There are different aspects of the feedback that you need. There are also different times that you would like to get this feedback. For each of these there are different methods that will be more or less effective.
In order to make your beta period useful you should set up the systems for getting this feedback on a regular basis.
Aspects of Feedback
- The User Interface: What is the
customers experience of how easy it
is to use the site
- The Satisfaction:
What is their emotional experience of
using the site. Do they feel satisfied.
- The Value Proposition: What is it worth? Do they understand
and agree with the value proposition?
- The Business: How much will they pay? Really -- beyond the value proposition -- how much value will they put on it now.
After signup before they start using: Say thank you and take the time to learn a little about them. You want to know why they chose to participate, how they found out about you. This will be important baseline -- and correlative data.
During Use: Collect data during the use. People will find things and report things while they are using your product that will impact their reflections later-- but the critically important source details will be lost.
If they discontinue or stop using: The exit interview for people who chose not to use it. Make sure you approach with an open mind. You are mineing for gold for your startup.
When they upgrade or "re-up": Obviously you want their stories and testimonials. Listen to the decision making process they went through. That will help you improve your CRM.
Questionnaire are great and lots of links and samples will soon appear on here. But questionaires are not enough.
Try using some of the online usability tests (here is a sample called Verify we have had good experienced with.)
Email people direct and solicit feedback directly.
Pick up the phone and talk to folks. A real conversation will always be worth the time.
Meet for coffee. If you can a conversation in person will always get you the best response. Allocate a set of Starbuck gift cards or something to "pay" people for their time.
Set up a focus group. Don't worry -- think of it as group coffee. But do take the time to read and learn a lot about how to do it so that you get valuable feedback. (Here is a nice little blog post that has some great tips)
I strongly recommended that you "contract with" your beta customers to receive feedback from them. Make it part of what they agree up front. And then take them up on the offer as soon as possible. Make it an expectation. This will make it easier for you to feel comfortable asking. And it will reinforce the beta nature of your product/service.
Remember that beta users are doing you a HUGE favor. Treat them like royalty. Complement. Acknowledge. Appreciate. Pay. Bonus. Whatever you need to do to ensure that you are able to get the critical information you need to make your product/service connect with the market.