Rethinking Customer Feedback: A Guide to Actionable Insights

Eugene Foo
Apr 6, 2024
In the world of design and product development, the mantra "listen to your customers" has been a guiding star. However, relying solely on what customers say can sometimes lead you astray, pushing you towards decisions that don't align with their actual needs or behaviors. The key isn't to stop listening, but to listen smarter.
The Pitfalls of Customer Surveys and Interviews

Customer feedback tools like surveys and interviews are invaluable, yet they're fraught with challenges. They often rely on self-reporting, which can be inherently flawed. The issue lies not in gathering feedback but in the nature of the questions asked. Let's explore three types of questions that might be leading you down the wrong path:

  1. Asking About the Past: Questions like "Have you ever texted while driving?" are tricky. People may give answers that reflect well on them, rather than their true actions, due to the desire to present themselves in a positive light.
  2. Asking About the Future: Inquiries such as "Would you eat an apple if we start serving them?" probe for future actions based on current intentions, which can be wildly inaccurate. People's predictions about their future behavior are often optimistic and don’t account for real-life variables.
  3. Asking About the Why: Questions aiming to uncover motivations, like "Why do you choose a yearly plan over a monthly plan?" assume that people have a clear understanding of their own choices. However, many decisions are influenced by factors individuals may not be consciously aware of, leading to rationalized rather than true explanations
The Ideal Self vs. The Real Self

The responses to these types of questions often reflect the respondent's "ideal self" rather than their "real self." This discrepancy arises because:

  • People aspire to be seen in a certain light, often choosing options that are socially desirable or perceived as correct.
  • Responses can be influenced by a wide array of unforeseen factors such as social pressures, health concerns, work stress, and mood swings.
  • Decisions are frequently made based on default or easiest options, shaped by lifelong education and expectations.

David Ogilvy, a legend in advertising, encapsulated this dilemma perfectly: "The trouble with market research is that people don't think what they feel, they don't say what they think, and they don't do what they say."

A More Reliable Approach: Observing Customer Behavior

So, if we can't always take customer statements at face value, what's the alternative? The answer lies in studying customer behavior. Observing how customers interact with your product or service offers a more accurate picture of their preferences, needs, and frustrations. This approach allows you to:

  • Analyze the factors influencing customer actions.
  • Identify patterns and pain points that may not be articulated in direct feedback.
  • Design experiments to test and validate hypotheses about customer behavior and preferences.

This perspective was inspired by Kristen Berman’s insights on behavioral design in her TED Talk. It serves as a reminder that while customer feedback is invaluable, the true gold lies in understanding the complex tapestry of human behavior that drives decision-making.

In conclusion, as we navigate the intricate process of design and innovation, let’s pivot from taking customer words at face value to a more nuanced understanding of their actions and behaviors. This shift in perspective will not only lead to better product design but also foster a deeper connection with the very people we aim to serve.

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