Successfully utilizing customer feedback is a must for any business looking to navigate the treacherous waters of today’s business world.

Feedback can help guide your decision-making and point out subtle tweaks that may benefit your product. It’s also essential for measuring customer satisfaction among your current customers.


Getting a handle on how customers view your product, support and brand is invaluable, so today we’re going to look at the best ways you can gather insights from the current and prospective customers who visit your site.


Improving Each Customer Feedback Channel


Before you begin collecting feedback from customers, you need to make sure you have clearly defined why you are seeking feedback.


Outlining the process as well as desired outcomes is essential for gathering customer feedback the smart way; otherwise, you may be blindly asking for feedback that will only muddy your understanding of your customers.


Before you start, consider:

  • What part of the user experience do you want to improve?
  • What will you do with the data you collect?
  • Which channel works best for your goals?


We will be addressing this last question in the rest of this post—a complete breakdown of the most effective ways to gather feedback from current and prospective customers.


Let’s begin!


1. Email/Contact Forms

There is no question that email is one of the most valuable ways to gather candid customer feedback.


However, there are a few ways you can improve the way customers reach out to you via email to maximize this channel’s effectiveness ... and all of these changes will create a better experience for customers, as well!


The three main elements you should focus on for soliciting feedback via email are:

  • Assuring customers of a speedy response
  • Creating an organized customer feedback system
  • Sending candid follow-up emails

A. The Importance of a ‘Speed Assurance’

Recent research published by a United Kingdom-based customer experience group reveals two very startling statistics about customer feedback.


  1. Forty-three percent of those surveyed stated that they don’t complain/leave feedback because they don’t think that the business cares. Is it any wonder that most companies don’t hear from unhappy customers?
  2. Of those same customers, 81 percent said they would be willing to leave feedback if they knew they would get a fast response!


As shown by these statistics, if you want to ensure that you’re hearing candid feedback from customers, the simple addition in your email of “We’ll get back to you ASAP!” will go a long way.


B. Keeping Email Feedback Organized

In an earlier post covering our workflow for managing feedback, I discussed how to use tools like Trello to create “boards” that your whole team can access and contribute to, ensuring that no good feedback slips through the cracks.


That post covers our method in detail, but the takeaways are:


  • Create boards within Trello titled “Product Ideas” (feature requests), “Up Next” (what’s being worked on) and “Roadmap” (what you plan to work on).
  • Create individual cards within each board to categorize requests. For our Product Ideas board, we use sections like “Inbox” (new ideas), “Rejected” (discarded ideas), “Someday/Maybe” (good ideas, but not urgent), and “Apps” (integration requests).
  • Add email addresses within cards for the people who requested the idea. For instance, anyone who asked us for reports upgrades will be added to a list within a card so that they can be notified when the upgrade is complete. Here’s an example card (with emails blocked out for privacy):

    Trello Screenshot

This system lets you keep tabs on what’s being requested and by whom, as well as tracking ideas you’ve already passed on. This also gives employees a clear roadmap for future customer interactions.


C. The Power of a Personal Email

Sometimes the best way to get a candid response from a customer is to simply ask for one.


When customers sign up via email to access information on the site, you have the opportunity to send out an auto-responder email that asks a single question. You can inquire about what customers are struggling with, what feature they’d like to see the most, or simply ask why they signed up.


At the end of the email, you should ask them to reply to you; many will, and their responses will be candid. Since this channel is not public (like social media) and because the method is personal (unlike a survey), it can allow you to start some pretty interesting conversations with customers.

Just make sure you actually reply to these emails, or you’ll be letting people down and they won’t want to email you again!


2. Surveys

Crafting a useful customer survey is no easy task. There are so many potential questions you could be asking customers, but you have to be careful in your approach.


One way the web has made collecting surveys easier is to let you test a longer, more traditional survey versus a shorter, “slider” survey that appears onscreen as a customer browses your site:


Short Surveys

For these short surveys, you can use tools like Qualaroo (featured above) to ask a simple question or conduct a brief poll, with the goal of generating responses from customers who are active on your website.

The most popular platform for conducting traditional, full-length surveys is Survey Monkey, which can be customized to host any question type. Remember that if you want to create a customer survey that works—as in, one that customers will actually complete—you need to make sure your survey follows these proven guidelines:


  • Ask only questions that fulfill your end goal

  • Construct smart, open-ended questions
  • Ask one question at a time

  • Make rating scales consistent

  • Avoid leading and loaded questions



Be sure to check out our full coverage of this topic by reading this post.

3. Usability Tests

Usability testing requires more upfront planning, but far and away delivers more insights than any of the methods listed here. It uncovers things customers sometimes don’t even know they are thinking about or struggling with, and usually provides you with a clear path to make the experience better.

At Help Scout, we regularly turn to usability testing to get the design details for a specific process or feature just right. It may be 90% finished, but well-run tests guarantee that we get the final (most important) 10% right. We’ve been working for months on a new feature that will launch in the coming weeks, and did extensive usability testing with customers in order to get the details perfect. It went so well that we re-designed the whole thing to better align with customer expectations.

User testing is common for websites and web-based products, but the fundamentals are applicable in any business. Let’s say you run a gym. Give someone a free month to go to the gym 5 days a week and keep a diary about their experience. Seeing the business through a different lens uncovers little things that can make a huge difference.

To get started with usability testing, we highly recommend Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug. For web-based testing with people that are unfamiliar with your business, UserTesting.com does an outstanding job.

4. Exploratory Interviews


Can direct outreach really be beneficial in getting feedback from customers?

Absolutely—especially when you conduct it the right way. Truly understanding your customers is often as easy as talking to them directly.


This direct outreach can also help fill in the gaps that less personal forms of feedback tend to create. For instance, as Lars Lofgren highlights in this article, if you provide an app that creates invoices, and customers have repeatedly told you that they want to customize the design, a few things could be going on here:


  1. Your customers are mostly designers, and this customization aspect is important for branding.
  2. Your current design options just plain suck.
  3. They really only need to tweak a few minor sections.


There are a couple important things to note when conducting these sorts of interviews, and the following tips from the Nielsen group can help you get started:


  • Focus on user attitudes. Explore how users think about a problem. Asking them what a button color should be will get you nowhere, but understanding their impressions (“This feature is too complicated”) will allow you to alter features to address the problem.
  • Use the critical incident method. Ask users to recall specific instances in which they faced a particularly difficult usage case or when something worked particularly well.
  • Inquire about habits. Asking users how they normally do a task can reveal problems they didn’t even know were there. If a user is jumping through four menus to do something that they could do with a shortcut, then you now have something to fix.

Since you can get face-to-face online with programs like Skype and even share screens during an online meeting with tools like Join.me, don’t let distance stop you from having one-on-one interviews with customers.


5. Social Listening

Listening through social media can prove particularly useful for gathering candid feedback from customers. I refer to this method as “social listening” because direct comments or mentions on social networks aren’t the only way for your business to get responses.


Consider this quick poll conducted on Facebook:

Facebook Poll

In this instance, a short poll on a highly popular social network makes plenty of sense; it’s too short to include as a separate survey, and asking this question on-site would distract from far more important goals.

You know from my take on brand loyalty that I feel engagement on social media can be overhyped, but in this instance social platforms can be utilized successfully and get customers involved with your page.


6. On-Site Activity (via Analytics)


What are your users telling you without telling you?

Sometimes the best feedback is found when users are candidly using your product (and not being asked how they use it). To get a peek at these sorts of insights, you should turn to analytics that showcase how users are interacting with your site.


For example, let’s say you are using content as a form of customer service. You might see that thousands of people are visiting your content to get their questions answered ... but have you looked at how they are using it?


If your FAQs section has a 0:09 average on-page time and an awful bounce rate, you know something is not being communicated clearly. People are visiting your support content but obviously not utilizing it.


In other instances, you might want to track how users who did not sign up for your product behaved. Brennan Dunn, founder of Planscope, recently discovered a weakness on his site by using the analytics tool KISSmetrics:


KISSmetrics Analytics

Without on-site data like this, it is very unlikely that a browser would come forward and explain why they abandoned the site (after clicking through on other pages). It’s sometimes necessary to see how people view your site when they don’t know anyone is watching.

7. Comment Boxes


Speaking of KISSmetrics, one of the more creative ways we’ve seen for measuring user satisfaction with a particular page can be found in how they implement feedback boxes at the bottom of particular pages.


KISSmetrics product manager Jason Evanish says pop-ups and live chats often interrupt the flow of whatever a customer was doing (and live chats require an employee around).


Instead, he’s found that strategically inserted comment boxes at the end of pages draw candid feedback that doesn’t require employee monitoring or interrupt a user while they’re browsing the page:


Feedback BoxesSource: KISSmetrics

For technical details (and an extensive overview) of how to implement these boxes, read this post by Evanish on the KISSmetrics blog.

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Gregory Ciotti

About the author: Gregory Ciotti is on the customer success team at Help Scout, the invisible help desk software. Learn how Help Scout takes the headache out of email support.