How to Figure Out What Your Customers Are Really Thinking

Have you read (or seen) Gone Girl?

You know in the beginning, how Nick is staring at Amy, his wife’s, head, asking “What are you thinking? What are you feeling? How did we get here?”

He has no idea what his wife needs or wants, and that ends up getting him into serious trouble.

Hopefully, your business life is less dramatic than Gone Girl, but you want to understand your customers a helluva lot better than Nick understands Amy.

Understanding your customers will allow you to create better products for them, offer better support, and market better to them. Ultimately, you need to understand what your customers are thinking and what makes them tick so you can better help them.

Here’s how to figure out what they’re thinking:

Send Out a Survey

This is the easiest, simplest, and most satisfying way to get feedback from customers, especially if you have a healthy email list. The trick is to ask the right questions so that you get answers that you can act on.

Before you send something out, define your goals. Are you sending out this survey in the hopes that you can create better content for your audience? Are you sending out the survey to improve your product. Don’t skip this step!

Go beyond the obvious, too. Don’t just ask about how the customers use your product. To get into their heads, ask what their biggest problems are. Ask them why they bought a particular product, or if they’d be more likely to buy a pair of jeans online or in a brick and mortar store? If you’re deliberate with your questions, you’ll get good answers.

How to do it:

  • Subscribe to a survey service like Wufoo or SurveyMonkey.
  • Keep it short and sweet so recipients won’t lost interest.
  • Have a post-mortem and draw up a list of actionable items after the results are in.

Call Them On The Phone or Take Them to Dinner

A couple of years ago, I met a guy named Josh at an event. Josh was just starting work on a new SaaS product, an editorial calendar called Ripenn. Over the next year, we kept in touch, and Josh brought me on board as a beta user.

Sure enough, after months of using the calendar, I received a call from Josh. Josh took an hour (possibly more!) out of his busy day to figure out not only my thoughts on Ripenn, but also my challenges as a writer and marketer. He was working to not only figure out how I used his product, but how I functioned in my work life. This was all in the name of improving his offering.

If you’re a small business owner or startup founder, why not sit down with your smartphone in hand and dial up your customers? Focus on their situation in a holistic way, taking their day-to-day lives, thoughts, and feelings into account, rather than just how they use your products and services.

How to do it:

  • Identify 3-5 customers who you can contact for a long chat (think hours, not minutes) and set up some meetings.
  • Come up with a list of pressing questions you have for them — some should be about your products and services, but others should stretch beyond.

Study How They Use Your Product and Your Website

Sometimes it’s too time-consuming and difficult to get all your customers in one room to share their trials and tribulations. Sometimes, you just want to understand part of what they’re thinking without getting too overwhelmed.

Your website is a great way to figure that out. When customers come to your website, what are they clicking? Where do their eyes go? Heatmap tools like Crazy Egg can help you determine how customers are interacting with the stuff on your website.

CrazyEgg Heat Map

UserTesting is a great option, too. You can pay to bring new visitors to your site and get their feedback to help you understand how things are interpreted.

How to do it:

  • Make sure buttons and links on your website trigger Events in Google Analytics so you can track what gets clicked.
  • Try UserTesting to see how new visitors interact with your website, and Crazy Egg as a heatmap tool.
  • Take a look into your CRM to determine what products and services are most popular with customers. Make it your mission to determine why.

Analyze and Ask for Reviews

Customers might not want to sit down and have a chat with you, but they could be more than willing to give you reviews. That’s why Yelp is so popular!

First, see if you already have reviews on the web. If so, read through them carefully and see if you can identify common trends. Are the writers always from California? Are they always happy about a particular feature? These insights can help you figure out what’s going on in their heads.

Ask For Reviews

If you don’t have reviews, it might be worth asking for them, as long as you ask for honest reviews, not inflated ones. Sometimes it’s nerve-wracking to ask, especially when you’re not sure what you’re going to get but it can be a worthwhile experience that gives you valuable insights you wouldn’t have had before.

How to do it:

  • Scour the web for existing reviews. Check sites like Google+, Angie’s List, and Yelp. Your industry may have a specific review site, such as Houzz for architects.
  • Ask customers to review you on the site of your choice.
  • Analyze reviews for trends.

What to Do With The Information Once You Have it

Figuring out what your customers are thinking is only half the battle. You have to take what they say and make good on it! A few tips:

  • Tread carefully. Customers are really good at pointing out what’s wrong but they’re not very good at coming up with solutions. Sometimes they have truly bad ideas.
  • Identify some insights you can use. Look for trends in what customers are telling you. If you hear the same complaint or praise from more than one customer, there’s probably something to it.
  • Thank customers for their feedback. 

All in all, it’s totally worth it to get better insight into what makes your customers tick. Please share what other strategies you’ve used, and how these ones work for you.

How to Figure Out What Your Customers Are Really Thinking