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Case Study: 3 invaluable lessons when asking for customer feedback

Years ago, I came across the story of Clarity in Alan Klement’s book When Coffee and Kale Compete (You can get it from here). And since then, I haven’t missed a chance to use it as an example to show how getting proper user feedback is just as important as running fancy A/B tests for driving product-led growth.

Today I want to share one of my all-time favourite case studies with you.

In 2012, Clarity was launched as a marketplace to help entrepreneurs find the right experts and get the advice they need to grow their business.

Being a serial entrepreneur himself, Dan understood that every founder finds themselves in a bit of a slump and in need of inspiration to get them out of a rut from time to time.

Dan wasn’t the only entrepreneur who had figured that out, and Clarity was competing for users with many alternates, including networking events, incubators, and LinkedIn.

Clarity’s path to success is a master class in product-led growth.

And the three lessons I’ve learnt from Dan’s approach to getting users feedback have been invaluable in my career in building, marketing and growing new services.

Lesson #1: Ask your customers about what they’ve done, not just what they want.

When it comes to asking for feedback, the biggest challenge is getting people to tell you the truth.

Because honestly, we’d instead tell small lies, especially when it saves us from losing face or others from embarrassment.

And Dan was having a similar problem.

Every week he would call six or so of his customers and ask how they could improve Clarity. And every week, he would get replies like, ‘I love your product.’ Or ‘I use it all the time.’ In reality, the same customers were more likely to have never logged into Clarity after signing up.

So, Dan tried a different approach, and instead, he started asking people about their experiences before finding Clarity.

By asking questions like:

  • What other solutions did you try before deciding on Clarity?
  • What did and didn’t you like about other solutions you had tried?
  • If you could no longer use Clarity, what would you use instead?
  • What other solutions have you actually used?

Dan discovered that most of his customers weren’t new to seeking expert advice. In fact, many had already been in entrepreneur groups, worked with expensive coaches, attended conferences and networked on LinkedIn.

The real reason why they didn’t stick with any of the other solutions was that none of them offered a chance to talk to experts over a call, in real-time and on-demand.

This realisation, more than anything, told Dan and his team how Clarity could stand out of the crowd.

Lesson #2: What would make your customer switch to another product?

The biggest mistake that many product marketers make is not paying enough attention to what their customers see as competitors.

Dan and his team learnt that just as important as it was for people to talk to experts in real-time, it was more important to get advice from someone the entrepreneur looked up to.

By asking questions like:

  • What solutions have the people you know tried or used?
  • What do the various solutions have in common? What is different about them?
  • What did or didn’t the customers like about each solution?
  • What would they spend their money on if they didn’t spend it on Clarity?
  • Have customers set aside a budget for using Clarity or some other solution?

Dan and his team learnt that Clarity wasn’t competing with low-cost alternatives like training seminars. Instead, their real competition was big-ticket items like hiring consultants and attending conferences.

Lesson #3: Never overlook your silent competitor.

Everyone has a friend sticking out at a job they don’t like just because it’s within walking distance from where they live.

Changing our long-held habit is a lot of work, and we’re not too keen on going out of our way to do something different as long as we’re ‘content’ with what we have right now.

Even when what we have is not as good as what we could have.

Maybe what’s keeping you from switching to a better reporting tool is the cost of moving everything out of Excel, and perhaps the risk of looking dumb is keeping you from sharing that proposal you’ve been sitting on for months with your boss.

For Clarity, the silent competitor was anxiety.

Dan and his team discovered that uncertainty about the expert answering their questions or even knowing what questions to ask only added to the entrepreneur’s anxiety and kept them from using Clarity.

By combining the insights gained from customer interviews, Dan and his team introduced new features to help remove that anxiety, improving both retention and usage.

There is no alternative to asking your customers for feedback. But asking for proper feedback is difficult.

That’s why many of us are content following NPS scores and running exit surveys but never genuinely sitting down with users or defectors to understand what drove them to our product in the first place and what drove them away.

I love this case study because it shows precisely how to get helpful feedback from your customers.

For Dan and his team, the insights they got changed how they talked about Clarity.

They went from being just another marketplace for ‘expert advice’ to becoming an ‘on-demand business advice’ marketplace.

And when it came to pricing, Clarity reminded its customers how much cheaper it was to talk to your favourite expert through Clarity instead of spending thousands of dollars on visiting conferences.

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