As online markers and business owners, we have this self-imposed pressure to continually come up with tests to improve what we guess users might want. Yet, in talking with our Research Partners and other marketers, I find there is a real lack of direct communication with end users to help us actually know what visitors want.
We literally create test or optimization ideas in our cubicles, internal focus groups, and mass email conversations around the department. And then we leave out the most important people – our actual users or visitors.
If you just rely on your own analytical skills and creativity without consulting your users, two things are bound to happen. You will burn out by taxing your limited resources to constantly try to develop what to do or test next out of thin air. And eventually you will end up totally disconnected from your users.
When I bring up this topic, I often hear, “Now wait a minute…I have tons of metrics I can collect and pages to test. I can surely figure out my users.”
This is a valid point to a certain extent. We have our web metrics, click map reports, page testing, sales analysis, and the list goes on. However, even with all of those tools, what we are really trying to do is intelligently deduce what our visitors want.
Since it is the holiday season, I’ll use the example of the husband that gets the wife an iron for Christmas. He made the assumption (the keyword being assumption) that since she spends a lot of time ironing she would appreciate a gift that improves her ironing experience.
If Mr. Assumption had actually listened to his wife more about what she would like, maybe he would not have had to spend four days pulling sofa duty as a result. While we all laugh because we either connect to the mistake of giving or receiving such a gift, we have to ask ourselves if we are making the same assumption errors.
We often forget the tools that we have at our disposal to make a direct connection to users and learn what they need from us. Here are three often overlooked techniques:
While we all hate to add an extra step, some people do not mind giving information about their visit. This feedback can be invaluable in learning what areas of your website are worth testing to possibly lift conversions and ultimately provide a better experience for your users.
Remember, these exit surveys do not have to be just for people that are abandoning the process. Query visitors that have successfully made it through your signup process, lead capture form, ecommerce purchase…you get the idea. If you have never dabbled in the murky art of exit surveys, there are many companies out there that can help get you started.
A word of caution – don’t be greedy and ask 15 questions, especially all on the same page. People complain about exit surveys and completion rate, but I think the root of the problem is that they ask too many questions. Put yourself in the user’s shoes – would you take the survey? Perhaps test putting just one question per page and see if that leads to a higher completion rate or at least some partial data. I have also seen some audiences respond better to a breadcrumb-type approach.
- Engage your users through customer service response surveys
- Keep your questions to a minimum or completion rate will be abysmal
- Thank them for their feedback and let them know they are helping make a better future product
- Do not incentivize this area too much or data will not be accurate since people may be looking for a handout instead of trying to help
Actually talk to your users
OK, you may now get your brown bag out and hyperventilate a little before continuing.
Feeling better? Good. For many companies you already possess enough contact information to reach out to your customers. So pick up the phone or mouse, call or email those customers, and communicate directly with the people that make the Herman Miller chair you are now sitting in possible (or comfortable generic cloth one in my case).
If you are looking for feedback on a process, such as checkout, request it as close to the completed action as possible. This will ensure things are still fresh in their mind. And don’t just send a cold auto-responder email. A personalized email or call will show how important you are taking this process and more likely elicit a better response.
- Reach out to your users and ask them how to make things better
- Ask in a very personal, human fashion to avoid the “system-generated message” feel
- Thank them for their time and perhaps even reward them, but do not mention an incentive until the end to ensure you are not skewing the data
- Follow up as quickly as possible so users have the steps fresh in their mind
Interact with your sales and customer service team
The teams that interface with users on a daily basis can give you insights to your customers’ kudos and complaints. They might compare your offering to a competing product, request an easier-to-read features page, or need a more robust FAQ section. You can learn a lot by taking the elevator down a floor and talking to the teams that have some of the best internal insight into your users.
- Like Ziggy in the complaints department, front-line employees have unique insights into what your customers want and don’t want
- Take the elevator down a floor and ask probing questions about their customer interactions
- Then take the elevator up a floor and brag about how these insights have helped you deliver ever-increasing net profits
In conclusion, I present you with this challenge. Do not view your users as the sleeping dragon in the cave that you do not want to disturb. Ask, probe, explore, and create a working relationship to increase your site’s performance while delivering for your customers. This will ensure that you are actually creating processes and web experiences both usable and relevant to your users. I know we only covered three ways to interface with your clients, so comment below on some methods you use to gather customer feedback.
How do you interact with your users and customers? What is your favorite metaphor for making assumptions about what your visitors want? Share your triumphs and ideas in the comments section of this post or start a conversation with your peers in the MarketingExperiments Optimization group.