Six questions to get actionable feedback from customers

Mar 17, 2014

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Customer Experience, a daily news portal devoted to helping retailers differentiate the shopping experience.

It’s important to ask questions. But it’s also easy to ask questions that lead the witness. "Have we met your expectations?" is a lame question to ask a customer. What can you learn from it if they say yes? What if they say no? Is that information really actionable?

Probably not.

You can easily ask more actionable questions to get the most out of those rare moments when you actually have the chance to ask them. Here are a few examples:

1. Extract more specific feedback from compliments.

Ask: "What specific items or actions pleased you the most?"

I once received the mind-blowing answer of, "You do a great job communicating the state of the big picture." The "big picture" was totally not the focus of the initiative or even what I thought worked. The real focus was about the individual touchpoints and microinteractions, but I’m thankful I received this response because it enlightened me in ways I was able to build on and expand for future projects.

2. Zero in on the "Meh" parts of the experience.

Ask: "What would you like to see us add to our inventory or layout?"

Asking, "What would make you satisfied?" leads to a lot of "Um" and "I’m really not sure" replies. "What should we add" encourages customers to think more about what’s missing.

3. Conquer the frustrating parts of the experience.

Ask: "How could we make it easier?"

Remove the limitations your customer has. If we lift those restrictions on our thinking, we can better visualize how things could be, which is liberating and empowering.

4. Invite credit for good service where credit is due.

Ask: "Who serves you best here?"

If there is an employee who stands out for helping your customers stay loyal, this is the perfect opportunity to find out. Investigate what your star offers to customers and replicate as much as you can.

5. Ask satisfied and unsatisfied customers questions about the process and experience.

Ask: "What can we do to improve the checkout process?"

Questions like this will lead to a much more valuable insight than lame questions like, "What can we do to improve?"

6. Finally, ask this one consistently throughout the customer journey.

"Have we been able to provide everything you need?"

Make sure everyone, including your customers and employees, are comfortable telling you when things are not perfect. It gives you the opportunity to apologize, to promise to make corrections, or at least to say, "Thank you for telling me" in a more timely fashion.

Do you agree that the customer feedback questions recommended in the article would be valuable in eliciting actionable responses? Are there any you would tweak, drop or add?

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21 Comments on "Six questions to get actionable feedback from customers"

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Adrian Weidmann

These questions and the more specifically, the manner and context in which they’re asked, is excellent. The value of these questions is not just the answers you receive, but in actually listening to them and responding to them so your customers come to understand that you are not only interested in their opinion, but that their opinion matters! It is human nature to take pride and ownership into something when our opinion is leveraged in a real and meaningful way.

Translating the answers to these questions into actual response (i.e. actually adding something to your inventory based upon a suggestion) will pay massive dividends in the social dialog of your brand.

Tom Redd

This set of questions is asking the average shopper to do quite a bit of thinking. Try some power spin and give the shopper more of a feeling of control.


1. On #5 re-word to “Checkout is always a tough area in retail. How would you change our checkout process to make it better for our shoppers?”

2. On #6: We try to provide everything that our shoppers need. Did we miss anything for you?

Simple way to shift the control a bit to the shopper and make them really think you are listening.

Jason Goldberg

It’s critical that you do build the voice of the customer into ongoing customer experience design and optimization process.

In general, I prefer to capture insight about how customers actually respond to customer experiences rather than what they say in response to surveys. The challenge with the surveys is that customers can only answer based on their rational understanding, but in practice we know that the majority of purchase decision influence is from subconscious factors that the rational mind doesn’t even know about.

So I do like to ask customers questions, but I like to keep them very short, which is why I like the Task Completion Framework from Avinash Kaushik.

1. What is the purpose of your visit today?
2. Were you able to complete your task today?
3. If you were not able to complete your task today, why not?
4. As a result of this visit, where you satisfied?

#1 lets me segment my visitors by purpose. #2 lets me calculate task completion rate, #3 lets me collect open text voice of customer data, and #4 is my long term trend benchmark. Feel free to replace #4 with your CSAT metric of choice (NPS, WoMI, whatever).

Joan Treistman

As someone who teaches questionnaire design, here are a few suggestions that I think can help the respondent provide the insights and information sought:

2. What section in the store (or on what page of the website) were you let down and felt “the company” could do more for you? What specifically comes to mind that you would like to see happen?

3. In the process of shopping in our store (on our website) where would you like to see us improve so that we make the experience easier/more convenient for you?

4.If someone stands out as providing good service, please tell us who that is. If you don’t remember the name, just tell us what that person did that stands out to you.

5. Do you think we can improve the checkout process? What suggestions do you have? Do you think we can improve browsing online, i.e. make it easier for you? On which page or section should we concentrate our efforts? What suggestions do you have?

6. What, if anything, have we not provided that you would like us to provide?

Ryan Mathews
First of all, the primary definition of “actionable” is still “capable of being litigated” so I hope no customer feedback tools would lead to actionable solutions. Next, while the six items are (in some form or another) all critical elements of this kind of discussion, I think they could be phrased in more customer-centric language. For example, customers often don’t really pay attention to who helped them, meaning the actual employee giving service may not be given credit — something that happens in, say, mall fashion retailing about once a minute. Also, asking some of these questions of regular customers could backfire. I am a regular customer at Holiday Supermarket in Royal Oak, MI for example. I often make what I think at least are helpful suggestions like, try rotating the frozen product on a regular basis; manage critical out-of-stocks better by analyzing velocity; and teach the baggers how to pack so they don’t keep crushing items by placing fragile items underneath heavy items — a container of olives packed underneath a bag of potatoes was yesterday’s latest victim. I occasionally get nice notes from the staff who often offer to replace product and/or give me gift cards. It all… Read more »
Mel Kleiman

Just as with employee selection, better questions get better information.
These may not be the greatest questions in the world, but they are better than most that I have been asked or heard asked.

If I am trying to really measure customer service and want truthful answers that are actionable, I ask on a scale of 0-10 how would you rate your customer experience, or you could be more specific, how would you rate on a scale of 0-10 how we handled your problem? Open ended, and can get you very specific information.

Steve Montgomery

I believe Adrian hit it on the head. The value is in the continuing to make the customer feel important (we know they are but often they don’t know we know). Providing the customer feedback that they are right and more importantly doing something about it is the real value.

Mohamed Amer

While the above six questions are relevant and get to key values for consumers, I have found the real hurdle is not in the asking of the questions, but is in the actions and commitment a retailer actually takes based on the responses.

These have to go beyond lip service and cannot be a one-time project on the margins of the organization.

Mark Burr
3 years 6 months ago

The most important questions begin with “Why?” The most important for any retailer to know is why a customer chose them that day.

If you don’t know why, asking questions without getting that answer seems sort of fruitless. Retailers should know that customers want to tell you. The best answers will come when you ask a customer about themselves and “Why” you are their choice.

The answers to “Why” questions are sometimes those you may not want to hear, but if you don’t, why bother asking any of the above?

Doug Garnett

I would love to see more discussion about how/when to get valid and useful feedback. As a shopper, the incessant demands and requests on that part of stores for me to “go to the web and fill out a survey” has me burned out – and a great many people I know.

The result is that these constant efforts measure only the dissatisfied and don’t judge effectively the shopper experience.

So I think these questions are very good. And they should no be asked constantly – but in period efforts that go beyond a website on a cash register receipt. Yes…go back to outbound calling and other forms of traditional research where you can better control the population taking the survey.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

These feedback questions would certainly gather better information than the typical “Did we meet your expectations?” However, asking the questions is only one part of the process. If you want consumers to talk and provide more information, is the check-out process the best place to ask those questions? How is the checkout person recording the responses?

  • When getting the response? What happens to the line?
  • When the line is gone? Can the person remember the first response?
  • With a tablet or recording device? Even for recording long answers?

Getting the consumers to talk is great, but not helpful without good timing when asking the questions and a mechanism for recording responses.

Ralph Jacobson

I also like to ask even more open-ended questions that don’t guide people to their responses. For instance, start at the beginning of the shopping “mission”: ask, “Why did you come to this store today?” “Why don’t you buy all of you food items (or apparel, DIY, etc.) at this store?” (I encourage shoppers to actually spend a bit of time on their answers, not always asking for knee-jerk reactions.

Vahe Katros

There’s the preamble regarding who you are, why you are asking, what will be done with the information and the reward for answering to preempt you burning need to whip out a note pad when you hear the nugget-of-the-century (at least in that hour) – but that’s not what’s going on here.

Let’s assume you are a human tape recorder – good – then ask why? Ask it a few times to drill down to the unmeant reasons why someone is engaging – throw in a few “how” questions to drill down deeper. If the shopper can’t handle an open ended question, throw them a hypothetical. And if they are really good, throw them in the group to do an in-depth or make them part of an elite shopper insights group accessible by your special iPhone app. Then go back and revise your script for the fourth time or try to remember the exact arrangement of those words and wish you weren’t such an ethical person and didn’t wear those spy recorders.

Lee Kent

Work, work, work, and I just came in to shop! These questions are asking me to write more that I have the time for.

Yes, they do get at the crux of the matter, however, retail needs to find a way to get this information without requiring this much thought and action on the part of the customer.

I’m one of those folks who would prefer seeing various locations throughout a store with an exhibit containing just one question that I can answer with one push of the button, or one or two words. I am far more likely to want to share my experience right when it is happening.

That’s my 2 cents.

Ed Rosenbaum

Sure the questions asking for feedback are important. But the big question is, what do you do with the responses once you have them? Feedback is only the first part of the equation. There have to be constructive action steps following it. Then letting the customer know what has been done as a result of his/her input is most important for closure.

George-Marie Glover
George-Marie Glover
3 years 6 months ago

Any answers to these questions are moot, unless the store staff is empowered to act on them. Too many retailers tie the hands of their salespeople from treating customers as individuals who may have a myriad of reasons for stepping inside a store. Maybe companies should start by first asking their employees these types of questions.

Peter Askew
Peter Askew
3 years 6 months ago
Even beyond the questions themselves (which, as noted above, need to be grounded in specific elements of the experience rather than broad “what can we do better” terms), we need to think about the best way to frame and execute asking these questions about the shopping trip. This ties back to wording that can be used in an omnichannel world and as well as relating it back to a recent experience. The way we question customers today needs to better bridge the brick & mortar and online shopping experience – it’ll become all the more imperative to compare the performances across channels to build a cohesive brand that does well on similar attributes all platforms. So if a brand is known for providing a great customer service in-store, they need to find a way to replicate that experience online and track the performance. We also need to remember when the best time is to ask these types of questions of our customers. Obviously, the sooner, the better. But while customers may feel hassled or rushed to address these types of questions as they walk out the store, providing a link (with a small reward) to take a survey on the… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
3 years 6 months ago

My eyes glazed over when I read the phrase, “individual touchpoints and microinteractions.” Does understanding our customers really require such analyst-speak? (Some have called it “analspeak,” but I digress.)

I take perverse pleasure in answering “no” to the following, programmed, trained question from supermarket checkout folks: “Did you find everything you needed?” They are totally unprepared for a “no” answer. And that’s where the “microinteractions” usually begin and end. The customer is no happier and the checker is clueless about how to react to negative feedback and then process it in a way that helps the customer and the store.

No matter how finely-crafted our “customer feedback questions” are, it boils down to these: “Did we take care of you today or what?” Also, “Did you get what you came for, and at prices you found acceptable?” And there’s this: “Did you skip any items because of price?”

Those questions sound like microinteractions, don’t you think?

Mark Price

This article takes a step forward in identifying how questions can be structured in order to gain actionable insights from open – ended questions, typically in the survey. However, this process is highly qualitative and requires extensive effort.

In order to increase scale and action ability, so one customers feedback does not drive a strategic initiative in the organization, it is useful to identify a range of specific features or options and then ask customers to provide their ranking or identify the most important of those options. An open-ended option can be provided as well in case the existing factors do not address customer specific feedback.

Mike Osorio
Mike Osorio
3 years 6 months ago

The conversation around questions that allow actionable responses is good. However, the larger issue in today’s hyperconnected, mobile, app-oriented world is how we actually survey the customer. Phone and email surveys are great if you’re after the boomer or geriatric crowd. But that is not where Gen Y and most of Gen X are communicating. If your “survey” isn’t on WhatsApp, WeChat, Instagram, etc., you aren’t going to get their attention. Think about where the consumer “lives” in terms of communication platform and seek to meet them there.

Tom Borg
Tom Borg
3 years 6 months ago

I think this approach is well done and very thorough. I will recommend it to business owners who want to get honest information from their customers.

One thing I would add that would make this even more valuable is to have an outside consultant ask these questions in a focus group setting without the business representatives in the room. This would encourage anonymous and honest feed back.


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