Small business owners hear it all the time: To find out how your business is doing, including what people like or don’t like and what you need to adjust, ask customers for feedback. But your quest for feedback can either produce a magic elixir or simply be an annoyance to customers and prospects, depending on how you do it.
Here are six essentials for collecting, analyzing and using customer feedback in a way that both engages customers and benefits your business:
1) Make customers feel important. This is critical for getting people to respond to your feedback requests, and for generating helpful information that you can use to make improvements or launch new products and services. In most cases, it’s not necessary to offer “incentives” (also called bribes) for customers to provide honest feedback. Most are willing to do so if approached properly. The key is to make customers feel that you genuinely want to hear what they have to say, value they opinions and will use the information to make improvements that will benefit them as well as others.
2) Make providing feedback easy, on the customer’s terms. Provide multiple ways for customers to offer their opinions. Don’t limit your efforts to surveys and emails, or old-fashioned feedback forms at checkout. Include a feedback form on your website, and ask for feedback on Facebook and any other social media sites you use. In all cases, keep it simple. At all costs, you must avoid frustrating customers with lengthy forms or confusing questions. And try not to query customers every time you see or connect with them. This leads to feedback fatigue and can cause customers to tune you out permanently.
3) Pay attention to timing. What you ask is important, sure. But so is WHEN you ask it. Don’t be in a hurry to solicit feedback if your business isn’t really ready to hear or deal with it. It’s helpful to first examine your motivation. If all you are really seeking is approval or a pat on the back, feedback will never help you improve. At times, for some types of businesses, asking for feedback immediately is ideal. But in other cases, it’s best to step back for a bit and do a little self-examination first. Identify what you want to assess and where you would be willing to make changes. And be prepared for opinions that you might not like.
4) Be both specific and open-ended. Avoid vague questions such as “What do you think?” Break it down. Ask specifically about customer service, for example, or certain product features. You don’t have to cover everything at once. If you have forms and surveys, design different ones to cover specific topic areas. The time to be “open-ended” is when you are digging for information about what customers really want. In order to find out what customers really want and how they feel, you have to avoid telling them what you want them to tell you.
5) Leverage your online options. Today there are many low-cost and even free web-based tools and services designed to help small businesses seek customer feedback. These include online surveys (Survey Monkey is a popular choice), web-based feedback forums such as UserVoice (www.uservoice.com) and social media such as Facebook, Google Plus and others. On Facebook, one approach is to simply post a question about some aspect of your product or service and ask for feedback. It’s quick, easy and cheap.
6) Analyze, respond and act on your feedback. Always keep in mind that the ultimate goal of your effort to seek feedback is to improve customer satisfaction and grow your business. Take all feedback seriously. Look for trends and common themes in what you hear. By formalizing the process of analyzing and responding to feedback, you elevate its importance as part of your business DNA of listening to customers. Thank customers for the effort they’ve made to provide you with helpful information, and assure them it is both valued and appreciated. When you make changes based on customer feedback, call attention to that fact. This will make it more likely that others will provide feedback in the future.
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About the Author: Daniel Kehrer, Founder and Chief Content Officer of BizBest Media, is a senior-level leader in digital media, content development and online marketing with special expertise in startups, SMB, social media and generating traffic, engagement and leads. He holds an MBA from UCLA/Anderson and is a passionate entrepreneur (started 4 businesses), syndicated columnist, blogger, thought leader and author of 7 business and financial books.