How to Gather Customer Research Without a Focus Group

If customer research is like your annual checkup at the doctor’s office (time-consuming, sometimes expensive, but, ultimately, more than worth it), then frequent communication with your customer support team should be part of your daily fitness regimen. Without traveling far or investing much, your product team can source invaluable information from customer support. The support team has a finger on your customer’s pulse and likely receives hundreds of requests each week about what customers love or are most frustrated with about the product, providing valuable data points in quantifying the user experience.

At Inkling, our support and product teams work closely together to diagnose customer pain points and discuss possible solutions. Throughout our collaboration, we’ve developed several best practices around communication and data aggregation. Below, we’ve shared our top three tips for turning support requests into product feedback.

1. Organize and prioritize customer feedback

Even with an overflowing support inbox, it’s critical to organize and prioritize customer feedback. Look for patterns, and use descriptive tags to group similar issues together. For example, your customers may be struggling with a new sign-up flow. In Zendesk (the platform we use), you can add a “sign-up” tag to these tickets. On closer inspection, you might notice that most of these requests come from Company A. Add a “Company A” tag, and use the data to inform your next Company A training workshop.

2. Build a diagnostic dashboard

Support and product can work together to build a diagnostic dashboard that communicates customer issues in a clear, graphic format. Tools like GoodData and Chart.io make it easy to chart ticket data, especially when it’s tagged and organized. At Inkling, we created an “Issue Evolution” chart that plots trending issues week over week. With this chart, we can see how product changes–like re-designing a confusing sign-up flow–affect customer feedback. Make sure your dashboard is simple to update (preferably automated) and share across your company.

3. Make cross-functional collaboration a healthy habit

Research drives development at Inkling, and we invite everyone at the company to sit beside customers (virtually, if not in person) as they engage with our products. It’s especially important to involve your support team in usability testing, customer interviews, and other product research efforts. They can help your product team contextualize research findings and answer important questions: Have other customers had a similar experience? If so, what have they told us? Are there common issues we can solve for?

Use support data to both inform and validate product decisions. Planning to A/B test a new feature? Ask your support team to track customer feedback for the duration of your test. The qualitative feedback can enrich the quantitative data gathered from tools like Optimizely, presenting a more authentic customer story. Sometimes, the “numbers” can only go so far in telling you which features your customers find delightful and which make them want to pull their hair out. And when that new feature finally goes live, you can use pre and post-launch ticket volume as a success metric.

The bottom line:

Take every opportunity to promote collaboration between your product and support teams. You’ll quickly establish a powerful product-feedback loop to help guide the decisions that most impact your customers, decreasing your support inbox and creating a better, more user-friendly product.

Countless hours of customer research has influenced our end-to-end publishing solution, Habitat. To learn more, visit our solutions page.