All feedback from your customers is valuable, but there are certain types of qualitative data that can give you more insight than others.

Truly insightful feedback can help you identify when people think something is confusing, why they made a certain choice, what they value most about your product, or how they view your product against the competition.

In turn, you can use this feedback to write more persuasive copy in your marketing, optimize your user experience, or prioritize new features to build. Ultimately, more useful feedback helps you make more informed business decisions.

So how do you gather this type of feedback? It’s all about the questions you ask.

Ask customers the right questions

Whether you’re sending out an email survey, gathering feedback in-app or conducting an interview, you’re going to be asking questions. But are they the right ones?

Preparing your questions might seem like a simple practice, but it can be deceptively complex. Decades of user research has shown that people can answer some questions more accurately than others.

Here are examples of questions people are good at answering:

  • Questions about their day-to-day problems
  • Whether or not they like your product
  • What part of your product’s user experience they find confusing
  • How they currently complete specific tasks

If you ask inquiries outside of these parameters, people will probably still answer, and some might even answer with confidence. Unfortunately, their answers just won’t be as useful as the ones outlined above.

Questions people can answer with less accuracy:

  • Predicting how they’ll behave in the future
  • Whether or not they’ll pay for something in the future
  • What they think the best solution to a problem is

We know these aren’t great questions to ask people because behavioral data has demonstrated it time and time again that people frequently act differently than how they answer.

The first two questions ask people to predict their future behavior. It turns out humans are pretty bad at predicting how they’ll act in the future, yet they will readily make forecasts with unearned confidence.

This is because the human mind is full of cognitive biases that make it difficult to be objective.

The last question, which asks customers to solve a problem in your product, simply asks too much of the audience. Most customers are not designers; they are not trained to envision solutions that don’t yet exist.

We’ve seen this firsthand at DePalma. For example, we had an enterprise client who tried to design an app based verbatim on what their customers said they wanted. The end result felt more like a spreadsheet of customer comments as an app, and the customers really didn’t like it.

Good examples to follow

The Churn Survey

It’s important to gather feedback throughout the customer journey — even if it’s at the end. customers are actually very good at articulating their problems, so when someone quits your product, it’s an ideal time to ask them why and uncover opportunities for improvement.

When customers churn from Groove, the SaaS vendor sends a them a plain text email that asks a simple question: “Why did you cancel?”

After some testing, they got an even better result by asking “What made you cancel?” By switching the subject of the sentence to “what” rather than “you,” Groove inferred that the product was at fault, not the user.

Either way, the company harvested loads of actionable feedback by asking the right question to departing customers.

In most cases, people engaged with your product before they decided to cancel. This means the experience is relatively fresh in their mind when you survey them, and they won’t have to make any assumptions about why they did or didn’t do something.

Example customer feedback prompt

The Behavioral Survey

Another important type of insight is understanding how your audience completes certain tasks. This can inform how you structure your UX design or let you know if you should be thinking about new features.

This questionnaire from SeatGeek is a great example:

Example survey question to ask customer

Notice how the copy says “I’m hoping to learn more about how our customers find live events.”

SeatGeek knows the best way to improve their service design is to identify patterns in survey responses and use that data as guidelines for developing new features.

To avoid asking people to make too many assumptions, the survey asks about specific points in the past. One question asks “What’s most important to you when deciding to see a new artist?”

By asking what influences their audience’s choices, SeatGeek is uncovering how people currently accomplish tasks and why. That makes it easier to design a user experience tailored to the behavior of their audience.

The In-App or On-Page Survey

Sometimes you need to get really specific. For that, there’s a plethora of tools you can use to ask single question surveys about the user experience on a specific page or screen.

This modal from Apptentive is a common example:

Apptentive example

By asking which qualities customers find most important, you’re gathering data about how they want to accomplish a task.

Again, this is the type of question people are good at answering. Another option would be to ask “What is missing from this screen?” This prompts customers to let you know what they find confusing about particular steps in the user experience.

The data you gather from these responses should enrich your understanding of how to align your product’s UX to your audience’s expectations.

A quick note on validation

Customer feedback is exceptionally important. Without input from people, customer-centric design is simply impossible. Plus, the nuggets of wisdom you can glean from qualitative data often lead to more effective design solutions.

However, it’s unwise to take qualitative data at face value. You still need to validate any new major design changes with quantitative data. This is particularly important when you’re trying to persuade stakeholders to make a design change or you’re working on a complex product, like an enterprise user experience. That will let you know whether you’ve actually struck gold with your user research.

Read more: How Important is It to Take User Feedback (Also 11 Ultimate Hacks on How to Take it)