Why I prefer interviews over surveys for Customer Experience feedback

When it comes to gathering customer feedback, I’m not a fan of surveys. I prefer one-on-one interviews, where it’s possible to ask people to tell their story in their own words and for me to look them in the eye, to see that flicker of confusion, uncertainty or irritation as they share their experiences. I want to see what their office space, home space or workspace looks like and how often they are interrupted, by bosses, children, emails, phone calls and colleagues.

I want to see how an idea or service or product fits into their life and how small it really is. I want to see people use a service or product and feel their frustration as they struggle to find something or do something, while telling me how much they love this thing.

Interviews allow me to ask “why?” a lot, and with every “why?” I ask, I unearth unknown pain points and misunderstandings between the businesses and the customers. Interviews have taught me to be humble when it comes to gathering Customer Experience feedback. They make me realise that the very long list of questions I want to ask people, often makes very little sense to them.

The problem with a survey is that it often forces people into providing a “yes” or a “no”, when they really want to say: “I dunno?” or “Maybe, sometimes…” or “Huh?” It also doesn’t allow people to say: “Actually, I don’t care about any of these things you’re gathering feedback about. I just want [this unknown thing that’s really easy to solve], but I’m doing this survey because I’m hoping to win a voucher.” So while your survey might provide you with clear-cut data that translates into beautiful graphs and metrics, those graphs and metrics are not telling the full story and might be telling the wrong story entirely.

I’m an experience designer in the lovely Cape Town, South Africa. I believe that well-designed customer experiences make the world a better place.

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