What is customer feedback?
Customer feedback is information from those who buy and use your product. Moreover, product managers, designers, marketers, and salespeople, depend on customer feedback to understand how to improve their product and messaging to succeed in the marketplace. This feedback is often a key source of influence on both the near and long-term product roadmap.
You are essentially shouting into the void without paying attention to customer feedback. You’re like that person who only thinks of what they will say next while someone else is talking. It’s not a good look at a cocktail party, and it’s a recipe for disaster for a product manager.
Customer feedback differs subtly from user research in that the former involves someone specifically responding to some sort of stimulus. User research involves uncovering your buyer and user’s characteristics, context, and problems. Customer feedback is what they tell you through words, scores, or actions about their experience with your product, service, design, prototype, campaign, or offer.
Customer feedback framework
When developing a strategy for gathering customer feedback, there are various categories, types, and sources of information at your disposal.
Qualitative versus quantitative feedback
On one dimension, there is qualitative and quantitative feedback. Qualitative feedback is generally unstructured, involving information from what someone says or writes about your product. Quantitative feedback, on the other hand, involves numerical data that can be subject to mathematical and statistical analysis. Both are valuable, especially when used in combination.
In many cases, qualitative feedback yields more insight into what your customers are thinking and feeling based on their experience with your product. Quantitative feedback, however, may either be the signal that triggers further investigation or the factor that builds confidence in a chosen solution. Such confidence is especially strong when you have achieved statistical significance with your data.
Solicited versus unsolicited feedback
On another dimension, there is solicited and unsolicited feedback. Solicited feedback is what you get when you deliberately request someone to share their opinions. Solicited feedback is helpful because you can focus the respondent’s attention on a specific area or topic. Unsolicited feedback is what you get when you have provided data without specifically being requested; it is observed. This feedback is valuable because you may get insight into opportunities to improve that were not previously on your radar.
With both solicited and unsolicited feedback, it is important to know the risk of selection bias. For example, solicited feedback, you must be careful of how you choose who you ask to provide feedback. With unsolicited feedback, bias can result from self-selection. However, depending on your data source, you may only be hearing from a small group of people who don’t represent the market as a whole.
Avoiding selection bias requires asking yourself, “How broadly representative are the respondents of my user or buyer profile?” Is there something about your process that results in the respondents reflecting a segment of your market whose opinions may not be in sync with other segments? Understanding one segment’s views is important. However, the risk is not recognizing that your findings do not apply to those you are targeting.
There are other risks to consider when analyzing both solicited and unsolicited feedback. With solicited feedback, beware of respondents who may be telling you what they think you want to hear. A risk with unsolicited feedback is a misinterpretation of the cause of the feedback being observed.
Types of customer feedback
Within the framework of qualitative/quantitative and solicited/unsolicited feedback, there are a relatively small number of types of data available. As will be discussed below, however, the available information multiplies as these limited types are exploited within different sources of feedback.
- Qualitative, solicited feedback results from asking open-ended questions about who, what, where, when, how, and why.
- Quantitative, unsolicited feedback comes from:
- Usage analytics in volumes that are insufficient to achieve statistical significance
- Things people say about your product without being asked
- Ethnographic research
- Quantitative, solicited feedback is obtained from questions that involve a numeric response (“How many…?) or from questions involving ratings, Likert scales, or Net Promoter Scores (NPS).
- Quantitative, unsolicited data arrives in two forms – high volume usage and clickstream analytics and the coding of text content (e.g., Counting the number of times customers mentioned a specific topic).
Sources and methods of obtaining customer feedback
Within this framework, the various types of customer feedback can be used within multiple sources and methods of obtaining data.
Written questionnaires consisting of a combination of open- and closed-ended questions yielding qualitative and quantitative data.
Scripted or unscripted (or combined) oral question-and-answer exchanges between one or more researchers and a single respondent.
Group dialogue involving one or more researchers and multiple respondents. Typically structured but more free-flowing than a scripted interview.
A permanent or semi-permanent panel of individuals (buyers or users) recruited and consulted for ongoing feedback, which can be sought using any other methods on this list.
Design Validation Studies
Research is based on showing one or more designs – from early concepts to high-fidelity, functioning prototypes – to evaluate a new product or feature before implementation. Executed with other data collection methods from this list.
Functionality that elicits feedback while using a product that does not require going to a different communication channel.
Selectively showing one of two or more versions of a product feature, either fully implemented or in a design validation test, to a subset of users to determine which version performs best.
False Door Testing
Inclusion of an access or entry point to a product feature that is not fully implemented to evaluate interest in the feature before development.
Sales & Support Emails/Calls
Copies or transcripts of customer statements when interacting with the Sales and Customer Support teams.
3rd Pary Sites
Ratings and reviews provided by customers on websites and other aggregators of product information.
Why is it critical?
Customer Feedback is a critical source of information for a product manager, and there are many ways it can be obtained. Some occur naturally and are waiting to be mined. Others require deliberate action. Understanding which method should be applied requires careful consideration of the questions you are trying to answer, the users or buyers from whom you are seeking insight, and the sources that you have at your disposal within the timeframe you have available.