Why customer feedback is important and how to use it to your advantage

Customer feedback is paramount. Larger companies with more resources often hire external companies to do the market research for them and then adjust their products, services, processes, etc. based on what customers tell them.

No doubt, if you are a business owner, you do your best at delivering the services or products you offer. Good products and services equal happy clients, and happy clients equal stable business or hopefully more business. This is common sense, right?

And yet, how do you know if you are indeed delivering the best product or service? There’s no doubt that you have the intention to, but whether you actually do or not, well this is something that your customers have the say on ultimately. And this is something that many business owners, and especially small business owners, tend to forget or neglect.

Thus, many businesses focus their efforts on doing what they do as best as they can, but fail to hear what their customers think about it, which defeats the purpose of their efforts in the first place.

Smaller companies unfortunately often don’t go about it. They think it’s too complex, too expensive or even fear customer feedback and simply avoid it. However, if you are running a small or medium-sized business, this is even more of a reason to start listening to your customers. It will help you in many ways not only to retain the customers you’ve gained but to innovate and attract even more.

There are many reasons why you should seek to hear what your clients think about you but here’s my top five, that I think are the most important and motivating reasons:

Customer feedback helps you to:

Improve your products and services

Your customers use your products and services and sometimes even you can’t think of all the ways that these are being utilised. If there are any issues, it is your customers that face these problems on a daily basis. It is they who suffer any pains because of these problems.  Similarly, if something can be improved in the way that your products or services work, there’s no one who would know better than your clients. Ask them and act on their feedback. The benefits of doing this are two-fold. Firstly, your customers will know that their opinion matters to you and secondly, your improved performance will help you retain customers and maybe even gain others.

Maintain a relationship with your clients

This one stems from the previous point. When you ask your clients about their experience with your products and services, or even when an unpleasant situation arises but you learn from it, people will feel that their opinion is appreciated. Consequently, this will increase their loyalty to you. When you’ve taken measures and done some improvements based on customer feedback, make sure to get back in touch with your clients (i.e. via email or newsletter) thanking them for their input and letting them know how it has helped or that it has been taken into account.

Innovate and come up with new products / services

Not only can you improve your existing products or services, often times customer feedback can inspire you to offer something additional related to your offering or even a completely new product or service. In many industries, such as marketing, advertising and event management the most sought after services were inspired by customer requests or complaints in the first place. Listen to your clients and think outside the box.

Stay up-to-date with the market trends

Many businesses, large and small alike, are often so focused on offering what they offer (and especially if their products or services are successful) that they fail to notice any new market trends or niche markets that aren’t being served. If you listen to your customers you might notice how interest and trends change and you can adapt. Otherwise, you risk sleeping through those changes and falling behind your competition easily.

Identify the so-called advocates of your company

Who are you company’s advocates? They are those companies and individuals that give you the highest score when you gather feedback. They are your best marketing campaigns because they are the vehicles of the most effective marketing tool possible – word-of-mouth.

Make sure you take a note of these clients and seek to build even stronger relationships with them. Don’t shy away from asking them for testimonials and referrals. More often than not, these clients would be delighted to help you.

Customer feedback essentially measures the pulse of your business. The importance of it has long been realised by companies. And market researchers have designed various strategies to collect customers’ honest opinions and created ways to make the most of this valuable information.

Instead of fearing customer feedback or looking at it as another annoying side of business, try to shift your thinking towards the opportunities it presents. It can really provide brilliant insights into what you are doing right or wrong and give you ideas that will make you better and help your business grow. I know this could be difficult at first and many of the people I work with don’t even know where to start.

So here’s a few ideas that you might find useful for your own business:

 

How do you go about it?

There are many ways to collect customer feedback, insights and advice from clients. And they don’t need to be expensive either.

Email: If you can’t afford to hire a company to do it for you, you could simply send out an email to your clients with a few simple questions. Make sure that it is not too long otherwise you might not get too many responses. Also, be careful about how you word your questions, always keeping in mind what you are trying to gain from it.

Online Survey: If you want something a bit more professional, you could also use some free online platforms through which you can create and customise an online survey that you can send your customers a link to. There is for example a website called Qualtricks that allows you to do this.

Either way, be sure to not only ask customers to rate you or tell you about what they are happy with, but also include questions that would give them a chance to tell you what they struggle with and what can be improved. Look for the problems; they are more valuable and what you should focus on if you want to really improve your offerings. Separately, but again applies to both a simple email and an online survey, you could offer some incentives to get customers to answer your questions.

Phone Calls: Alternatively, you could give your clients a call and ask them those questions in person. This method is much more preferred, as people tend to mention more details or explain what it is they need on the phone rather than in an email. If you are to do calls however, keep in mind that people will be more open to sharing their thoughts with a third party (i.e. market research company) as opposed to the company.

Social Media: Another way to get an idea of how your company and products / services are perceived is through Social Media. Often times companies make the mistake of thinking of Social Media as a channel for them to speak to customers and forget that communication is a two-way process.

Customers use Social Media to share their views, thoughts and experiences and this could be beneficial to your company. In Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, you can search for certain keywords (identified as part of your SEO strategy) or for your company name for example and see posts related to your products or services.

On Twitter you could narrow down your search to posts near you. Additionally, on Twitter again, you could create lists especially for your clients and that way you will see their posts even if your company name hasn’t been mentioned. You could use tools like Tweetdeck or Hootsuit to keep track of hashtags or searches if you don’t want to search frequently through you Social media channels.

 

Who do you ask for feedback?

Customers: Well, the most obvious answer to this question is your customers. They are the ones using your products or availing of your services and of course they will be able to give you valuable insights about what can be improved.

However, people often neglect two other very important groups. One is your lost customers and the other is your employees.

Lost customers: The feedback from lost customers could be really valuable as it can help you identify why your clients decide to switch to a competitor of yours and therefore what you can do to prevent this from happening. Lost customers will normally be very honest and you have nothing to lose there. Quite on the contrary, it is a chance to win them back by offering something better. For example, if you were a company that sells accounting software, you might find out that some of your lost customers didn’t want to pay €150 per month for 10 features when they only use 5 and this might make you think of a different pricing structure suitable to more businesses with different needs.

Employees: I’ve talked about the importance of employees to business and how they are essentially the face of your company on various occasions. Employees are not only representing your company, but also employees are the ones who meet and communicate with your customers face to face, witnessing their reactions and hearing their opinions about changes, new products, etc. first hand. This being said, it might be a good idea to start discussion groups for those employees who interact directly with your customers. Ask your employees what works, what doesn’t, how clients react to certain things and get them to come up with ideas and plans for improvement based on the feedback they themselves are providing.

This will provide you with valuable feedback about your clients’ experience while at the same time it will make your employees feel more engaged as they are empowered to make changes.

Don’t forget to give them certain freedom too when it comes to dealing with issues with clients. I’ve often come across situations of negative feedback from clients or problems wherein the aftermath it becomes clear that the employee knew how to handle the situation and could have turned a disappointed customer into a happy one, but simply didn’t have the authority to take action.

Whatever approach you take, whether you collect feedback yourself or have a market research company do it for you, whether you send out a survey or call your clients, whether you ask customers or employees as well, keep in mind that there is no bad feedback as such so don’t take it personally. There’s positive feedback, which is great to hear of course and then there’s negative feedback which while unpleasant to read is full of insights and ideas. Negative feedback is the most valuable feedback. It tells you what you might need to work on and inspire you to take action, be innovative and offer something that others don’t.  Customer feedback tells you what you are doing right and negative feedback gives you ideas as to what you can do better.

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