How to Misunderstand Your Customer


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We’ve all been there. We’re working through our own online customer experience and suddenly a pop-up appears asking us for one-minute to review our experience with the site we’re on. If you’re kind enough to offer a response, you’re usually given the option of a star ranking from 1 to 5.

The same thing happens on various consumer-facing apps. “Are you enjoying your experience with this app?”

There is value to asking for consumer feedback. After all, how can you know if something is or is not working unless you’re asking the people who use it?

But there is a fine line between getting feedback and getting actionable feedback. A ranking or the option to provide feedback through a close-ended response doesn’t explain why a consumer felt a certain way. It’s easy to misread the meaning behind the feedback, giving no real guidance on what to do to make the experience better.

To gather truly great feedback, brands need to give consumers an option to provide context via an open-ended follow-up.

Getting to the Heart of the Experience

Understanding the customer experience means getting to the heart of the experience. What did they like? What did they not like? What best suits their needs? But here’s the catch: you need to give the customer the chance to share their answers with you, not just the answers you expect – or want – to hear.

Consider this: you may be asked to rate your experience with a retailer on a scale of 1-5. At the moment the survey is received, you feel frustrated and annoyed because the item you were so excited for arrived late and damaged. So, you give the retailer a score of 1.

But this score doesn’t accurately represent your feelings toward the brand. Driven by the emotion of the moment, and the inability to offer context around your ranking, you aren’t able to share that you’re frustrated that the item is damaged, but that you love the price, the shopping experience, and even the customer service who helped you get a new item.

With just the closed-ended numerical score and no opportunity to elaborate with an open-ended follow-up, the retailer will have no idea that you felt positive about most of the experience, or even how to address the issue that caused you to give such a low score.

Real-World Examples

For those of you wondering why this really matters if you’re getting consistent 4s and 5s, let’s take a look at what happens when those high scores lack context.

A recent article by the Wall Street Journal cited a costly example of this: In 2018, a 17-store luxury menswear chain based in Toronto asked its customers if they would use PayPal if the company offered it on the site; a large percentage said yes. So, the company integrated PayPal into its e-commerce platform. But by late 2018, only about 10% of the company’s online payments came through PayPal. The reality is that PayPal was not what the customers were looking for, specifically, but they were interested in a simpler payment experience overall.

C Space asked 2,000 consumers to give major brands a Net Promoter Score (NPS) based on how likely they were to recommend those brands. But unlike the first example, C Space added two follow up, open-ended questions: “have you recommended this brand” and “have you discouraged anyone from choosing it.” they discovered some respondents answered “yes” to both. The open-ended questions gave the respondents the opportunity to elaborate on their responses which, perhaps ironically, were actually contradictory (some respondents answered “yes” to both of the open-ended questions). In one case, a respondent explained that he had recommended Spotify to friends for its easy-to-use interface, but also discouraged his elderly parents from using it because of the subscription cost. Open-ended questions can provide valuable feedback that support the traditional closed-questions brands leverage to gain consumer feedback.

Ask Them Why

A simple tweak in the research approach to add an open-ended follow up to the traditional closed-ended response surveys can provide insights that drive an action to improve the customer experience and lead to more future sales.

Gaining the actionable part of consumer feedback is much more within reach today – without the manual labor – than ever before due to advanced AI and NLP solutions. And there are more solutions available that can help you uncover those actionable insights faster to get a better grasp on how people feel and what motivates them.

After all, to really get to the heart of what a customer wants, you have to listen to them. And that means more than getting a ranking from 1 to 5.

Jared Feldman
As Founder and CEO of Canvs, Jared prioritizes the company’s visions, ensuring the development of high-quality products and creating value for clients. Jared has always aspired to create a more empathetic world, and founded Canvs with the aim of surrounding himself with individuals who are just as ambitious as he is — specifically those who are intellectually stimulating and dive headfirst into everything they do. With a fundamental love for people, and a never-ending curiosity to discover the unknown, Jared travels to at least one new country a year.


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