February 13, 2013

How to Figure Out What Keeps Your Customers Up at Night

How to Figure Out What Keeps Your Customers Up at Night

The secret to a successful business is knowing what keeps people up at night.

By now you've hopefully realized that this is the reason why you should be "sleeping" with customers — when you understand pain points in a customers life so well that they feel like you're reading their mind, then you're on your way to building something people truly love.

The problem is this: Although you'd like to portray yourself as such, you are no mind reader, so how can you truly understand what customers want?

For starters, relying on intuition, your own problems that you've encountered, and conversation about what people are looking for can lead you in the right direction. Even Help Scout itself was formed when we noticed a huge "gap" missing in the email support space.

But you can't rely solely on intuition, and it's been proven that customers do often know what they want.

The solution comes in the form of effective customer feedback systems, but unfortunately, few companies give enough thought to the process and often rely on clumsy methods that customers hate to use.

Today, we'll take a look at 3 ways to easily implement feedback systems that actually work, and you'll get a behind the scenes peak at how we handle feature requests here at Help Scout.

Let's dig in!

1. An Easy Way to Manage Email Feedback

A 2012 study by Iposos revealed that when it comes to communicating online, more people prefer email than all of the other social networking sites combined.

Email is still the most popular system of communication for giving feedback to companies, so if your business doesn't have a smart system set-up for email feedback, you're falling behind.

Below I'm going to show you a dead simple strategy that allows us to keep track of feature requests quickly and accurately, and that has even helped us improve our overall email response rates by 340%.

First things first, we are highly dependent on our own product for email management with all incoming support queries and feature requests. Since we also integrate with SnapEngage for live-chat, we can access all incoming chats once they are complete to incorporate any relevant feedback into our system.

Below, I'll show you how we use Help Scout in conjunction with a few other tools + strategies that allow us to handle email support in an efficient manner.

Step #1Keep the team informed in real-time

One app that our team simply can't live without is Campfire.

Though we rely on it heavily for team-wide communication, we also recently showed you how we decided to set up a separate "room" for all incoming support queries. Since Help Scout integrates nicely with Campfire, any and all feature requests or other dilemmas were view-able as soon as possible to anyone in the support room.

This allowed us to improve our response time by over 340%.

September 1 - October 13:

October 13 - October 27:

That's not the end of this story, however.

Step #2Allow all team members to organize feedback

This is where we get to the ninja stuff.

To manage feature requests and other feedback suggestions, we use a simple board system with Trello to keep things in order.

Trello allows you to create both "boards" and "cards" to keep tabs on any project you're working on. For us, it serves as a collaborative way to keep product ideas, features, and other feedback organized and easily referenced.

Here's just a peak at a simple board setup you can use:

Dividing feature requests into boards like Next Up (those that have been approved + are on deck to do), Roadmap (those that have been approved but can be done later), and Ideas (customer requests that haven't been approved) keeps things organized for your team.

I no longer have to wonder, "Will we be implementing this feature?" I can just check the board to see if the customer's request has already been asked before.

Step #3Divide boards up for easy navigation

While boards allow you to divvy up sections nicely, they essentially serve as "File Folders" like you have on you're computer, and will be useless unless you fill them up with stuff!

On Trello, you can create "cards" within particular boards, so you can divide a board like "Product: Next Up" into other easily browsed topics like Queue/In Progress, and create cards for each instance:

(Sorry, we don't share projects until they are launched.)

With this system, you can easily organize a card around a feature that multiple customers have asked for.

In fact, when a feature request and corresponding card is in place, we add emails of those customers who asked for the feature, so that they can be the first to know when it's live:

(Emails blocked out for privacy)

You'll also notice that each card comes with a "Specs" section that elaborates what exactly the feature request is, and how it will be implemented (if you have any team members not experienced with product development, this is a must).

With this system in place, your team will know exactly what features have already been requested, which are being worked on, and who wants to hear about them first.

2. Use Surveys the Right Way

Surveys are the go-to response when most people think about customer feedback, and it's easy to see why — you can gather a ton of data from all sorts of customers, and they scale nicely.

The dilemma is that surveys can backfire if you don't make them streamlined and efficient  because you spend a lot of time creating a comprehensive survey only to have customers ignore it.

According to a very interesting joint study between The Gallup Group and Zoomerang (now Survey Monkey), there are a number of proven ways you an successfully improve your surveys...

Survey Style and Function

Keep it short & sweet: Remember that last time you enthusiastically filled out that 20-minute survey? Oh yeah, of course you don't, because nobody loves long, boring surveys. Get to the point, and fast.

Ask only the questions that you’ll use: Every single question that you include should have a very specific purpose. That extra question that you thought "couldn't hurt" to throw in actually does, because you're lengthening survey time for no reason. If you can't find a good reason to include a question, cut it.

Remember the open-ended questions: It's tempting to build surveys with scales and multiple choice questions (because they are easy), but the most genuine feedback comes when customers are asked topical, open-ended questions. Without restrictions, you'll get a chance to view what your customers are really thinking.

One question at a time: You're doing yourself no favors by bombarding people with multiple questions on the same page. For longer questions especially, approach things one at a time for simplicity and so survey takers don't lose their focus.

Communicating via Surveys

Stay neutral: Pay close attention to the 'neutrality' of the words you use, because you don't want to jeopardize your survey's objectivity with the wrong wording that may sway customers one way or the other.

Be precise and stay topical: The data shows that if your survey takes longer than 5 minutes, you're going to have more people abandon it. To alleviate this and still get solid feedback, be very precise with your questions, avoid phrases like "generally" and point out exactly what you want to hear about.

Make rating scales consistent: I don't want to rate one answer as a "5" for best and then answer another answer as "1" for best, so don't make me do it! Similarly, don't change the wording of questions in the "Strongly Agree - Strongly Disagree" format.

Avoid leading and loaded questions: Don't nudge respondents towards any response, and most importantly, don't ask questions where ego plays a strong role. When you start tugging at a respondent's pride, sometimes genuine answers will get fudged as a result.

Sometimes you need a yes/no: While open-ended questions (described above) can leave you with more genuine feedback, sometimes you just need a definite yes or no answer. They are simple for people to complete and can give you a good % look at a situation (plus, they make for great intro questions because they are easy).

Increasing Response Rates

Give an incentive: The research indicates that incentives can typically boost response rates by up to 50%, so reward your customers with a nice freebie for taking the time out to answer your questions (or, enter them into a future giveaway).

Timing: Interestingly, the study found the highest open and click rates occurred on Monday, Friday and Sunday respectively. There was no discernible difference between response quality gathered on weekdays versus weekends.

3. Start a Customer Conversation

One of the most effective ways to get people to spill their genuine thoughts on something is to hold a conversation with them.

As it turns out, although surveys are an essential way to get large scale feedback from customers, many studies show that no matter what you do, some people are always going to lie on surveys.

Worse yet, some of these "liars" aren't actively trying to lie, it's just that their brain can't correctly recall (or predict) their feelings and experiences. As we see in this study, customers weren't outright trying to lie, but they were terrible at predicting their "future intentions" when asked via a survey.

According to the lead researcher, in many instances...

...focus groups and/or one-on-one customer interviews tend to be better venues to get at these answers, since it is possible to ask follow-up questions and go on “fishing trips” with the customer in this setting."
A one-on-one customer interview? You mean a conversation with a customer? :)

The problem: How you do you initiate a conversation like this to help you improve BOTH your product and the content you create that helps solve people's problems?

One creative solution that I love comes from Derek Halpern in the form of the "What Are You Struggling With?" question.

The process works like this...

  • The introduction: Whenever a customer signs up for a particular email opt-in on your site (as such your content newsletter or via a resource download), make sure your email marketing software is set up to send them a follow-up message.
  • The follow-up: In your autoresponder, ask them a variance of the phrase, "What are you struggling with?" For instance, if you sell software that helps people with with their personal finances, a question like, "What part of your finances gives you the biggest headache?" will work perfectly and can reveal a whole lot about what is on your customers' minds.
  • The organization: You can use the Help Scout system above (combining Help Scout/email + Trello) to keep track of the most popular responses. You'll now have a deeply personal (and organized) look at your customers' biggest woes.
There's only one problem with this strategy... you actually have to respond back to people!

This is why it works especially well for newer companies, and even better if your a new company is looking to create the kind of content that helps you solve people's problems and acquire more customers ... the responses generated will literally tell you what problems to address!

When Customer Feedback Goes Wrong

There's no reason to go overboard with customer feedback when it comes to the value your product provides. Not all suggestions will need to be implemented just because a customer happens to mention it.

As our friends at Intercom put it:

You wouldn't propose to someone just because they said they'd date you. So don't build features just because people said they'd use them."

— Intercom (@intercom)  January 18, 2013

Customers don't always know what they want in a product, and many features that get requested are often spur of the moment requests, not true improvements that will solve major pain-points for a majority of your users.

The bottom line: While customer feedback is an amazing source of new ideas and insight from the people who actually pay for your product, you and your company get final say in implementation, and you shouldn't jump the gun on product features just because a minority of customers asks for them.

Your Turn...

What did you think about the customer feedback systems above? How does your business currently organize and encourage customer feedback?

Let us know in the comments below!

Thanks for reading, please share this post if you enjoyed it.


Written by Gregory Ciotti Greg ciotti

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Deyson Feb 14

Thank you for such a great post! I love the title! :)

Paul Solt Feb 14

I haven't used Campfire yet.

Is that helpful for a 1-2 person team or not?

I emailed all my paid students (670+) in my iPhone class on Skillshare. It's been really interesting to hear back from the students.

It has also given me insight into the struggles of learning to make iPhone apps for beginners. http://skl.sh/11OhfFj

Lydia Shammons Feb 20

Interesting article read, i agree that customer feedback systems have to be improved from the usual 'hateful' methods of surveys and questionnaires. Data received from those platforms are furthermore always so inaccurate and restricted and timely to process. My business started implementing this new tool called Geteco ( www.geteco.com ) which essentially allows the customer to leave a comment (Speak into a phone) in real time and for managers to directly respond to that. It all goes into a database and we can analyze feedback given on site. Accuracy and fast data !! Just thought i would share my experience. Thanks :)

Ethan Krane Mar 4

Great article !! I would like to add, Lydia i thought your comment was particularly interesting as i have also just started implementing the tool you mentioned in your comments called Geteco. So far it has been really interesting as customers from my restaurants are leaving endless feedback and i am getting a much more richer database of information about my customers and how they think about my food/restaurants. Thanks for the article read again :)

Sam Apr 14

WOW. I will stick around. It is just too good. Thank you for sharing this information. I think this is everybody sharing and helping eachother. I think this is the most important aspect in what we do online it's the difference we make in peoples life. Adding value, connecting the dots, finding what they want, making some contacts and selling, giving and showing them all kind of stuff. The teacher always learn a great deal too.. It's about a direct impact, a connection, feeling that you make a difference for people and that your journey is positive and doesn't harmed anyone.

I am Sam and I am from Montreal, these last months I am in a dillema now with network. I do business in the french market especially Canada, Europe and multiples others little corners of the world where they speak french ... ultra low cpc btw that may be the cause I am overwelmed.

I am 27 now. I am the only 1 french clickbank.com premier seller in the world on 300 total. I started making websites business in 1999. Since 2008 I am more products orientated now. I recently started neglecting my customers I just can't take it anymore. My inbox are loading, I am not proud to say it, when I really started having some success around 2008-2009 I had less sites (30-35) and an employee 35-40h /week. Since the past 4-5 months I am completly lost in all of this 65+ online business to manage all by myself with no employe 100h per week ... no F life :P btw this is the reason I am here to learn and get better.

The pression I am still struggeling online to manage it all like 80 email inbox for 165+ sites, I have alot of popular great great sites with customers emailling me everyday. Add the SPAM emails between all my customers and prospects emailling me... each day I take a look at what I do and doesn't see any progress. I answer less fast than they come in. I need a team. I would like to meet some people that are willing to become entrepreneurs online, I have job for them if they want to help me. I am still doing all this at home alone, no office nothing. It is time to push it and clear the inboxes, please contact me. I would appreciate your advices and maybe your knowledge on this if you doesn't mind.

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