As a small business owner you may wonder whether it’s worth your time developing a formal customer feedback strategy. After all, you know many of your customers by name, so asking for their opinions about your products and services shouldn’t be that complicated, right?
Small businesses have unique challenges getting feedback because they have personal relationships with their customers. Customers who are sometimes reluctant to be completely honesty.
And not only that, but understanding and analyzing the feedback in order to make sound business decisions should be conducted in a manner that allows the company to scale.
“The feedback mechanism you choose should be immediate, exceptionally easy for the customer, and yield the kind of information that will help your employees learn and figure out how to improve your business,” explains customer service expert Rob Markey from Bain & Company.
Remember, you won’t always have one or two employees, so one of your overall objectives should be to expand with direct input from the people keeping you in business.
Your entire growth strategy needs be driven by the asks and wants of those who live and breathe your products and services. That’s not to say you won’t eventually branch out and offer products and services for a different niche market, but for now, don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Here are four simple tips to help get you started in creating a solid customer feedback strategy.
Define How Customer Feedback Will Help You
Because you likely have a close relationship with many of your customers, asking for their opinions shouldn’t feel like too much of an ask.
Though you need to clearly define and write down what you hope to gain from their opinions, suggestions, compliments, and complaints.
Here are a few things you might want to consider:
- Customer testimonials – Identify who your fans are, interview them to get a quote or full case study, and then promote the heck out of their testimonial.
- Prevent angry online reviews – A key advantage to capturing customer sentiment is that as soon as you identify an angry customer, you can personally follow up with them to prevent them from blasting you publicly online. “The cost of a negative review online can run the gamut from economic (it’s literally costing you customers) to morale (it sucks to work for a company with bad reviews), and everything in between,” says customer experience expert Lincoln Murphy.
- Define your company strengths – When you are just starting out it can be hard to know what your strengths—and weaknesses—are as a company. Rely on your customers to teach you.
- Build staff morale – Small companies are known for creating “family” environments, and a great way to leverage that team feeling is to get staff personally invested in making customers happy. “Employees want to know that they are advancing some higher purpose, not just executing a repetitive task,” says Markey. Consider giving financial rewards to employees that customers single out as providing excellent service.
- Collect market research – Before you launch any new product or service, you have to accept that you know very little about what you are getting into. Large companies often have a deep historical understanding of their market. Treat your customers like a focus group by testing and refining any new initiatives before you launch them.
Establish Your Customer Feedback Channels
It’s not enough to simply build a customer satisfaction survey, throw it at your customers, and expect the responses to magically grow.
You’ll need to talk to customers in person, actively engaging through social media conversations and even getting on the phone. Let’s talk about each one of these more in depth:
- Chat in person – Trade shows and events are some of the best ways for your business to get exposure. While you schmooze your way through these events, consider asking people informally what they think of your products and services. And if you are worried about them not being honest with you, consider directing them to an iPad kiosk survey where they can input their thoughts anonymously.
- Social media – When your followers include you in a mention, whether they are praising or complaining, it’s important to immediately and privately follow up to seek greater clarification. “Social media gives you the opportunity to address customer issues fast, in that it seems like you’re being proactive,” explains Murphy.
- Phone calls – While you might be thinking that phone calls are so 1983, don’t underestimate how powerful they can be in forming lasting business connections when people have no idea who you are. A friendly voice may be the reason a customer or prospect responds to your request instead of ignoring your fifth email.
Don’t Make Common Mistakes in Your Satisfaction Surveys
Customer satisfaction surveys are often riddled with the same common errors. Time and time again businesses don’t follow the proven methods of survey data collection which ensure accuracy, high response rates, and the greatest ROI.
Here are a few of the most important things you’ll need to know when building your surveys:
- Be brief – One of the best ways to ensure customers actually complete your survey is to keep it under five questions long. “Companies are often tempted to ask the customer every conceivable question and quantify every conceivable response,” says Markey. “It’s far better to ask customers as little as possible.” Despite what you may think, long detailed surveys will not give you better data to make business decisions
- Offer an incentive – Research shows that offering a survey incentive like a free gift, coupon, or discount can increase your survey response rate by up to 40 percent.
- Limit open ended questions – Your customers a busy. Respect that. If they are going to do you a favor and answer your questions, make it as easy as possible. Choose multiple choice, rating, sliding scale, or yes/no questions over questions that require commenting.
- Make your survey beautiful – The aesthetic design of your survey can significantly impact the likelihood that customers complete it. Consider using an iPad kiosk survey that allows you to add beautiful images and company logos.
- Order questions sequentially – Don’t make the error of asking customers for their zip code before you ask them whether they had a positive experience. It’s a sure fire way to lower your survey completion rate.
Act On the Feedback and Monitor Each Channel
So you’ve setup your feedback channels. And they are fully operational and working to gather customer sentiment in several ways. Congrats! You’re over the first hurdle.
But now what? All this data needs to be tracked, analyzed, understood, and acted upon. Every time you talk to a customer in person and they give you a suggestion, that needs to be recorded. Every time you read an angry Twitter mention, you need to have that complaint logged. Every time a customer gives you a poor NPS rating on a survey, you need to follow up.
Find some way of keeping track of all the responses you get, evaluate how meaningful they are to you by prioritizing them and then work on fixing your top tier problems, as defined by your customers.
“Your objectives should be to learn, enhance the relationship with your customers, and inspire your employees,” advises Markey. “Anything that violates those three objectives is either wasteful or wrong.”
So there you have it, folks. We hope these suggestions help you move forward into the uncharted waters of small business customer feedback.
The key advantage to establishing your strategy now—as opposed to a few years from now—is that as people join your company they are immediately part of a well oiled employee-customer feedback loop. They quickly learn how your business values customer satisfaction above all else and you create a climate of excellence.
Why would you strive for anything less?
Your turn. Any questions? Comment? Leave them in the comment section below!