How to Gather and Use Customer Insights to Improve Experience

Robyn Collinge
Robyn Collinge



It’s one thing to claim to put customers first, but how can you make decisions about what, when, and how to sell or service them if you don’t know what they want? In an attempt to become more customer-centric, an increasing number of companies are embracing a data-driven approach, and it’s easy to see why.

Man analyzing customer insights data

Thanks to continuing advances in big data technology, there's a huge amount of it right at our fingertips.

In fact, according to Forrester, data-driven organizations are growing at an average of 30% or more annually.

Big data has become an invaluable tool for creating value in a business, eliminating reliance on gut feel decision-making and, instead, empowering every team at an organization to analyze and change based on real feedback, which can then be turned into valuable customer insights.

With a deeper understanding of customer psychology, behavior, and preference, you can better resonate with and serve those customers, which, in turn, improves their experience and increases revenue.

Why Brands Need Customer Insights

When it comes to user experience (UX) and optimizing digital touchpoints, the first step in becoming data-driven is to use direct data to determine where your users are getting stuck and what's preventing them from converting — think sources like web analytics. This is the logical first step to initiate and drive the ideation process.

But, while these quantitative numbers from direct data can give you an idea of what is going on, when it comes to the why, qualitative feedback from your customers is the way to go.

In her powerful TED talk, 'The human insights missing from big data', Tricia Wang explains that the $122 billion big data industry actually means nothing without qualitative human insights. From her research position at Nokia, she saw the phone company tank by not listening to what their customers actually needed and anticipating approaching trends — seriously, how many people do you know with an (un-ironic) Nokia phone?

We know that a combination of both quantitative and qualitative data is the sweet spot — but it's important to make sure the customer feedback you're collecting is actionable.

How to Gather Customer Insights

Since insights are more about the conclusions that you can use to make decisions, you can reach those conclusions from a variety of sources, including: 

1. Customer Feedback

Perhaps the easiest way to get customer insights is by simply asking them what they think. Surveys and “How Are We Doing?” style questionnaires can lead to powerful take-aways that can be applied to future campaigns. 

The challenge, though, is that this mode alone may not be enough to give you the full picture. Many customers may be afraid or unwilling to share their true opinions and/or give minimum viable feedback to complete the survey/questionnaire. 

2. Customer Sentiment

Methods that measure customer sentiment, such as NPS and star ratings, are equally as important (if not more so) than surveys. By asking customers to rate how they feel and removing the friction to do so — one-click popup, anyone? — you can begin to measure customer satisfaction with any digital experience. These are especially effective for in-app or on-page testing of a single feature as well as experiences after a sales call or customer service interaction. 

3. Third-Party Data

If you don’t have access to a large amount of customer feedback to make decisions from, you can draw insights from market research performed by larger organizations with a wider audience. Being aware of customer trends in your industry can help you understand the pains and problems your customers face, which can help you craft marketing campaigns, develop new offerings, and serve your customers with better empathy and understanding. 

4. Situational Analysis of Anecdotal Experiences

Customers may not know that something could be better until it comes along and metaphorically hits them in the face. This could be detrimental if an innovative competitor makes them aware, or it could mean delight if it’s an improvement you make. 

However, if a customer doesn’t realize the flaws in a process, service, or product, how can they communicate it to you? This is where customer feedback alone falls short. 

Companies that conduct in-person interviews, ongoing gap analysis, and/or training seminars may unearth insights a survey never could, especially if they rely on open-ended questions. 

For a great example of what I mean, read on to the next section where I discuss SEMrush’s product development strategy. 

5. Passively Collected Behavioral Data

By paying attention to not just what customers tell you but also how they interact with your website, product, or content, you can determine a lot about your customers. Analytics platforms such as Google Analytics or your social media dashboards, heat mapping software such as Hotjar, and screen recording software such as Lucky Orange all contain data from which you can draw conclusions. You can also get information about what prospects care about from searches they do online. This can be done by using keyword research tools such as Google Trends, Ahrefs, and SEMrush

6.  Real-Time User Testing

For apps, websites, and online-based experiences, you can gain insights into audience preferences by running A/B tests on certain variables of their experience. With A/B testing, you can watch in real-time as your user base interacts with elements such as copy, navigation, and button color or placement to determine what works best. Majority rules, and you’ll be able to draw conclusions from statistical proof. 

7. Predictive Models

Speaking of statistics, predictive modeling is another source that some companies are beginning to use when they want to gain insights and make decisions. With machine learning and artificial intelligence, it’s becoming more and more possible to use algorithms and statistical models to analyze large quantities of data and variables much better than you can without computer help. This can often be used to make “predictions” with regard to user or customer experience.

1. Customer Feedback Survey is a service that connects podcast hosts who need guests to podcast guests who are looking for shows. In January 2019, this service sent out a survey as part of its weekly email campaign. 

The beauty of their survey is that the questions they chose served two purposes: 

  • Gather meaningful feedback from subscribers to improve the experience
  • Gather meaningful data from subscribers to ensure that the email list is segmented properly

By asking questions that require respondents to choose an option, PodcastGuests could then use this information to send out more personalized emails with only the content that's helpful for the customer (which helps their email campaigns AND improves the experience). 

scrolling image of podcast guests survey

2. HubSpot's Net Promoter Score System 

Here at HubSpot, we use our own NPS system coupled with email marketing automation to gather and measure customer satisfaction and sentiment. After the conclusion of any customer support ticket, an email goes out to the customer asking to rate their experience from one to ten. From here, we use the data collected to determine if we're on the right track with our customer service efforts. This works particularly well because it's a one-click experience with no long list of survey questions to answer. 

hubspot NPS survey

3. Market Research for the #Likeagirl Campaign

In 2013 and again in 2017, Always ran the #likeagirl campaign with a simple message for girls: Failures aren't setbacks but rather fuel for progress. The uplifting message to "keep going" was meant to resonate with girls and young women. This campaign was created in response to a study that found that nearly half of girls avoid trying new things because of a fear of failure.


4. SEMrush's In-Person Interview

Earlier in the article, I noted that surveys aren't everything and that there are many insights that can be found by reading between the lines. For example, I worked for a marketing agency where the majority of the team used SEMrush as their primary keyword research tool except for me.

One day, the owners of our company received an email from SEMrush's product team that said, "We're going to be in your city for a training event. We'd love to stop by while we're in town and chat about your experience with our product." They came to the office and asked our opinions on aspects of the software plus potential upcoming features. 

When they found out that I was the only team member who didn't exclusively use their tool, they dove deep on my workflow, asking questions about the things that were important to me, the inefficiencies of SEMrush with regard to those things, and what the other tool offered that they didn't. When the discussion was over, they had valuable insights to take home to their development team. 

Had they not done this, they would have been left with my 10/10 rating for the features of SEMrush I liked, unaware that I used another tool for other aspects of my workflow. 

5. Yokel Local’s Bug Fix After Insights from Behavioral Data

Sometimes, things can look great on the surface but contain deceptive issues. Yokel Local, a digital marketing agency, noticed that their conversions were worryingly low on the Request a Consultation page. After testing the form in-house, they could find no reason for the drop. 

That’s when they took to Lucky Orange, a screen recording software, and began to watch real customer interactions with the site. They ended up finding a major user experience issue where some devices would not allow check box clicks, and the user would bounce away. 

This insight led to some web development work to correct the issue, and the conversions returned back to normal.

image of yokel local's form

6. Csek Creative’s A/B Testing

When a company wants to change something as important to the website as the above-the-fold copy on the homepage, they better have good reason to do so. After all, there's no guarantee that the change is actually for the better. That's why a great practice is to A/B test the new copy against the old copy to see which version leads to a higher percentage of your desired result. 

That's exactly what digital marketing agency Csek Creative did with their new tagline. What they thought would be a minor change resulted in an 8.2% increase in their click-through rate.

7. Netflix's Machine Learning

One of the best examples of machine learning to enhance customer experience is Netflix's recommendations engine. By analyzing each customer’s interactions against other customers’ in addition to other data, Netflix is able to serve up content most likely to align with the customer’s interests. This increases their satisfaction and the amount of time they spend on the platform.


How to Apply Customer Insights

So, you've been running surveys across your digital platforms and your customers have been enthusiastically sharing their thoughts. Now it's time to combine these valuable qualitative insights with analytics and make some changes.

But, where to start? Get inspired by these use cases where customer feedback was the key driver in making a difference.

1. User Testing and UX Validation

Customer feedback is a vital component of any testing phase. To ensure their Support portal revamp met the needs of users, Usabilla first released it in beta and opened the floor for feedback.

Targeting a percentage of visitors to the existing site, Usabilla invited customers to try out the new beta website. Once customers were on the site, they were extremely willing to share their thoughts. Perhaps because they had been actively invited to try the page, making them more engaged with leaving feedback.

Through a combination of passive feedback submitted via a Usabilla feedback button and running active surveys — using actionable questions based on the ones above — the company was able to both test and improve the beta website before rolling it out to the public.

User testing and UX validation.png

2. Quick Wins & ROI

Gathering valuable data from your customers doesn't necessarily need to involve surveys or open-ended questions. Sometimes simply opening the channel for communication can make a big difference.

French football club Paris Saint-Germain saw an incredible return on investment after implementing user feedback to ask for customer's contact details. Hugo Charrier, Ecommerce Manager at PSG, explains:

"We decided to run a slide-out campaign where customers could leave their details if they didn't have time to complete the process for purchasing a VIP ticket, or in case they had any further questions. As a result, we received over 500 email addresses which, in turn, generated almost €100,000 worth of sales!"

Quick wins and return on investment .png

3. Identifying Bugs and Issues

Customer feedback on usability issues can only drive actionable change if you’re able to replicate or diagnose the problem. However, that same feedback can come to you with other information that leads to valuable insights.

For example, Paris Saint-Germain was also able to uncover a significant issue with Internet Explorer after receiving multiple feedback items with the same browser metadata where customers complained they were unable to purchase tickets. It was the metadata, not the feedback alone, which led to this discovery.

Global travel company, TUI Group, had a similar experience. Marc Worrall, General Manager Digital Services at TUI explains:

"We identified a significant issue on our online platforms following a software release. We started to get a lot of online feedback that customers were unable to use our search panel and this was across our mobile devices. What we didn't know was that this was specifically through the Google App. This affected 11% of our mobile traffic, which in turn attributes to a potential revenue loss of £350,000 per week!"

Identifying bugs and issues.png

As Chris Mazzei, Global Chief Analytics Officer at EY, summarizes, "Analytics is changing how organizations make decisions and take actions. Data by itself has limited value but when managed as a strategic asset, data can change how organizations compete and win."

From the examples we've discussed, it's clear that becoming a truly data-driven and user-centric company requires a combination of quantitative and qualitative sources. However, reaching out for customer feedback doesn't need to be overwhelming. As long as you have a solid feedback platform in place, it can be manageable, actionable, and able to deliver the seamless digital experience your users are looking for.

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