powerful options for conducting online surveys to stay closer to customers.

Tips on gathering feedback

When using these platforms, there are a few things that I've found useful to optimise survey completion rates.

Short and simple is best.

Around 5 questions seems to be the sweet spot, and definitely no more than 10.

Don't inject your own opinions.

For multiple choice questions, an "other" option is useful to avoid tainting responses with your own preconceptions.

Don't waste the user's time.

Typeform's "Logic jumps" lets you conditionally ask questions based on previous responses. Say someone gives your service zero stars - you probably want to follow up with a question like “What can we do to improve?”.

Integrate with e-mail marketing.

Typeform allows you to embed your survey's first question into mailouts from platforms like Mailchimp. This seems to boost survey completion rates.

Source: Typeform

Integrate feedback with your CRM/sales platforms.

Most of these survey platforms plug in to Zapier, allowing you to integrate with a wider ecosystem of tools and.

There's enormous flexibility to connect Zapier triggers with your survey tool - you might want to trigger a feedback email when a Xero invoice is paid, or when a client is placed in a certain category in your CRM, or 12 months after they've been added to your Mailchimp list.

Analysing and communicating feedback

Collecting feedback is only one part of the story - you then need to use that information in a meaningful way.

By default, Typeform responses are stored in Typeform itself (though you can also configure email notifications). Neither of these are great for spotting trends in your feedback, particularly if you’re receiving lots of it.

With Zapier, though, you can hook up a few pipes to help analyse your Typeform responses.

You could, for example, create a pseudo-dashboard by sending data to a Google Sheet pre-built with pivot tables and charts. Typeform itself also has an in-built calculator that lets you 'score' feedback across a number of questions.

Zapier also lets you add custom filters to its Slack/email integrations. This allows triggers for certain types of feedback - like notifying the product management team when checkout feedback drops below a certain score.

Source: Zapier

To keep your team focussed on customer problems, not digging through databases, configure Zapier to combine triggered feedback with the customer's purchasing history from your CRM.

It's always good to shout positive feedback from the rooftops, which can be done by integrating with platforms like Verified Reviews to publish direct to your website in real-time. Zapier filters can be used to anonymise feedback and ensure that only positive reviews are published.

Staying close to customers

Ultimately, the most important thing is to stay close to customers and listen to their likes and dislikes.

You don't need a third party tool for this - we actually built our own survey into the Lexico app to ask new users which business workflows they were looking to automate, and the specific platforms they want to integrate with.

That's not really an option for non-software businesses, though, which is where Typeform, Google Form and others come in.

I'm sure we're all keen to avoid our own Heaven's Gate, even on a smaller scale in a different industry. The occasional history lesson is a good way to learn from the mistakes of others, and if Harold Lloyd and Heaven's Gate have anything to teach us, it's the importance of getting in front of customers early and often.