When Staples purchased Quill.com in 1998 for $685 million, they knew they were betting on a winner. Within 10 years they grew revenue from $550 million to more than $1 billion. Quill got to be one of Staples’ top performing divisions with customer research and an ‘insights first’ culture. Jim Hall, Quill’s Research Design Manager outlines 4 steps to create this culture.


“Ask the right questions to get the right answers.” – Jim Hall

Quill has learned to ask customers not only the right questions, but the right questions in the right moments. To do this Quill uses a few different methods:

  • Embedded feedback tab – This is passive collection, but it provides those very happy or very unhappy to give their perspective.
  • Digital intercepts – These intercepts show up if a customer seems to be lost on the website.
  • Cart abandonment survey – These appear automatically to collect responses when a customer has put items in their virtual shopping cart only to abandon the cart with the goods still inside.

Great customer research is asking the right answers at the right times.


But in customer research responses don’t magically become insights. Jim asks himself “Is there something that’s important to me?” He searches for trends and stories within the collected responses and brings applicable responses directly to specific teams. Jim is still creating new processes to move to a more automated approach – in 2017 Quill.com will integrate with Adobe Analytics. These stories turn into insights; a deep understanding into what customers want. These insights are democratized across the org in 7-day reports, ad hoc analysis, and water cooler and brainstorm sessions. The discussion around these insights shines a light on action items.



“Creating a story is fun, but what are you going to do with that story?” Jim has set up a closed loop on insights to make sure that action is being taken. For cases where responders opt in to be contacted, Jim has set up a trigger to alert his team to close the loop. These responses vary from complaints to praise. He has also instituted a monthly report showing customer satisfaction trends and comments by category. This allows the whole organization to act.

Never Stop

Change takes time, so never stop trying. Culture change starts small and “it starts with a single insight.” One insight turned to action will cultivate changes and successes that open doors for future discussion. At Quill.com, the Customer Service Team was the first to see value. They have since created a separate team and process for handling customers requesting contact through the feedback tab, taking a step towards becoming an insights first culture.

Battling confirmation bias and sticky culture is all part of the process. The key is to validate business goals with all teams and to build your own team of champions to push your insights into all aspects of the business.

On-Demand Retail Day Webinars

Based on the webinar presented by Jim Hall, Quill.com, as a part of Retail Day by Qualtrics. Click here for this presentation and others all available on-demand immediately.