A few months ago, I and one of my colleagues were on a business visit to Chennai. By the end of the day, we were really exhausted and were desperately looking for a decent place to have our dinner before we caught our bus back to Bangalore. Apply Murphy’s Law on top of the situation and you have a heavy downpour to make the situation worse.
Amid this downpour, with luggage in both our hands, we somehow hopped, skipped and jumped around the broken pavement to the best looking restaurant in sight and managed to reach there relatively dry. The restaurant was empty and we felt happy that we will get a chance to talk in peace. As soon as we entered the restaurant, a strong smell of phenyl entered our nostrils and made us feel as if we had entered the ward of a general hospital.
And despite the great ambience and the gravity of our situation, we turned around and immediately exited without saying a word to the manager. As we were faced with the rain again and forced to wait to seek an alternative, my colleague turned around and said:
I bet this guy has no f***ing clue of why customers come in and then walk out!
And that was true – the restaurant was empty and despite being the best looking restaurant in the area, I’m sure several customers were walking out without giving them business. And while I am sure the restaurant manager had good intentions in keeping the restaurant clean ( using phenyl ), he had no way of deciphering that as the cause of customers turning back unless someone told him.
We were going through a similar phase where we had just turned on our merchandising store and were trying to figure out how to convert visitors into sales. We were getting people to spend a lot of time configuring personalized photo products, but at the end of the day, not many people were transacting. And no one was telling us why they were not purchasing the product either.
Over the next couple of months, we tried several things to elicit, decipher and make decisions based on customer feedback and the rest of the post is a gist of what we learnt:
Make it easy for customer to give feedback
When you are so deeply involved in building something, everything about it seems obvious. Sometimes, it is very hard to see how something that may be so obvious to you is so hard for another person to understand. And while that goes for all features of the product, one of the things that escapes attention most of the time is how easy is it for your user to give you feedback.
Remember that users have little time and patience and unless you get them to talk while you have their attention, you are never going to understand what they had in mind. Simple tips for website owners:
a) Sign up for Get Satisfaction and add their feedback button on each page. However, this option requires the user to sign up for a get satisfaction account before they give you feedback.
b) Have an open text field that says something like “Having trouble, tell us about it!” with a submit button. Simple and very effective if you can get it above the fold.
c) If most of your flow is fine and you only want feedback on a small part of it, you may want to add a trigger at the end of that part to popup a simple question “How can we improve this for you?”.
You will be surprised that while most people will not volunteer to give you feedback, they would do it gladly if / when asked for it.
But do not take customer feedback at face value / Beware of extremely vocal users
The world would be a much better place if only the customers knew what they wanted! Alas, everyone seems to think they know what they want, when they really don’t. And there are plenty of people who will give you advice on how-to-do-it-the-right-way when they themselves haven’t done it ever.
While you should elicit all the feedback you can get, you need to be very careful of which ones to pay attention to. If a person walking into a Chinese Restaurant asks for Indian Cuisine, that does not mean the restaurant should start serving Indian Cuisine.
That said, it is hard for me to give very specific advice on this one except that you should:
a) Trust your gut feel.
b) Discard the feedback that is not relevant to the business you are in or that suggests you to do line extensions.
c) And finally, normalize the feedback you get from vocal users. In most cases, these are people who are very opinionated and like to express their opinions, but that does not mean that their opinion will be endorsed by the masses.
Proactive Measures / Conversations With Customers
Think about how many times you have given feedback to another company for their bad service? Think about how many times you have given feedback to someone for good service?
Most customers are passive and you wouldn’t hear from them unless your service resulted in a disastrous result for them. The best way to get feedback from the customer is during the time they are using your service, because then they can give you very specific and actionable feedback. Plus you can counter-question them to gain a better understanding of their perspective.
a) Proactively reach out to customers who you think were interested in your product but did not purchase. At lifeblob, we have an automated script that generates a list of users who went through more than a couple of steps in personalizing some product, but did not purchase. We have another script that generates a list of users who have personalized and added stuff to their shopping cart but not made a purchase. Every hour, we go through the list and send a “May I help you” mail to them so that we can have a conversation with them and help them complete the transaction.
b) As an extension to the previous step, we also added live chat on the site to assist users while they are using the service. Olark is a really nice real-time chat service that you can easily embed in your site. In addition to users initiating the chat session, you can also initiate it if you like.
We found conversations with customers to be always much more rewarding than a few lines of dormant feedback.
Get Outsider Perspective From Experts
How many times have you looked at another service and pointed out more than a few things they are doing wrong? How many times have you been able to do it for your own service?
When you are building a service, you are taking the most critical decisions and putting your faith behind them. Very often, this causes some very simple but important things to go off your radar. While feedback from your users still needs you to filter out the noise to get to the core, seeking pointed advice from someone who is an expert in your area of business can give you a lot more value, much quicker.
The key here is to find someone who is an expert in the relevant area and whose advice you will trust. Asking your friends or just anyone may not yield the desired result.
Data Driven Approach
Finally, there is a whole dimension of data driven approach which involves A/B testing, Analytics Data, Log Analysis, Surveys / Polls, Dummy Page Testing etc. I will perhaps cover these in a separate post later.
Hope you found this post valuable. If you would like me to write about a specific topic related to entrepreneurship, please leave your suggestions in the comments.