5 Magic Questions to Create Killer Customer Experiences

There’s a story in Eliyahu Goldratt’s The Goal (which you should read if you haven’t) about a consultant. At least I think it’s from his book. There’s probably many versions of the story. I’ll paraphrase here, but it goes something like this.

A manufacturing company is having problems with its assembly line. Somewhere along the assembly line product isn’t getting made nearly as fast as it should be. After months of exhaustive testing and analysis the managers at the plant can’t identify what’s wrong in the process. Is it mechanical, managerial, aliens? Whatever they do, they can’t figure it out.

Sooo… they bring in a consultant. The consultant immediately goes to work inspecting every inch of the assembly line, talking to people, testing machines, pushing buttons, etc. The managers watch intently as the consultant works. After 10 Minutes the consultant reaches into his pocket and pulls out a giant red magic marker. He calls up to the managers peering down at him. “Here’s the problem” he says, and places a red X on one of the parts of the machines in the assembly line.

The managers immediately have the part replaced and sure enough the assembly line is fixed and product starts flowing like magic.

Astonished, the managers shake the consultant’s hand, thank him, and ask him how much they owe him for his time. He replies “That’ll be ten thousand dollars.” Taken aback, the managers, now wide-eyed reply “But you were here for only 10 minutes. How can that be?” The consultant looks at them and replies, “ For the 10 minutes I’ve been here it’s $1 and $9,999.00 to know where to put the red X.”

Why do I tell you this story? Because knowing where to put “the Red X” is everything. With your own website or application wouldn’t it be nice to know where to put that red X to dramatically improve sales, generate more leads and improve the overall user experience?

Well the good news is that there’s a tool that can quickly and easily help you identify where to place that red X. What is it? Hold on to your hats…

It’s a survey!

Wait! Before you deflate in a sea of being underwhelmed that this remarkable tool is a simple little survey, let me tell you that I’ve seen this method lead to dramatic results for countless websites and applications whether they are ecommerce, brand-driven websites, games, or business applications. The methodology is always the same.

Surveys have a bad name because too often they are waaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyy too long, too intrusive and overwhelming. And too often the data doesn’t yield any actionable insights because the survey is asking the wrong questions.

So what are the right questions and how should the survey be implemented?

The questions

Here’s the awesome part. Yep, I said awesome, you can hold it against me if you want, but you really only need to ask 5 questions at the RIGHT time. Here they are:

  1. Who are you?
  2. Why did you visit today?
  3. Were you able to do or find what you wanted?
  4. If not, why not?
  5. On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your experience and why?

The 5th one is really optional, but sometimes I’ve found this question can yield some good insights and hey, who doesn’t like ratings, right? Here’s an overview of the questions:

  1. Who are you?

You should ask this question to identify who is visiting you. In creating the survey I’ll usually list out the most likely candidates. For example if it’s a survey for the CIA’s website, under “Who are you?” I might put radio button options for “Spy, Hacker, Traitor on the Fence, Carrie Mathison (Homeland fans, you know what I’m talking about. Brody!)

AND, you can’t forget the all-important “Other” with an open text entry. Other without an option to actually say who you are is a little bit like saying “Hello, my name is Name.” You might be amazed at who tells you they are coming to visit your site. This can be so much more insightful when combined with the demographics you’re getting from your analytics.

  1. Why did you visit today?

This really is the magic question. So often we jump to creating solutions, features, and functionality without ever really knowing what the need is we are solving for. Lazy people will implement this question closed-ended with only multiple choice options because it’s easier to analyze results. This robs the question of its pixie dust. The magic is in leaving this question open-ended and just letting people write in why they are visiting your site or using your app. You may discover an entirely new need you didn’t even know your fans expected you to satisfy for them.

  1. Were you able to find or do what you wanted?

This question puts question #2 on steroids. It’s one thing to know why someone visits you, but it’s money in your pocket to know if someone was able to actually fulfill that need. If the answer is “Yes” then you should go treat yourself to a Cronut because you’re doing a great job meeting the needs of your customers. But, if your customers tell you they were not able to do or find something then that’s a little bit like knowing where to put that $9,999.00 red X. In this answer is where you’ll often find the leaky bucket in your conversion process or lead-gen strategy.

  1. If not, why not?

This question let’s your visitors tell you in their own words how you failed to deliver on your promise of being awesome. But that’s OK because this will let you know what you need to do to actually be awesome next time they come back.

In UX speak the answers to this question will give you insight into your user’s “Mental Model” which is really a fancy word for the way someone thinks about doing something. For example, my Mental Model for “GET COFFEE” is a little bit like this…

  1. Find nearest Starbucks.
  2. Order Coffee.
  3. Drink

My wife’s mental model for GET COFFEE might be something like this.. “

  1. Put pod in Keurig.
  2. Push button.
  3. Drink

See, people think about things in different ways and understanding your user’s mental models can help you create better experiences for them. If it’s not obvious, you need to keep this question open-ended. Let them literally tell you what they think, do not give canned answers. That’s leading the witness…

  1. On scale of 1 -10 how would you rate your experience and why?

Sometimes I’ll qualify this question and add “where 1 is terrible and 10 is excellent.” This question is really extra credit and you don’t have to ask it, but so often we just want to know how we’re doing…if we’re hot or not, and this question gives you that nice satisfying quantifiable answer. But it’s pretty much worthless without the why. If someone comes up to you and says “You’re a 10!” You’d wonder what you were a 10 in? Being super awesome, super smart, super hairy, super awkward, all the above? You’d really like to know, right? Well the same is true for your digital venture. You need to know why someone rates it they way they do. And again, you need to let your users tell you in their own words so keep it open-ended.

Ok, so there you have it. 5 simple but incredibly powerful questions that can help you increase sales, leads, and just be all around more amazing at meeting your customers needs. Of course you have to actually implement the survey and analyze the results to reap the rewards. A couple more things…


How many results is enough?

This question is subjective. You could probably do some sort of calculation for statistical significance against your average number of visitors, but I would say implement the survey, let it run and keep looking at the results over time. Try to identify patterns and look for those outliers.

AND use your judgment in applying your learnings. I was once running a usability test for a travel website and I asked my tester if there was anything missing from the site. He looked at me and asked, “Where’s the music and red?” “What music and red” I said. “It’s a travel site.” “I know,” he said. “I just want to hear some Caribbean steel-drum music and I want it to be more red. I really like red.”

This may have made more sense if it was travel site for Jamaica, but it was a travel website for a destination in Northern California. Remember what I said about how people really do think about things in different ways.

How to implement the survey

The last thing you should know before you run off and start mining for gold in your users’ answers is the best way to implement the survey. Hands down, the best way to initiate the survey is when the user exits your site. This is called a True On-Exit Survey. You want to do this because you want to capture input after someone has actually experienced your site or app. And you don’t want to interrupt their experience by putting it up front like so many do. You’ll get less participation and more bogus answers than you need. True on-exit surveys get the best results.

What’s the best tool to use?

There are lots of options out there. Whether you use something out of the box or custom build your own. The key is to make sure it’s a true On-Exit survey. Google “On-Exit survey” and you’ll find some options. The easiest ones allow you to paste some JavaScript into your footer if you are a website. For an application, you may have to get creative and create a link to your survey on exit of your application.

Good luck finding those nuggets. They are out there. You just need to know how to find them. And now you do! So no excuses! Go create an experience that makes people smile.

And if you need any help or just want to bounce some ideas around you can always tweet me @tdonehower, or connect on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/tomdonehower.

Happy hunting!

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