If You Really Want to Understand Customer Needs, Avoid Surveys


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Whether you’re a start-up or a decades-old business, you’ve probably used surveys to keep up with your customers. It is a tool that has been around for almost 200 years and continues to generate a lot of insightful wisdom tips to help drive the strategic direction of any business.

As a research tool, surveys can be very useful. There is nothing methodologically flawed with them. However, problems can arise when misapplied or used as a replacement for other forms of research that focus on actual behaviors and the “why” behind customer decisions. As an entrepreneur, you want to avoid using surveys as a validation tool that only confirms your preconceived notions about what you think. are the problems of the customers.

When to use surveys

The value of surveys comes with the collection of large amounts of quantitative data in a short period of time. Also, if you’ve done your homework and talked to your audience, you can validate some of their characteristics in a larger population.

  • Validation of the person: Do you know your customers inside and out? You may have taken some initial deep dives with people to gain a basic understanding of behavior, preferences, and attitudes. Surveys here help validate which features are most common in a larger population and give an insight into the size of your market to find out who you’re looking for.
  • Analytical monitoring: Your data may show that people don’t buy on both Android and iOS. Is this due to something in particular with Android users or something more broadly associated with your app / website / service? Surveys can help you get the right direction here.

Related: 6 Ways to Get People Engaged in Searching for Customer Information

The dangers of conducting surveys

Just because it’s incredibly easy to do a survey doesn’t mean you have to. Unless you are well versed in survey design, statistics, and bias removal across all survey languages, surveys can do more harm than good.

  • Polls are easy to create, submit, and count. As humans, things that are easier for us to understand feel more true. Ease of use makes surveys seem valid, no matter how fake or misleading they may be.
  • The results of the polls, especially the statistics, have been sticking to us for a long time. Numbers make things feel objective and truthful. If a question has been asked in a certain way or seemed primary, you will never be able to tell from the results that this was the case.
  • Survey data can never be questioned because defects can never be detected. Did the person understand the meaning of the question? What was your reaction? How were they thinking about the answer? You will never be able to determine any of this from survey responses.

Why you should talk to your customers

As entrepreneurs, we have the mindset of “building something as fast as possible and then validating and adapting.” However, wearing a lot of hats and having little time is no excuse to take the easy way out when it comes to understanding your customers. The richness and context of how our offering adapts to a client’s life is often overlooked. Having meaningful conversations, such as interviews, will lead to incredible added value:

  • Take a look at your customers’ lives to understand their experiences, challenges, and frustrations. Use it to drive your business with more ideas on how you can better serve your market and meet their needs.
  • Get a clearer picture of your market positioning and messages to your main audience by taking a deeper look at the “why” behind what you think is the problem.
  • Reduce your risk of product failure with a higher level of confidence that your product or service will succeed in the marketplace.

Related: 3 Methods to Help You Determine What Customers Really Want (and Really Don’t Want)

Check out best practices, if necessary

Surveys should never be the de facto research method to use when you don’t know what kind of research needs to be done. However, if you simply don’t have time to talk to your customers, be sure to consider the following when conducting surveys:

  • Don’t ask people what they like or don’t like. This is a self-informed attitude that can change as quickly as the days of the week and never adapts to user behavior.
  • Don’t ask people what they need for a product or feature. Customers can’t articulate what they need. Also, asking anyone to make a prediction of their future behavior is a one-way ticket to erroneous data and should never be used to report any significant business decisions.
  • Don’t ask people to remember something beyond a few days. Chances are you get a low quality response

Surveys can and should be used, but never as an easy solution for quick confirmation. The pilot test of the survey even with one person through an interview can help drastically reduce any confusion about what you are asking. By asking the right question to the right people in the right way, you’ve taken the first step to help inform your business with high-quality data.



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