The Pulse Of Customer Feedback

As anybody in the web business will tell you these days, the real opportunity isn’t in building new web sites, it’s in re-building existing sites.

The days of being able to stay in business by getting companies on the web for the first time are long gone. I can’t think of a single big company that doesn’t have at least some kind of web presence.

But what do you do when you’re faced with renovating a site? Where do you start? How do you create a site that provides customers with what they want and provides the business-building services and information your web client needs? How do you decide what goes where in the information hierarchy? How do you know what’s really important to the audience in making a buying decision?

The answer is simple: research.

It’s amazing to me how many sites are created (or re-created) without anyone stopping to ask the people who really count — the customers — what they need.

I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been to where we’ve confronted a client with a research plan before we even wrote a lick of code and got a “Wow! What a great idea!” Companies that wouldn’t write a memo without putting it in front of six focus groups often don’t consider the fact that market knowledge is just as important, if not more so, on the web as it is on TV or in print.

When it comes to the web, there’s often a huge disparity between the company’s viewpoint of what it needs to communicate and what its audience is really looking for. A site organized by functional departments (the dreaded org-chart site) is usually useless to customers who don’t care what department something’s in. They just want a problem solved.

On the other hand, a high-concept creative site that would make art directors collapse into spasms of creative ecstasy might be completely wrong if your customers are looking for product assembly sheets, comparative feature data, or interactive assistance on matching the right product with their needs.

How do you find out? Ask them!

The web offers unique opportunities for taking the pulse of your customers, which just isn’t possible (or prohibitively expensive) in the analog world. Sure, you could poll every customer that comes into your stores and ask them to fill out a 16-question questionnaire. But I suspect you’d spend a lot of time and money before you ever got something that made any sense. You could hire a hit-squad of retail anthropologists to follow them around your store or observe them in the field. But that takes some major bucks, too.

On the web, technology allows us to automate the process of research so that each and every customer gets a chance to be heard — at an extremely low cost compared to traditional marketing research methods. Online surveys that prompt incoming customers to answer a few short questions can deliver valuable attitude and usage data quickly and relatively painlessly.

Analyzing log files for details on what pages people use and what paths they take through the site can also yield valuable anthropological data on usage patterns and interests, something I will cover in depth in a future column.

But let’s start with surveys.

Creating a real-time web survey to poll customers on usage patterns, opinions, needs, and desires is a vital tool for deciding where to take your web strategy. However, creating surveys that go beyond a simple email channel, surveys that actually tabulate in real time and provide varying ways to analyze data and sample respondents, has always been a hassle. Custom programming, site integration, and complex data handling procedures have often put research tools out of reach for all but the largest companies. Until now.

Informative’s puts the tools for online research within reach of nearly everyone. Created by web experts Paul Mann and Greg Phillips, Informative’s products allow anyone to create real-time, professional surveys automatically and on-demand.

Like many professional web services these days, one of the big advantages of is that it’s totally web based and hosted on Informative’s servers. What that means is that there’s no software to install, no hassles with your ISP, and no worries about putting in something that’s going to conflict with other applications on your site. Just head on over to, create an account for yourself, and within minutes you’ll be set to start building your surveys.’s web-based interface makes creating surveys a snap for anyone who’s got something to ask. Pre-made templates, excellent online help, and an idiot-proof interface walk you through the process every step of the way. Once you’ve created a survey, a preview function allows you to view and check your work. And implementing it couldn’t be easier – just fill out some billing information and put some code in your HTML.

Once your survey’s in place, puts the results in your account in real-time, allowing you (or anyone you provide with access) instant feedback on results. You can pull various reports on multiple criteria and even graph the responses.

One of the greatest features of is that it’s definitely created with the marketer and researcher in mind. It allows you to specify how many responses you want and then automatically serves up the correct number of surveys to get those results. You can even specify an email list to promote the survey, inviting users to come to your site and have their opinion heard.

Finally, we all know that getting people to actually fill these things out can be a challenge. One of the most unique features of is that it allows you to designate a list of charities you’ll contribute to based on your user responses. Users who complete the survey can specify what charity they want your contribution to go to, providing a powerful, low-cost incentive for survey completion.

At $2-$5 per completed response, represents a significant savings over custom solutions or traditional market research. For heavy users, Informative is now formulating a subscription pricing model, allowing unlimited surveys for a fixed cost.

So what are you waiting for? If you need to take the pulse of your customers’ thinking, there’s never been a better time or a better medium. Check out and start finding out what your customers really want.

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