The Complete Guide To Customer Feedback

Some people dread getting customer feedback.

No business owner wants to hear that they did it wrong. That their products aren’t loved. That prices in your shop aren’t as good as those in a competitor’s shop. Or, worst of all, that something has made customers decide they aren’t coming back.

But who cares if it makes you feel bad to hear you’re failing your customers.

If customers aren’t coming back, don’t you want to know why? If customers are unhappy and thinking about going to a competitor, don’t you want to know why?

Of course you do.

Why You Should Want Customer Feedback

Customer feedback sometimes feels as if it’s merely customers complaining or being negative; we have this vision of it being negative and delivered at inopportune times.

While customer feedback can be negative, it isn’t always. And, even that negative feedback has value if you can get past feeling attacked as a customer unloads on you (or your sales floor staff) about something they didn’t like.

Customer feedback improves your products and services.

Sometimes you know where you need to improve, but often, because you are so involved in the process, you forget what the customer experiences. Your product or service seems great to you. Your customer support seems more than adequate. Your signs, sales materials, and other directions that accompany your products and service seem to make great sense.

But customers aren’t you. They aren’t on the inside. They experience something completely different than you assume they do. They can give you an outside opinion of your business.

Customers are the only ones who can tell you what it’s like to be a customer.

You can’t see your business’s flaws if you’re standing in the midst of them. You need the customer to bring your attention to what needs fixing.

Customer feedback can help keep you innovative.

This is a competitive world, and being innovative has to extend beyond your brainstorming sessions. You always run the risk of only using insider ideas to innovate, a kind of perpetual employee feedback loop that drinks from the same stagnant pool of ideas and approaches.

Customers, by simply telling you what they want, what they like, what they don’t like, what would be cool to have, can help you create innovation. In a study of over 1,000 successful commercial integrations, 60% of the ideas came from customer feedback.

Even more shocking?

A 3M study found that out of all of the innovative ideas they came up with as a company, internal ideas accounted for $18 million in revenue while those external customer-generated ideas accounted for $146 million in revenue.

If you’re in a slump and don’t have any ideas, turn to your customers. They have lots of innovative ideas for you.

Customer feedback helps you stay on top of trends.

You probably do a pretty good job keeping an eye on industry trends. It’s part of being a successful business.

Customers, however, do an even better job. They start and end the trends, after all. And they are the perfect people to ask and test your theories about what you think is trending now or will be trending next.

With customer feedback, you can find out what customers wanted, did or didn’t find in your business, what they prefer, and what they would like to see. You can also ask questions that help you spot trends customers aren’t even aware they are desiring.

Customer feedback shows you care about your customers.

A customer likes to know they matter to you. People support businesses that delight them and treat them like valued people.

Customer feedback (if done correctly, which I’ll talk about next) is an excellent way to let customers know that you value their opinion. That feedback is about the only way they can get the satisfaction of feeling like they are part of an equal transaction instead of you telling them how it is, what they should want, and what they should pay.

Customer feedback is how you keep your customers engaged with you beyond the standard sales experience.

How To Get Customer Feedback

Not every customer wants to give feedback, and that’s OK. You should honor that. But the truth is, most will give you feedback if you approach them the right way. After all, most of us like the idea that our opinion matters.

Know when to ask for customer feedback.

Asking for customer feedback should be a non-intrusive and natural experience.

HappyOrNot is a company that makes a simple machine that uses four faces to let a customer know how they felt about their experience.

The data from this machine is obviously slim, but it can be used by a business to get a sense of how customers feel about their brand. And, even better, it’s simple and easy for a customer to leave feedback. There’s a low barrier to use, and not much time or effort is required. A customer can voice their feelings while avoiding confrontation.

While not every business can or should use such a gadget, the principle is the same: strike while the iron is hot.

Get feedback close to the purchase experience. Make it easy and painless to leave feedback. The feedback should be part of the natural flow of the transaction, and customers should know that you value, might use, and may reward them for their feedback.

Know how to ask for customer feedback.

The process of getting feedback from a customer can’t be annoying for a customer. Ever got caught in a phone tree? By the time you’re through the phone tree, any good feedback you might have had was probably overruled by the frustrating experience you just went through.

  1. Actually care about their feedback. Asking customers for feedback when you clearly don’t care to receive it is a turn-off. Monotone voices, flippant suggestions that they can take a survey if they feel like it, buried feedback forms — these are all things that show you don’t really care to hear from them.
  2. Ask a limited number of questions. Asking customers for feedback long after you should have stopped with the questions is a turn-off. Ever buy some small household appliance and get a form to fill out asking you 20+ questions about everything from your average income to the color of your dog? That’s not feedback; that’s building a database. If your customer feels like you’re building a database, you’re doing it wrong. You are asking for feedback about a specific thing, not everything under the sun.
  3. Consider just one carefully worded question. Delta airlines has a survey at the end of each customer service call. Instead of several minutes of questions, they ask just one: “Based on your interaction, how likely would you be to hire our agent as a customer service representative for your business?” That puts the customer in a more thoughtful and less personal place. So maybe, instead of “Did you like your bakery purchase today?” you might ask “How likely would you be to buy a birthday cake for your grandmother from our bakery?” or something that encourages more conversations such as “Which cake would you choose from our bakery for your grandmother’s birthday?”

Remember: you’re not building databases. You’re trying to get to the heart of the matter and let your customers help you.

Your questions have to be carefully worded to get to the heart of the matter, a perfect mix that allows the customer to give you more than a “yes” or “no”, but not so broad that they avoid answering because it takes to much energy to think about it (e.g. “Please let us know how your experience was” is extremely broad and requires a lot of energy to answer).

Know which methods to use for customer feedback.

You might get customer feedback through:

  • Customer surveys. They should be short and only have questions you need to know. They work great for online businesses or email lists.
  • Feedback forms on your website. It might be as simple as a two-answer “poll” or a miniature survey, but visitors on your website are primed for feedback. Make it as few clicks as possible for them to complete, and don’t bounce them off of the page they were reading to a different page.
  • Direct contact and outreach. A more personalized approach, this works well if you have an email list or customer database. You can customize the feedback to events or products they have connected with.
  • Data from user activity. Some customer feedback can be gathered “unofficially” from their online and in-store behavior. This is trickier; you need qualified staff to both set up, gather, and interpret the data. But, customer behavior tells you a lot about what is and isn’t working.
  • Beta and test groups. This method is a good way to test an idea, product, or service before opening it to the larger customer base. Think of how restaurants have a soft launch, testing their staff on a few willing customers before going live.

Whichever method you choose, always give a personal thank you for the customer’s time when it is through (exception: when you gather data, since the customer did not directly participate). Making it a tangible one that rewards the customer is even better.

Know how to receive unrequested feedback.

Not all customer feedback is created equally. Some comes your way completely out of your control. Knowing how to receive unsolicited feedback is crucial.

  1. You cannot be defensive. Unsolicited customer feedback often happens to your staff on the sales floor. How you handle this is a key part of your customer service plan. You must respond with positive language. You must be willing to ask questions and probe deeper, even if it hurts to hear how badly you’re doing. Is the customer irate? Find out why. You don’t want another customer to have the same experience, so now’s your chance to end the cycle.
  2. You must know the difference between genuine and revenge. The guy who constantly bombards you with angry tweets or sends you emails every week about something he didn’t like isn’t really representative of what customer feedback can and ought to be. If he’s been after you for months for everything under the sun, is his feedback useful any longer? The most you can tell is that he is unhappy with your products or services. If you’ve done your best to make him happy (returns, replacements, refunds) and he still won’t stop, his feedback isn’t valuable any longer. He’s mainly just angry at your business.
  3. You have to listen for it. Sometimes customer feedback comes in simple comments to sales staff. “Do you have this in blue?” or “I wish this were gluten free.” It might show up on a review site, or a social media comment casually mentioning that they wished you’d bundle the products together That is feedback. That is a customer indicating something they were hoping to find that you did or didn’t have.
  4. You have to be able to manage it. In this day and age of social media and multiple contact points for customers, unsolicited feedback can be voluminous. It often disguises itself as “customer support” issues. You need a way to document feedback, organize it, and process it outside of merely fixing one customer’s problem. You must have a way to determine if the customer feedback is something you want to implement or disregard. For example, developers know customers are always happy to suggest features, but you can’t add all of them (nor should you!).

Despite all of this, unsolicited customer feedback is not to be feared or ignored. It’s often the most genuine, and it certainly leaps past the boundaries of the official surveys and the questions you thought to ask.

What Do You Do With Customer Feedback?

Customer feedback can be like a flood of ideas, complaints, suggestions, and subtle hints. It can come from your controlled surveys or the elderly woman at the counter demanding a refund. How do you deal with all of this customer input?

Know how to interpret customer feedback.

Customer feedback, as I mentioned above, is sometimes unsolicited and disguised in customer service transactions.

Sometimes, though, interpreting customer feedback is tricky even when you solicited it. If your questions weren’t well thought out, for example, the answers might be broad and random.

Ask yourself questions about what you’re hearing:

  • Are they upset with a product or the experience? Notice how many restaurants get poor reviews not because of the food, but the wait staff.
  • Is this feedback part of a trend? Pay attention to whether or not other customers are saying the same things. Is it a one-off review or is there a pattern at work? Are customers continually requesting the same feature? Is this customer always upset about something? Is this customer always pleased with everything? Trends help you give weight to feedback and understand what’s important and what’s an anomaly.
  • Is the customer angry with my business, or with me? Sometimes customers vent about a shoddy product or service when what they are really frustrated with is the experience that came with it. Yet they are unable to see that themselves. Gentle and probing questions about what went wrong will help you get to the bottom of the real issue.

One thing is sure: as you gather customer feedback, be on the lookout for vague and too-broad answers. Those indicate sloppy questions that you need to re-work.

Have a plan to manage customer feedback.

First off, show customer feedback to your whole team.

Let them get a sense of what customers are saying so they can incorporate that in how they are on the sales floor, in the development department, or at the help desk.

Positive customer feedback motivates your team, and helps them feel satisfied about how they’re doing their jobs. Negative customer feedback prods everyone into action, and can spark problem-solving within the team.

Secondly, have a process in place to gather unsolicited feedback from customer service, social media, the sales floor, and other sources. Whether it’s simply having employees note what they heard that day or something more formal, you must have an organized collection process.

Part of your customer feedback process must be to respond to customers with a heartfelt thank you. They must know their opinion was heard.

Here’s the thing: even if you don’t like dealing with customer feedback, it doesn’t matter. It’s already out there. Your customers can either give it to you directly for you to interpret and use to your advantage, or they can put it online on social media or review sites. If you refuse to give customers a legitimate channel to provide you feedback, they may feel angry and turn to whatever channel they have at their disposal.

Customer feedback is, above all, about being an effective listener. If you choose not to listen, the customers will still be talking. Take the time to listen to your customers. That is what makes them happy and makes them return.

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