Your product is on the market. People are buying it. Maybe it’s not performing as well as you expected, or you think you could improve it and really wow your customers. Here’s a solid approach to product improvement that works across the board—from jewelry to printers to eBooks.

Stop

Before you start “improving” a product, you need to determine how your existing product is performing. Who is using it? What are they saying about it? What are they paying? And where do they get your product? How many customers are returning it?

Unless some element of your product is specifically broken—code doesn’t work, essential parts fail or break easily, or it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to—don’t start hacking it apart before you’ve done a significant amount of research. Too often, companies come up with what they consider a brilliant enhancement to a product, and more often than you’d imagine, they fail. Why? Because no one spent time to learn what the consumers wanted or what really needed to be fixed.

Look

Start by researching your market. Who are your main competitors? Do their products outperform yours? If so, how? Do they outperform in a specific demographic, geographic or socioeconomic group? Are their prices more competitive? Does their product last longer? Is their packaging more appealing? Or is their product simply easier to find in a store? Lots of companies specialize in consumer market research (such as Consumer Insights and IBIS World), but they tend to be expensive. Evaluating the data is one way to make decisions about strategic improvements in a product (e.g. if you change the color and make the handle easier to grip, you might get more women buying it).

However, if your budget is tight and you want insight on your product, take a look at the comments on your e-commerce and social media pages. Take the one-star reviews for the Polar FT4 Heart Rate Monitor as an example: people are disappointed in the device’s ability to do what it’s supposed to (monitor their heart rate) and the quality of the product (as one customer writes, “the watch fails to connect to the strap”). That’s an easy way to get your customers’ perspectives, even if you don’t have the time or money for a focus group.

Listen

Create a feedback loop for consumers that is easy for them to find and use; don’t hide it down at the bottom of your website or tell people in-store that they can go online to provide feedback. That tells customers you don’t really want their opinion and that you don’t care about their needs.

If you have a subscriber email list or newsletter, ask consumers that recently bought your product to take a short survey about it. You can use a number of free services to set up your survey and track results. Google Forms and SurveyMonkey are both free and easy to use.

You may not be able to respond to every customer-support email or posted comment, but reading as many of those emails, tweets, Facebook and forum posts that you can is essential to improving your product. Set up an easy way for your customer-support representatives to sort comments by theme: product suggestions, common problems and bugs, usability questions, etc. Also, keep an eye out for elements of your product people love. Think about how you can make the rest of the product more like those features.

Test

Test. Test. Test. Technology companies, especially those that rely on ads for revenue, test almost everything they do in order to increase their product’s performance. That can be testing the type of article that appears alongside a video, the ad they play on the pre-roll of a video, or the order and titles of their articles on the sidebar.

Read up on how to set up your A/B testing before you waste a lot of money and time on it. A/B testing takes a lot of practice, effort and money, so be sure not to fall into some of the common mistakes people make, like straying from their core message.

While it’s harder to test physical products—it’s entirely possible—it often requires external assistance. Crowdery engages your consumers to find out what they want. It helps create a clear feedback loop between you and your customer. Another method to improve upon your product is releasing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to a limited market and iterating on it based on their feedback (read more about leveraging an MVP here).

Once you know where you stand with your customer, you need to sit down and parse out your findings. Then you’ll be able to prioritize product improvements that aren’t based on your team’s assumptions about the consumer and how they want the product to work.