Quantitative vs qualitative feedback

With our modern reliance on the hard numbers of quantitative customer feedback it's easy to lose track of the importance of qualitative feedback from customers.

Quantitative customer feedback usually comes in the form of a survey with multiple choice questions and rating scales to determine a company's success on a number of clearly defined objectives. The data that is collected is then analyzed using averages and formulas and is boiled down into tidy stats that look great on a PowerPoint slide.

Qualitative customer feedback, on the other hand, can take many more forms. It can be as simple as adding your company's email address to an order slip and stating "Tell us how we're doing." It can be emailing customers some open ended questions and asking for feedback. Lately, analyzing customer sentiment on social media sites has become a popular form of qualitative customer feedback.

A Volusion customer shared a story in our forums of how she used qualitative customer feedback to benefit her business. Her words are replicated below:

"Here's a technique I used that got me lots of great reviews. I sent out my monthly newsletter, but this time it was a survey. Here it is:

(Customer's name), I've got a problem. We're working on overhauling our site, and we're not sure why customers buy from us. You're a happy customer...I'd like to ask you a few questions about what you like about us. Why do you do business with us? What was not so pleasant about doing business with us? Have you ever purchased a product similar to ours from a different company? If you did, how was that experience different from the experience you had with us? What would you like us to offer you? What would you want to buy from us if (only) we were SMART ENOUGH to offer it to you? Thanks so much for your input. To show my appreciation, I'm giving you a code to give you free ground shipping on any order you place with us this week. Just enter xxxx in the Coupon Code screen at the time of your order. I appreciate your time and I promise to personally read and answer your reply. Regards (My name)

2000 of these were viewed, and we got back 250 responses! It was insane. We got tons of great ideas, and we're moving forward with confidence on the best of them because we know so many customers asked for them. But the other thing that happened that I hadn't planned was that I was able to identify who our hard-core fans were. A small subset of the responders were fanatical about us. It was very easy to ask these people to write reviews of our product in our site.

We also identified about a dozen or so really UNHAPPY customers. That was great, too, because these are the people who will say bad things about you in forums, blogs, Amazon, etc. By doing everything we could to make those folks happy, we probably avoided a lot of problems. Be aware, though, that if you send it out like I did and promise a personal response, you could find yourself quite busy for about a week. A lot of the responses we got went on for paragraphs, and I felt like I really had to take as much time considering their opinions and responding to them as they did in initially writing them. I don't regret the time I spent, though. I learned a lot and I feel I did a lot to improve our customers' opinions of us.

After my little experiment, I'm not a really big fan anymore of carefully crafted surveys. Yes/no or A/B/C/D questions only tell you so much. If I'd designed a 10 question survey, I would've asked the wrong 10 questions. The beauty of this survey was that it was open-ended. People could ramble on about whatever they wanted. Turns out an astonishing number of them rambled on about the exact same things, which made it easy for us to prioritize what we should work on. (I was amazed at how few of the things we thought were priorities actually were.)"

Quantitative vs qualitative feeback

Here are some important lessons to take away from this customer's experiment if you're thinking of trying the same method of gathering qualitative customer feedback:
  1. Ask about the good AND the bad- you'll learn from both.
  2. Ask about your competition- it's great to know more about your company, but it's golden to know more about where you stand in the industry.
  3. Ask about what opportunities you're missing- why struggle on your own to define future opportunities when you can get customers to tell you exactly what they would like to see from you down the road?
  4. Ask genuinely and appeal to customers personally- this personal aspect will make customers much more likely to respond and provide insightful feedback.
  5. Offer a reward- your customers are probably busy, so they're more likely to remember to respond if there is incentive to do so.
  6. Thank them- part of thanking your customers is offering an incentive to say that you realize their time is valuable, but the other part is actually saying "Thank you."
If you have any questions about soliciting qualitative customer feedback hop onto our forums and ask your peers!

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-Kate Pierce eCommerce Specialist