Picture this: A few strangers seated around a table in a locked room with a one-way mirror, awkwardly munching on cookies from the supermarket. You stand at the head of the table, carefully interviewing each of them about their experience with a new iPhone game called Phrases with Buds.
The feedback from the room will probably be valuable — you may learn that Words with Friends players are likely to migrate over, that your target demographic isn’t on target, or that the UX is clumsy. But the focus group itself — the airless room, the the name badges, the questions, even the cookies — may feel stale, stilted, and uncomfortable. Because it’s a contrived situation, you’re getting a window into your customers’ experiences, but it’s not open all the way.
While you shouldn’t outright reject traditional methods of market research, using only solicited approaches is limiting. It can also be at odds with a user-centric focus that treats customers like people instead of test subjects. This is why the focus group makes for such great comedy, as in this uncomfortable scene from the TV show Silicon Valley:
It’s certainly possible that a customer may blurt that a feature or UX design is “stupid” in a focus group or report the same in an open-ended survey. It’s more likely, though, that you’ll improve the quantity and quality of honest customer feedback by leveraging both solicited and unsolicited channels:
Solicited Feedback Channels
- Online feedback forums
- Email surveys and polls (open-ended and otherwise)
- Customer telephone and in-person interviews
- Survey questions posted on social media
- Twitter Q&A’s
- Employee meetings/brainstorms
Unsolicited Feedback Channels
- Social media comments/posts
- Customer support inquiries via chat widget or email
- Other unsolicited email messages to any department
- Blog comments
- Casual conversation with internal employees, external customers, and others
A Better View of Customer Feedback
Taking all of these channels into account is called the multi-channel or omni-channel customer feedback approach, which gives you a bird’s-eye-view of your customers’ experiences for better, more accurate insight. As Elizabeth Clor writes in Clarabridge: “Not only does unsolicited feedback capture emotion at the exact time it occurs, but it also can paint a different picture. What customers tell you about your business may be different from what they are telling others online.”
While customer feedback gathered from solicited channels can be revisited after-the-fact, unsolicited channels require an additional level of attention. “The interesting thing with unsolicited feedback is that you have to determine what the customer’s issue was,” says Dan Lee, Senior Director of Technology at Medallia in BizReport.com. This, he suggests, can be beneficial for your product because “it brings problems forward that maybe you didn’t know about because, to that point, you’d only looked at solicited feedback where you controlled the questions asked.”
Are you noticing, for instance, that people are speaking out about a new feature upgrade on Twitter? You should capture that and respond to it in real-time whenever possible — it’s useful information and an opportunity to connect with users. As Karan Chaudry observes in Forbes, “…most people just want to know that they are being heard, a sincere acknowledgement goes a long way.”
Similarly, how many times does customer support get the same issue emailed and messaged to them? You should capture that (and CS should respond to it, of course). Notice if there’s a pattern that emerges that either picks up on something that traditional, solicited customer feedback has missed, or if it confirms something that’s come up before in a forum, survey, or old-school focus group. Either way, it’s usable information you should be tracking and a fine opportunity to maintain or grow user loyalty.
I’d caution, as always, to make sure that the unsolicited feedback you’re capturing doesn’t divert your whole ship. As any smart product manager knows, over-attention to the opinion of the noisiest handful of customers (the “vocal minority”) can drown a product (this is the anecdotal fallacy applied to tech). That said, if you use multiple channels, respond in real time when possible, and capture and collect your feedback in a way that makes sense, you’ll see what a positive difference it makes for your customers and your product — and that’s nothing to laugh at.