How To Ask Customers For Feedback The Right Way

Why I stopped asking people what they want and started looking at what they struggle with

Fab Giovanetti
Nov 7, 2019 · 4 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash

A few days back, I was interviewing two co-founders for the Make an Impact podcast, and we got into the subject of customer feedback.

As a small startup, they highly valued the input from their customers, and could not agree more with that sentiment.

Modern work culture is all about feedback, and we’ve invented plenty of ways to deliver it.

According to a new working paper out of Harvard Business School on feedback in the workplace, if you ask for feedback, you’re more likely to get fuzzy, nonspecific observations than concrete tips.

“It’s just not the ideal way to solicit input,” says co-author Jaewon Yoon, who studies organisational behaviour at Harvard. “If you want to feel good about what you did, ask for feedback. People are more likely to give you an overall assessment, [like] ‘You did a good job.’”

This made me wonder whether this could also impact the way we receive feedback from our customers.

After six years of running a business, I realised that there are two ways to truly get to know what your customers want.

As a business owners, you will receive a lot of feedback, and that feedback can be overwhelming if you don’t prepare for it.

And yes, neither of them involve asking people what they want.

“Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.” -Andy Stanley

Number one: take the time to analyse complaints and refund requests

As an entrepreneur running a (still relatively) small business, I would lie if I said I did not take to heart receiving negative feedback, or even worse not meeting my clients’ expectations.

I worked for years as a consultant and mentor, and I can honestly tell you, it’s so much harder to serve 100 people than just 1 at a time.

Yet, if instead of burying the head under the sand and ignore the fact that someone did not get exactly what they wanted we asked ourselves WHY we did not meet their expectations, not only we are showing we listen, but we show we care.

Raving fans will often tell you they love everything you do.

Most people who enjoy a program, product or course will share on social media. Yet, the wealth in detail you get from people complaining about something is enormous, compared to a few testimonials (which are good for social proof, but do not really help you to implement your results).

It’s easy to confuse feedback and advice, but the two are very different. Feedback is telling someone what they did poorly. Advice is telling them how you think they should fix it. Listen to these differences between feedback and advice.

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” -Neil Gaiman

Take every complaint and request as a way to learn how you can refine and improve your craft- from on-boarding to product delivery.

Number two: ask people what they are struggling with

“Identity is the story we tell ourselves about who we are and what the future holds for us, and when critical feedback is incoming, that story is under attack.” -Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen

We run countless surveys for both our courses and our overall brand. I would lie to you if I said we get thousands of responses for each one (despite having an audience of 80k+).

Incentives help with surveys, yet it’s still not enough.

We saw a true shift when we installed smart pop-ups for our website and started running short message-based surveys on what people “needed help with”.

We wanted people to tap into their struggles as we found those to be what people could truly resonate with.

Since we asked them about a problem, they were more likely to answer just to find a solution to their predicament.

People do not head to your website (Instagram/Pinterest) because they love you, they head to your website because there is something in it for them.

They need you to help them. Asking people about their struggles and problems truly helps you understand which gaps need to be filled.

Circle back with people later after you’ve had the chance to think about their feedback further or put it into practice. Ask them whether they’ve noticed an improvement and ask them for accountability.

Keep on asking questions

“[I]f we’re serious about growth and improvement, we have no choice but to get good at learning from just about anyone.” -Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen

Regardless of whether you are looking to refine a current product, validate a new project or simplify your overall strategy, asking the right questions (to yourself) and your customers is a game-changer.

Truth is, not all questions were created equal.

Hopefully, by implementing these two tactics you can become a better listener for the people you are trying to serve.

My name is Fab Giovanetti and I am a writer, author, marketing consultant, founder of the Health Bloggers Community and professional troublemaker.

I help people making an impact with their influence — sounds like you? Learn how to use each and every contribution to grow your own database and monetise your content via this free class.

The Creative Handbook

Journey of creative businesses

Sign up for Creative Toolkit Roundup

By The Creative Handbook

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Fab Giovanetti

Written by

Award-Winning Marketing Consultant || Founder @ creativeimpact.group || Author, Columnist || 👉Free Marketing Bundle: http://bit.ly/GetFabBundle

The Creative Handbook

Tools and stories about how to grow your brand as a creative

Fab Giovanetti

Written by

Award-Winning Marketing Consultant || Founder @ creativeimpact.group || Author, Columnist || 👉Free Marketing Bundle: http://bit.ly/GetFabBundle

The Creative Handbook

Tools and stories about how to grow your brand as a creative

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store