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Data & Analytics

How to use feedback surveys to gather actionable insight

by Martin McCarthy
21st June 2018

Feedback surveys are often misunderstood and abused.

In this blog I explore some best practice examples that encourage customers to give feedback, that are easy to complete, and which provide actionable and implementable insight for product teams.

Ultimately, customer feedback surveys are just surveys. They shouldn’t be equated to user research, which is based on observed behaviour. As a rule of thumb, surveys shouldn’t be used as a substitute for user research when you can’t get to talk with your customers.

We all have experience with feedback surveys. They often appear in the form of a pop-up that appears when we land on a website, asking us to complete a survey once we’ve finished. At other times, we might only be asked to fill out a survey at the end of a successful journey or after an experience.

Regardless of the medium and context, these types of surveys take a similar approach to gathering feedback: ask questions, hope customers care enough to answer, and then look to make sense of the data. However, this is an antiquated approach to gathering feedback for numerous reasons:

  • By their very nature, these surveys interrupt and add unnecessary friction.
  • They don’t take into account the users context or the journey they’ve just been on.
  • The surveys take a long time to complete (anything more than 30 seconds is long), are arduous (they ask a lot of questions), and rife with usability issues (fiddly Likert scales and checkboxes to tick).
  • They often ask people to answer questions on things they know little about, or have minimal experience of.
  • They ask such a broad range of questions they’re almost aimless i.e.: What did you think of our website? 

Having turned to my colleagues and exploited our collective know-how, I believe that there is a better way to gather customer feedback. While every situation is different and requires a unique approach what I detail below are four principles that can be drawn from whenever you want to survey your customers:

Ensure the survey is designed around a specific research question
  • Surveys must be concise and limited to a specific interaction or experience. By doing this, customers will be able to answer the questions they have been asked. Uber do this very well by asking users to complete a short survey after taking a trip.
Only use surveys if you can do something with the insight
  • While this may sound simple, it’s not often followed. Be mindful that by getting customers to complete a survey, you are interrupting them. If you’re going to interrupt them, you need to make sure it’s for a good reason!
Feedback surveys must be short
  • Surveys must be concise. Ideally, the time it takes to complete should be relative to the experience the customer has just had.
Surveys must be easy to complete
  • This is more of a ‘UX hygiene’ issue. The interaction design must be easy to follow, the visual design must be appealing, and the overall UX must be pleasant. All too often surveys only frustrate users, which defeats the whole purpose of getting feedback from users in the first place.

There are often times when we might need insight that requires us to ask more than a few quick and easy questions. In such cases, it’s likely that a survey is not the best approach, and depth-interviews or observational studies are better suited.

Another point to acknowledge is that predictive indicators, which can be worked into the live front-end experience can intercede, guide, and potentially realign customers struggling to reach their goal better than any survey ever could. As such, they offer a user focused approach to informing business change.

In conclusion, feedback surveys can be useful, but only when they’re used thoughtfully and carefully. While they will never replace user research, surveys can be used to gather feedback on specific aspects of the user experience to inform improvements. Use them wisely, and sparingly, and ensure that you can do something actionable with the results.

Click here to read my supporting findings deck on SlideShare.

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