Too much feedback is toxic

How to avoid an overdose

Categories: Customer Research

Intercom co-founder Des Traynor says customer feedback is like oxygen. But here's something most folks don't know - too much oxygen is toxic. The same is true for feedback. An overdose will paralyze your team. But if you're intentional about why and how you gather feedback, this is something you can avoid.

Start with a really good question (stupid questions do exist) #

When you collect feedback, have a specific question in mind.

For example, you think one of the most valuable parts of your software is a kick-ass calendar. But new signups aren't using it. You want to know why. So your Really Good Question is "Why aren't new signups using the calendar?"

If you do a good job collecting feedback, you'll identify potential answers.

Note: A really good question is answerable and relevant to your success. It seems obvious, but if you're spending time and energy on a question, it should matter to your business. If it doesn't, find a better question.

Gather the right feedback, in the right way, from the right people #

Once you have a question, round up actionable feedback. To do that, use who / what / how / when:

  • Who: customer type you want to engage.
  • What: questions you'll ask that relate back to your Really Good Question
  • How: the feedback method you'll use.
  • When: relevant timing

Image from Intercom's 3 rules for customer feedback

This is how you get the right feedback, in the right way, from the right people. For our example question, "why aren't new signups using the calendar?" you'd be working with:

  • Who: customers who just signed up
  • What: questions like, "what features are you most excited about?" or "how do you plan to use the calendar?"
  • How: an in-app survey or questions attached to a welcome email.
  • When: within the first week of signing up

Also worth mentioning:

  • The more feedback channels you use, the more work you'll create for yourself. Stick to a few channels at first. Trust us, your future self with thank you.
  • Don't waste customers' time with questions like, "do you like us?" Your ego may enjoy the vanity boost but the feedback won't answer your question.

Get your hands dirty: Segment the mess #

Even when you nail the framework above, first-round feedback gets messy. ###a href="" target="_blank">Segmentation helps you uncover helpful patterns lurking in the noise. Ideas for parsing responses:

  • Customer segment/type: What product level the customer uses or similar
  • Customer stage: Where the customer is in the product journey. Did they just sign up, upgrade, downgrade, or cancel? Jason Fried only listens to customers that recently signed up or left. What stage best addresses your current question?
  • Submission type: Given (initiated by customer) vs. requested (initiated by you) vs. observed (e.g. analytics, search queries).
  • Category: The type of request. Common categories include feature requests, pain points, and education issues.
  • Product area: The product area or process feedback relates to
  • Feedback channel: How the customer delivered the feedback
  • Other stuff you want to remember like date or customer ID

Psst: We like you. A lot. So we put all this in a spreadsheet for you. It's everything you need to organize that feedback you're about to go get. Want access? Email with "make my week" and we'll send it your way. 🎉

Listen, really listen, to your customers #

Read through the feedback once at face value, then read through it again to find the stuff between the lines. Don't just look at what they said. Try and uncover why they said it. Only once you've listened are you ready to act.

How you do that is a whole other topic...but rest assured you're off to a non-toxic start.

"You should treat every conversation you have as an opportunity to learn."
- Drift

Want to see us cover a topic? Have major startup questions or sticking points? Email