The Feedback Kaleidoscope

Customer feedback is a kaleidoscope

Customer feedback comes in multiple forms. None of them are perfect. Here are some famous quotes every marketer should recognize:

“If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
— Henry Ford

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
— Steve Jobs

People don’t know what they want, and if they don’t know, how can you expect them to tell you? Customer feedback is a kaleidoscope. To get a reliable picture of how your business is doing, the ever-changing view being presented needs constant snapshots stitched together.

Listening is critical

Last week I talked about the brand journey and offered some closing advice about listening to your customers. You need to understand how they perceive your business if you want to maintain success in your industry, at your location, etc.

Customers will always tell you when they are angry, but they won’t always tell you when they are happy unless they are extremely happy.

It’s this neutral and slightly approving moment when your relationship with your customer is at its most vulnerable. When offering a multiple-choice question, on a survey, for example, it may seem that the lowest score is the worst option for your business. I want to challenge that assumption.

“They’re OK, I guess.”

There’s a reason most net promoter score (NPS) calculations throw out the middle: neutral, passives, “good,” or “neither.” They don’t provide closure. They do not give you any definitive understanding. The murky depths of “meh” are dangerous for your organization because you have no objective data to rely on. Let’s consider a five-point scale where 5 is Extremely Satisfied, and 1 is Extremely Dissatisfied.

  • When your customers give you a:
    • 1 or 2 out of 5, it is clear they are unhappy, and you have an opportunity to fix that (if they are unhappy and there is no chance, they refuse to take the survey).
    • 5 out of 5, you know you are making this customer happy.
    • 4 out of 5, the customer likes it but is not too excited about it. Something is missing.
    • 3 out of 5, the customer falls into a realm where they aren’t happy, but their discomfort is not enough to say something bad about you. They leave you when something better comes along. They probably won’t tell you either.

It should go without saying, you want more 5’s than 1’s, but I would also counsel you to be wary of having more 3’s than 1’s. You can learn from a 1. A 3 will vanish one day.

Behavioral analytics

So much is made of cookies, tracking data, the new Apple IOS update, and data security. For digital advertising purposes, tracking behavior is the gold standard. When it comes to web usability and how prospects interact with a retail environment, the data can be misleading. I ran into this quote from Kate Murphy of the Wall Street Journal, which illustrates my point:

“… even big-data companies get fooled by the numbers … a major social media company that thought it had developed a killer new layout for their app because people were spending so much time tapping and scrolling around the page. But when the company hired Joanna Jones of market research firm InterQ to confirm its findings, she found that the flurry of activity was because users couldn’t figure out how to get off the page.”

How a customer travels through a store or walks through a trade show booth can help understand demand, it can also tell you that your design is poor because they get lost, like in a Las Vegas Casino. Speaking of casinos …

Social media feedback

Matthew Salganik, a sociology professor at Princeton University, wrote a book titled Bit by Bit: Social Science in the Digital Age. In it, he compares social media to a casino, a highly engineered environment designed to drive engagement of any type, whether it is genuine or not. Murphy also writes, Relying on social-media data can be even worse. Not only are the types of people actively commenting under-representative of the larger population, the faceless nature of the platforms makes people behave in ways they never would in real life.” Think of a neighbor who has 50,000 Twitter followers and has plenty to say online but won’t make eye contact with anyone from their front yard.

Social media is a wonderful, free resource to engage with customers and prospects. You need to view the quality of the conversation through the prism of what social media is designed to do — get you talking about anything to stay online.

A combined approach is best

Data by itself is not the whole story. Social media posts and comments in user forums are not the entire story. Customer surveys are not the whole story. Verbal conversations in a face-to-face context are not the whole story. Each is a specific piece of a larger puzzle that, when combined, gives a realistic picture of your customer experience and can provide valuable insights into the future of your business’s success. You must listen. Be sure to open your ears to as many different forms of feedback as possible to get a 360-degree view.

Dana Curtis

Dana Curtis


Dana Curtis is the founder and CEO of Biztools, a strategic consulting firm that helps small businesses multiply revenue through improved customer experience and pivot to new markets.

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