Customer feedback can be a vital nutrient for your business and aid its long-term growth. Your customer’s views and comments can suggest great ideas for product and service enhancements. They can also prevent you investing in unnecessary features. In fact, customer feedback can help you develop a more efficient, valuable and profitable business operation.
That is, if you listen and act on it.
Why customer surveys are often disappointing
With all these plus points, it’s still unusual to find businesses that use customer feedback to its true strategic potential. Yes many organisations send out customer surveys, but with so many forms and pop ups bombarding people, feedback fatigue has set in and the response levels increasingly disappointing. This is also because:
- The customer doesn’t view the form’s completion as a valuable investment of their time and, let’s face it, doesn’t care enough about this supplier
- They’ve been sent feedback forms before and don’t feel their input has made any difference, so they are reluctant to do so again
- The questions in the customer survey focus on what the supplier wants to hear and doesn’t enable the customer to give their true views and thoughts on their ‘experience’ of that business
- The form looks so onerous and long to complete that they reject it at first glance
- The form is obviously trying to find hooks in which to sell the customer new products or services
As a result, organisations running such feedback analysis are often disappointed in the response volumes and find it difficult to truly evaluate their offering and business approach.
Feedback forms and survey are, however, just one way to evaluate how customers see you and what they think. In fact you might want to consider some of these alternatives to help you piece together a picture of your customer ‘experience’.
This is where you take time out to pick up the phone or go and meet a valued customer. The aim is to find out how things are going and how they’re finding your product/service. It’s good to vary when you do this so you get a fuller picture of the total purchasing/utilisation experience. So with some customers, call just after the purchase. With others contact them after a few months.
In particular, it’s good to explore whether the product/service matched their expectations. Examine what pleasantly surprised them and what they wished your offering had delivered. The trick is not to make this an interrogation, more a pleasant enquiry to see how things are going. Don’t try to blatantly sell off the back of this either. The customer won’t appreciate it and may refuse to give you any more of their insight.
Observe how they treat you
Steve Coburn at IT support company – Project Five – has devised an ingenious and highly practical barometer to gauge what his customers think and feel about his business and its people. He measures the strength of each customer relationship on this ‘coffee scale’. The scale focuses on the drinks the Project Five staff are offered when they’re at each customer’s offices.
|Filter coffee served to us in best china/cup||Instant coffee served to us in a mug||Instant coffee to us served in a chipped mug||We’re allowed to wash up the mugs afterwards||We make the coffee in their kitchen and wash up||We know their team’s exact coffee/tea preferences|
|Cool but polite Their approach to us We’re one of their team|
|A possible supplier How we are viewed An invaluable business partner|
It’s a great barometer of how valuable the customer views their relationship with Steve’s team. It also guides Project Five on what they need to do next. They can see the map and stages before them and are continually checking where they are in the scheme of things and what they need to do to progress forward.
So think of how your customers treat you when you interact with them. Do you feel they see you as an invaluable supplier or a commodity, which can be easily replaced?
Of course with the world of social media out there and more people happy to share their thoughts and experiences to the world, you have a feedback source that is working 24/7. There are downsides to this – especially if you ignore what’s said. So ensure you factor in the feedback about you on social media. Monitor it regularly and respond politely and professionally to comments that are posted. Use the likes of Hootsuite and Google Alerts to see where you are being mentioned and what people are saying. What themes are evolving? What’s popular and being retweeted about you? And what’s not?
Another thing you might want to watch is your competitors’ performance on social media sites and your customers’. They’ll show how the competitive offering is fairing and what your customers are interested in or excited by. Such insight can highlight powerful opportunities to you or deliver an early nudge that you need to react to a key challenge.
Inviting them to events
Of course one of the hurdles in getting customers to give feedback is to make it worth their time and effort. Special customer events can help here. Consider the events you run - previews of a new product range, workshops, seminars, a social gathering and even corporate hospitality. In these settings, customers may be in a more positive frame of mind and less ‘time-pressured’ to tell you a bit about what they think. If you don’t put them on the spot or make them feel uncomfortable, you might secure some valuable nuggets of feedback. If they say something that you’d like to explore in more depth, why not suggest taking them out for lunch/coffee etc at a later date?
Also try and get a feel for what customers are saying to each other about you. What tone are the conversations generally taking? What’s the body language suggesting? If you’re part of these conversations, how is your business, products, services or people being described?
How quickly they pay you
Sometimes the customers who really value your offering are the ones who pay promptly. For them it makes no business sense putting your business at risk by taking ages to pay. That’s not to say that every late payment means a dissatisfied customer, but it should prompt you to ask (quite rightly) why there has been a delay. Try and subtly gauge how valuable a supplier you are to them? Can you improve your status and if so, how?
The volume of referrals and recommendations they pass your way
How much of your business comes from your existing customer base? How many times do you secure referrals and recommendations from those who have used or know you? If the answer is very little, and your product/service should secure repeat purchases and/or recommendations, you might want to investigate the quality of the experience you’re delivering and what customers think of you.
Some final tips
How businesses approach the gaining of customer feedback often affects the results they achieve. Consider these final tips if you want a clearer picture of how your customers see you and what you need to do to retain their loyalty in the future.
- Think about the questions you ask. Are they closed questions that don’t let the customer really convey what they feel about your product/service? Enable the customer to say what they want to say about your product/service. It may reveal elements of the experience you’ve not considered.
- Think about how you respond. Embrace feedback – even criticism. Don’t get defensive, and instead look at how the comments and suggestions could help evolve your product/service to attract a broader market or more loyal following.
- Take on board the choice of words customers use to describe your product/service – it’ll reveal the emotions that are tied into the selection of your product/service and the benefits they are seeking etc. All powerful stuff for you to use in your marketing messages to attract similar new customers.
- Above all, do demonstrate that you are acting on your customers’ feedback. People resent investing time only to be ignored. They love it when they’re listened to.
Customer feedback shouldn’t just be a gauge of past performance. The most progressive companies are certainly looking at it as a way to plot the direction their products/services need to take in the future. Forms and surveys can help to some degree but the pitfall is that companies can become obsessive about scoring their performance against indicators that no longer have a bearing on the current customers’ desires or preferred experiences.
Instead try a number of means to map out what your customers think of you. Be genuinely interested in their thoughts and comments and let it be known that you value their input. Find ways that they appreciate to reward their input and, above all, show that you really have listened and are acting on what they said. Don’t simply go through the motions, your customers will see through this soon enough and start looking for suppliers who will listen.
About the author: Michelle Daniels, Managing Director – Extended Thinking. An experienced and effective business development and marketing strategist, Michelle helps her clients turn their marketing, business development and thought leadership plans into reality with ‘hands on’ support and practical advice. A prolific writer, Michelle also combines creative flair with business nous to produce highly effective results. She has written (and ghost-written) for many professional and business publications and is a chartered marketer and member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
Extended Thinking. Extended Thinking is a hands-on marketing and business development consultancy. Bringing together great minds and great ‘doers’, we help our clients devise and implement plans that achieve real business growth. Our clients come from a wide variety of backgrounds and sectors, but invariably are those who are too busy or lack the resources to action their marketing and business development plans. We roll our sleeves up and muck in to free them up to do what they really want to do and are good at doing.