No matter what business you’re in, your success depends on giving your customers what they want. In many cases, actually giving it to them is the easy part; the tough part is finding out what they want in the first place. To do that, you can’t just depend on the information your customers volunteer. You need to take steps to get good, honest, actionable feedback.
Squeaky Wheels: Opt-In vs. Measured
If you’ve spent more than 10 seconds on the Internet, you’re probably aware that the vast majority of comments are either very negative or very positive. Few people bother leaving a comment that just says “hey, it was okay.” Similarly, if you just sit back and wait for feedback to come to you, you’ll mostly hear from very happy and very unhappy customers.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t listen to those customers, of course. Any feedback should be welcome, and feedback that isn’t solicited is actually quite valuable because it comes from people who genuinely care about your business. By all means, be prepared to listen to and act on the feedback around the extremes.
Still, those squeaky wheels are only a fraction of your overall customer base. To get a representative sample, you’ll need to hear from the “silent majority” of customers, and that means engaging with them directly. They won’t come to you with suggestions. You’ll have to go to them.
Soliciting Feedback In Person and Online
If you have a physical store location, you’ll find it easier to solicit feedback in many respects. You have the opportunity to interact with your customers face-to-face, and you can hear them put their concerns in their own words. Be sure to take full advantage of in-person feedback and encourage your employees to do the same. Because those conversations are memorable, they make great springboards for further action.
Again, though, that in-person feedback is just a snapshot of the overall customer experience. To get the full picture, you’ll need to use random sampling to understand the overall views of your customer base. Try setting up a brief survey on your website to find out what your visitors consider most and least important. A major advantage of such random polling is that your sample includes potential customers as well as existing customers.
Of course, in 2014, more and more customers are using social media to give some of their most candid feedback. If you’re not listening, you’re missing out on a lot of the buzz about your company. Setting up simple polls on popular sites such as Facebook can go a long way toward gauging what your customers are thinking.
Above all, aim to be as non-invasive as possible when soliciting feedback. Handing customers a paper survey as they walk out the door is a great way to see blank surveys pile up in the trash outside your building. Instead, follow up with an email or have a poll pop up while your customers are shopping online. Giving your customers the freedom and flexibility to respond when it’s convenient will give you thoughtful, useful feedback.
Organizing Feedback for Action
Once you’ve collected a representative amount of feedback from your customers, you’ll need to take action to put it into practice. The trick is to separate your information into three main groups:
Immediate: This is the sort of feedback you can act on right away. Red alerts and lifelines fall into this category.
Medium-Term: If customer feedback talks about things that you can realistically change in the next few months, put it in this bucket.
Strategic: These are large-scale, long-range ideas. Keep them in mind, mull them over and test them thoroughly before you take action.
Once you’ve organized the feedback accordingly, make sure it plays a prominent role in your future plans. Every part of your company should be prepared to understand and respond to customer feedback as appropriate.
Feedback for Feedback: Following Up
As you’re implementing plans based on customer feedback, don’t neglect the customers themselves. Keep two mantras in mind: Every customer who gives you valuable feedback deserves a follow-up email or call, and all customer feedback is valuable.
Promising a follow-up, incidentally, is a great way to get feedback in the first place. Set up a simple contact form on your website and promise a response within 24, 48 or 72 hours, depending on what you can reasonably handle. Of course, once you’ve promised feedback, be sure to follow through. If nothing else, a quick response indicates to your customers that you take their concerns seriously.
All feedback is valuable, but feedback that actually leads to action steps is worth its metaphorical weight in gold. Recognize customers who give you that high-value feedback and reward them accordingly. Free merchandise is great, but for the really special contributors, consider a “lifetime” reward such as a coupon that’s redeemable every month.
Ultimately, honest feedback is a means for you to interact with your customers as individuals and in the aggregate. To help your business succeed, you’ll need to bring in as much customer input as possible in person and online, identify actionable feedback and sort it into short-, medium- and long-term buckets, and follow up with customers to keep them engaged. With those guidelines in mind, your business will be well-positioned to reach new heights thanks to more satisfied customers.