We live in a time of ‘big data’ and ‘analytics’ that gives us powerful insight into what our customers want. We know what people are doing on our websites, how much time they spend there, and so on. And, that data -- that quantitative data -- is so easy to understand. I think that’s why everyone likes it so much. The numbers can be put into clean spreadsheets, aggregated, extrapolated, and put into pretty charts. That’s all really good stuff.
The trouble is, data and analytics don’t give us a clear picture of our customers and our businesses. The numbers just don’t speak like people do. When we talk to people, we can ask them what problems they’re facing, how our business can help, how we can do better. That’s quality input -- qualitative data -- that numbers alone can’t provide.
Admittedly, qualitative data is messy. It’s subjective and time-consuming, reliant on personal interviews or interpretation of written feedback. It’s super hard to quantify. So, people tend to skip it. That’s a really big mistake.
You need both. If quantitative data gives you the ‘what’, qualitative data gives you the ‘why’ -- why people use one feature of your website more often than another, why they don’t use your online bill pay option, why they don’t sign up for your newsletter, why they don’t pick up the phone and call you, why they don’t engage with you on social media despite reading all your posts. That’s real data you need, too. That kind of information helps you fix problems and seek right opportunities.
So, no cheating! Resolve to do the hard work of gathering qualitative data. Here are 3 suggestions.
Surveys are arguably the best way to get customer feedback. They’re easy to make, easy to distribute, and easy to analyze (thank you, technology).
If you’ve written off surveys because you’ve gotten poor results in the past, you’re not alone. Everyone has made the mistake of creating a comprehensive 30-minute survey that nearly no one completed. 30 minutes though. Can you blame them? Try this instead:
- Keep it short.
5-10 questions max. Respect people’s time. Enough said.
- Ask with purpose.
Ask only the questions you’ll use and nothing more. Asking essential questions saves time and let your customer know you’re serious about improving a certain aspect of your business.
- Ask open-ended questions, too.
Rating scales and multiple choice questions are fine, but they force answers and assumptions on people. Open-ended questions allow your customers to speak freely, giving you real insight into what they are thinking.
You can distribute surveys in a variety of ways, email is the most popular. Another idea is to put a (very) short survey right on your website, a feedback box at the end of every page. “Was this page helpful?”, “Did this answer your question?”, etc. Those are yes/no questions, but you can take it a step further by providing a text box where visitors can write a quick response. Ask, “What can we do to improve this page/service?” and allow users to answer. It’s a pretty easy tool for your website designer to implement, so give it a try. If your social media interaction is strong, you can also implement surveys there very easily.
- In-person communication
Surveys are a starting point, but nothing, absolutely nothing, replaces the insight you gain from personal interactions. Contextual information is gained. Clients’ passions are exposed. Their appreciation for you and trust in you grows. You must go talk to people. You must!
Run a query in your CRM program to reveal your local clients, and invite each one to lunch (separately). This may take forever to accomplish, but I promise you it is worth it. Tell them that you’re seeking to understand their business better and how you can be a better partner. That 1-hour lunch will provide more insight than a thousand digital surveys, and your relationship will be much better for it.
Can’t meet in person due to distance? Call! Hearing a client’s voice and tone provides an opportunity to sense their satisfaction. Keep the call about them and not you. You want to come across as genuinely wanting to help them and improve your service, not as selling anything new.
- Usability Tests
Consider being able to watch someone using your product or website for the first time? What would they be drawn to? What would catch their eye? What would confuse them? What would spur them to pick up the phone and give you a call? Valuable information, right?
Well, there are services that can give you that kind of insight. You can define a task that you want someone to complete, have a random person do it, and get a recording of the entire process. Years ago, only expensive research firms for hire could pull this off. Today, there are apps to do it fairly inexpensively (again, thank you, technology). UserTesting.com, which offers tests at $39 per person, is just one example. (Please note that we’re not endorsing this site, just offering it as an example.)
The other option is to find your most honest friend who isn’t your customer but who fits your target demographic. Bribe them with lunch and ask them to try out your newest product or website feature. Offer no help, but just sit back and observe. Watch their facial expressions and body language for signs of frustration or confusion. Allow them to give feedback at the end, and do not offer excuses or explanations for what didn’t work. Just take the information for what it is and remain calm. This is really hard to do! But, you can save some money by not using a testing service.
Whatever feedback you get, you must respond to it. Positive or negative, useful or not, every bit of feedback gets a response. Say thank you first and then contact them if necessary by phone or email to provide support. Do this quickly, hopefully within 24 hours of receiving the response.
Know that you will not be able to act on every piece of feedback you receive. No one can afford to make every change a customer wants. Just pay attention to trends. If an issue keeps coming up across multiple surveys, interviews, and usability tests, it’s time to tackle the issue.
Go get that feedback! Continue to analyze data and respect the numbers that come in, but go after qualitative data, too. Improving your business requires you get both.