Tips for collecting customer feedback 

Editor’s note: Kimberly Pate is managing director, corporate research, at Arlington, Va.-based market research firm Hanover Research. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here

Customer expectations for their products are higher than ever, and companies are struggling to keep up.

A recent survey found that one in three consumers is struggling to find products that meet their needs. Companies that do not gather customer insights and incorporate them into product development will lose customers to their competitors. In fact, that same survey showed that 72% of customers are willing to try new products to find one that meets their needs.

Companies have several options for collecting customer feedback on products, the most common of which are customer surveys. However, there are a few stages of the product development process where companies can benefit from going beyond a survey by gathering qualitative data. This data allows companies to discover rich and valuable insights that can direct areas for future research or development.

What is qualitative product feedback?

Qualitative product feedback involves asking customers questions directly. The two most common formats are customer interviews and focus groups. This approach allows companies to gather in-depth feedback and ask follow-up questions to delve deeper into the reasoning behind responses. The open-ended questions center on a product’s value, features and product experience allowing companies to build products and features customers want.

Though asking interview questions may seem straightforward and relatively easy, it is critical to enlist an experienced facilitator. A skilled moderator ensures that questions are asked in a way that gets the desired insights without influencing customers’ responses. They also need to correctly code and accurately interpret the responses without bias or assumptions.

By gathering and incorporating qualitative product feedback companies can:

  • Understand customer perceptions and preferences on various aspects of the company and its products.
  • Gather unanticipated feedback that would not be collected from a formatted survey.
  • Clarify customers’ opinions by asking for follow-up questions that provide more context.

Understanding when to collect product feedback

There are four key stages of product development where qualitative feedback is critical: initial product development, product refinement, pre-launch and post-launch. 

1. Initial product development. Qualitative research can help narrow and refine potential product concepts during the initial idea-generation phase of product development. Its approaches can produce a detailed picture of customers’ experiences with a product and reveal unmet needs and untapped opportunities.

For example, a company looking to update a product can interview current customers about the existing product and gather opinions on potential features. Gathering direct feedback at this stage allows companies to identify the products and features customers are most interested in and why.

2. Product refinement. Customer feedback is also critical in the product refinement stage. Even if you confirmed a product is in demand in earlier development stages, your produced product may not align with what customers are willing to buy.

Gathering feedback on proposed elements (features, pricing, etc.,) and allowing customers to beta test and evaluate products helps companies determine if the proposed product is viable and identify what additional refinement is necessary.

In this phase, engaging an audience that spans different age groups, ethnicities, income levels and genders is critical to take cultural differences and considerations into account that may not be top of mind for design or marketing teams.

3. Pre-launch. Companies need to fine-tune how they will market the new product before releasing it. Qualitative feedback at this stage can help companies identify what themes and elements of the product resonate most with customers.

A common example is focus groups that are shown new messaging or ads before launch. This allows researchers to collect a group’s reaction to new concepts and spark conversation on what resonates and what’s falling off the mark. Not only does collecting direct customer feedback help companies optimize their messaging, but it can also produce customer quotes that can showcase the product’s value, enhancing marketing and sales strategies.

4. Post-launch. Most rigorous post-launch reviews include some type of customer experience survey to evaluate the product’s performance. By conducting follow-up qualitative research, companies can collect additional data and context to clarify the results of the post-launch surveys.

For example, if a typically loyal and engaged customer segment expresses dissatisfaction with functionality or a lack of desire to buy a new product, qualitative research can uncover the reasons why and allow a company to direct future product improvements.

Qualitative feedback can uncover potential product pitfalls

While it is hard to foresee every potential product pitfall, a well-designed research plan that includes qualitative feedback can identify potential concerns with product features at different stages in product development and bring to light new perceptions and interpretations that companies can leverage to further enhance their products.