INNOVATING DESIGN PRACTICE

How Not to Gather Customer Feedback

How to present your product to receive thoughtful, minimally biased feedback

Karl Mochel
Dec 8, 2019 · 5 min read

So you have your new product and you want to see what your customers think but you don’t have usability staff. You stand up in front of the customers and give a presentation with in-depth slides and detailed descriptions of every piece of functionality…and then ask them what they think.

That is customer education — not how to gather customer feedback.

What is wrong with this approach?

You have not let your customers think for themselves. All of the in-depth and detailed information is swamping their ability to evaluate what they might want or need. The capabilities may sound good in passing, but by providing them in an avalanche, it overwhelms most people’s ability to provide thoughtful feedback at each step. If it is important to get unbiased, thoughtful feedback you need to approach these sessions differently.

Goals of Meaningful Feedback

  • Reduce biased feedback based on how the capabilities are presented.​
  • Promote mindful feedback from each customer to get their individual opinions.
  • Encourage conversation to see how ideas within the group change as they hear each other's thoughts.

A Simple Process

Capability Overview

Give a short introduction to the product or feature. Keep it short. No more than 3 sentences is best. Just what the capability is meant to accomplish and solve. No adjectives about how efficient, delightful, etc. You are orienting their expectations to how it fits into their company, not selling it.

Screen Run-through

Same as the product or feature introduction — keep to a short description. You want them thinking about how it fulfills their needs so that you can elicit comments or questions.

After introducing the screen give them 2 minutes to write down their thoughts or ask clarifying questions. If asked, answer questions about what each screen does, but keep it short. Too much talking will slow down the feedback.

If customers have in-depth questions of comments it may be best to ask them to talk with you individually after the session. It depends on whether getting the group's feedback is important or engaging the talkative ones.

A per-screen handout

It is good to provide a paper version of each screen while presenting. This gives the customers a structured place to write down their feedback and easily point to visual or layout elements they may want to comment on.

On the side, you can provide short prompts to elicit feedback. Don’t expect customers to write dissertations. You will also want to keep things moving so they keep a feel of the flow page-to-page.

Screen Discussion

Show screens again. Have customers discuss their thoughts. You may need some prompts to get people talking. At some point during the discussion make an effort to directly ask individuals who have not spoken up what they think.

This is the time to bring up any specific questions your team may have about whether different directions should be explored. You can probe on things like, “If we combined task A and B would that work for your needs?” or “Is there anything missing for you to accomplish Z?” But remember, probes should not be leading.

Capability Rating

Now that the customers have had a chance to think about the capability on their own and with the group you want to get have them rate the capability.

Some directions of feedback we can measure…

Customer Interest — Do participants think the capability would be of interest to their company?

Customer Understanding — Do participants find the capability to be usable for themselves and others at their company?

Customer Usefulness — Do participants find the capability to be useful for themselves and others at their company?

See the Design Adjectives article for a list of terms in these categories that you can get feedback on. Select no more than 10 of these based on what is most important to know about the state of product or functionality.

A feedback handout for the capability/feature/application

Timing

Don’t try to go through vast products or arrays of functionality. For 8 screens the hour could go something like this:

  • 0:00–0:05 — Five minutes for everyone to introduce themselves
  • 0:05–0:07 — Two minutes to introduce the concept
  • 0:07–0:31 — One minute to introduce and two minutes for customers to think, write or ask clarifying questions per screen
  • 0:31–0:55 — Three minutes group discussion per screen
  • 0:55–1:00 — Five minutes to fill out feedback

Enterprise Customer Feedback

Enterprise products are often shown to people who will not actually be using them. The buyers are often people who either don’t do the tasks the product is meant to cover (Managers of the end-users) or use it differently than those they manage (Admins).

Users use the product but customers buy the product.

Assuming this will be shown to a person who will not be the main user of swaths of the functionality be mindful of what is reasonable feedback to solicit. In these cases, the screens themselves may not be as valuable to evaluate as flows or other content. This feedback method will work with that content too. You will be fine as long as you pick the appropriate content for the audience.


This is neither a usability study — getting quantitative input, or a product demonstration — trying to wow your customers. This protocol is for eliciting customer feedback when users may not be available.

With this protocol, your customers will appreciate you using their time wisely — not just for a sales pitch, and for giving them time to think and react. And, you will have higher trust that the feedback is meaningful.

The Startup

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Karl Mochel

Written by

User Experience Architect - Design effects every part of life. Life is designed. But design is not life.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +568K people. Follow to join our community.

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