As an entrepreneur with a passion for your business and your industry, you know that your customers are the reason you do what you do. But how do you know if you’re taking the right steps to keep them happy? The answer, of course, is customer feedback. The only way to truly understand your customers is by asking them what they think and feel about the goods and/or services you provide.
The importance of feedback is self-apparent, or at least it should be. Unfortunately, many business owners and managers overlook the need to consult current, former, and potential customers. In marketing, we often become so concerned with giving consumers what we think they want that we forget to ask what they actually want.
Why Feedback Matters
Customer feedback is one of your most valuable resources. It allows you to evaluate your business model, your products, your employees, and your marketing strategy. Not convinced? Try asking yourself these questions.
Are my customers satisfied?
Most likely your answer is yes. But how do you know they’re satisfied. Did they tell you? Do your employees tell you that your customers seem satisfied? Those are both forms of customer feedback, but they’re not focused and directed enough to get you the hard-hitting, useful information you really need.
Or maybe you think your customers are satisfied because you are hitting your sales marks, or because you get a lot of repeat business. Or because your business’s Facebook page has a lot of followers. Those are good indicators, but they can only show you a piece of the bigger picture.
Do I know the specific likes and dislikes of my customer base?
Again, you might get bits and pieces of feedback from individual customers. Here and there, someone might mention something they particularly liked. Or you may get a complaint, which you file in your mental bank of “things you think you know about your customers.”
Is it feedback? Yes, but it isn’t the kind of systematic customer feedback that fuels well-informed business decisions. To truly know what your customers love and what they’d like to see go away, you need a thought-out strategy for gathering feedback.
Do I know which customers are truly passionate about my brand?
There’s a big difference between saying “hey, I like this” and saying “I love this brand so much I want to help it succeed.” Can you tell the difference in casual conversation? Can your employees? Probably not.
And casual conversation isn’t precise enough to get to the root of a particular consumer’s passion for your brand. Gathering feedback systematically will help you identify brand advocates who may have been there all along.
Do I have solid data, or just a hunch?
You might feel like you know your customers, but a feeling isn’t really actionable. One of the major reasons that businesses fail is that they think they know their customers better than they actually do.
In general, marketing decisions based on hard data, rather than feelings and hunches, deliver the best results. The impression you get from casual conversations doesn’t deliver actionable data, but thoughtfully gathered customer feedback does.
Getting Customer Feedback the Right Way
Now that we’ve established that customer feedback comes from systematic inquiries, it’s time to figure out how to gather the data you need.
Gathering feedback is a balancing act. You have to deliver your questions in a way that makes people willing to answer. At the same time, you need to get enough information to inform future decisions about your business and your marketing strategy.
Try asking some of these questions:
How likely are you to recommend this company to a friend?
If you allow customers to rate their likelihood to recommend your business on a 1-5 or 1-10 scale, you’ll get a good idea of just how enthusiastic they are about what you’ve delivered. Further questions can help you narrow down what has made them feel this way.
Would you pick our product/service over a similar one from another company?
This gives you more information than a simple “are you satisfied?” It allows you to measure yourself against your competition.
Why would you pick/recommend this product/service over similar ones?
This could be a follow-up to a simple yes/no question about satisfaction. It helps to make this one optional if you want to get a lot of people to respond. But this question gets you a step or two closer to understanding why your customers like (or dislike) particular aspects of your business.
What did you dislike?
Alternately, “What was your least favorite thing about your experience with our business?” This question helps you get to those customers who don’t like to be negative. And even if a customer loved the experience, he or she might be able to offer some feedback about what wasn’t top-notch.
Why did you choose to do business with us?
This helps you get some information about your marketing strategy. Do your customers come to you through a Google search? Because of a friend’s recommendation? Through your advertising? You’ll be able to learn what you’re doing right and what you can do to reach more people.
How easy was our website to navigate?
Here’s the kind of information that you will hardly ever get from casual information with individual customers. A website experience can make or break your relationship with a customer.
You’ll want to look out for responses that show how easy your site was to find with a search. And you should also be on the lookout for how easy it was for customers to find the particular item they were looking for. Was checkout simple? Did they find the pricing structure easy to understand? Were any questions easily answered by the FAQs?
And here’s a big one – was your website optimized for mobile? These days many consumers do their shopping on mobile devices, and the prevalence of mobile shopping is only increasing. If your site isn’t mobile-ready, you could take a huge hit in business. Listen to your customers on this one.
Did our employees provide the information you needed?
Don’t assume that your customers show up with all the information they need. On the contrary, consumers rely heavily on employees to help them understand products and services, pricing, options, offers, loyalty programs, and more.
There’s a lot of information available online, and your website should deliver as many answers as possible. But most customers will still have questions, even after thoroughly reviewing your website. Ideally, you want employees who are proactive (but not aggressive) in learning about individual customer needs.
Did you find our pricing fair?
This will help you determine how your pricing structure compares with customer expectations. If your customers have had previous experience with a competitor, or did research before choosing to do business with you, they may be able to offer valuable insights into how your overall value compares to others in your industry. This question depends a great deal on who you are catering to in business.
If you encountered a problem/issue, how well did we solve it? Were you satisfied with the outcome?
Sometimes talking to dissatisfied (or formerly dissatisfied) customers can be even more helpful than talking to happy ones. Identifying the specific issue a customer encountered allows you to identify problems and weaknesses, especially if the issue is part of a larger pattern. For instance, if you have multiple customers complaining about slow service, you’ll know that’s a problem you need to address.
(To unhappy customers) What can we do to earn back your business?
Dissatisfied customers are normally quite willing to share their concerns and desires. They often have a stronger motivation for sharing than satisfied customers because they want to show that their concerns are justified and reasonable. So ask away.
Not every response is going to be actionable, of course. If someone tells you that the only way you’re getting her back is by giving her $1000 worth of free merchandise, you’re obviously not going to take her up on her suggestion. Sometimes people are unreasonable. But most people have simple, reasonable requests you can act on. E.g. “Make the warranty terms more clear,” or “Honor the terms as they were explained by your employee.”
Of course, you probably won’t want to ask all of these questions. A survey that’s too long isn’t likely to generate a lot of responses. But a survey that’s too short won’t give you much information.
Will Customers Answer? It’s All in How You Ask
The number and quality of responses you get has as much to do with the way you ask as it does with what you ask. Given the opportunity, many customers are eager to share their opinions. Asking for feedback is also a great way of showing your customers that you care about them, and that they are partners in your business’ journey.
Asking open ended questions, rather than simple “yes” or “no” ones, will generate richer, more nuanced responses. In a perfect world, you could get every customer to provide full answers to a series of thoughtfully crafted open-ended questions.
In the real world though, many people will avoid these types of questions like the plague. Lots of people prefer the quick and easy yes/no or “rate this” questions because they require less thought and time. If a consumer isn’t getting anything in return for feedback (besides the satisfaction of helping you improve), it’s unlikely that he will spend half an hour meticulously constructing paragraphs evaluating his experience.
If you really want to get your customers to answer questions like this, try putting together a long survey and offering a small reward in exchange for participation. Or run a contest, and give each participant a contest entry.
Alternatively, you can create a survey with both simple and long-form, open-ended questions, but make the free response ones optional. Lots of people will skip them, but those who do answer are likely to provide a thoughtful response.
“How would you rate…” questions
These questions give you insight into the degree to which you are satisfying your customers. By giving respondents a rating scale, you allow them to more clearly articulate their experiences without the necessity of writing out answers.
You’ll need to word the questions carefully in order to glean the most useful information. For instance, “How well did the customer service meet your expectations?” will tell you more than “How satisfied were you with your experience?”
A customer’s overall experience involves many individual components, and you’re looking for actionable data. There’s not really any way to act on the knowledge that customers are 8/10 satisfied, unless you know what specific area caused you to lose points.
If you use them strategically, yes or no questions can deliver useful information. And they have the added benefit of being quick and easy, so you’ll get more customer feedback if you use them. A good yes/no question should tell you something specific about a particular aspect of the customer’s experience.
For example, “Did our websites FAQs answer any questions you had about our products/services?” or “Did the layout of the store make it easy for you to find what you were looking for?” Again, a more general question such as “Did you like the layout of the website?” isn’t going to deliver the actionable data you want. If a respondent answers”yes,” does it mean she liked every aspect of the website? And if she answers “no,” you have no way of knowing which specific part or parts of the website she disliked.
You’ve Got Your Questions – Now Go Ask Them
Of course, you’ll need to select a method for gathering responses. Online surveys are a popular choice, but they’re not the only option. You can send personal emails, you can use mini-surveys, or single-question popups on your website. You can use Facebook or Twitter Polls. You can speak with customers on the phone. Or you can even speak with them in store if you have a brick-and-mortar business.
If you do opt for an online survey, you have a few different options. Survey Monkey is one of the most popular and well-known survey software tools. Others include Google Forms, Zoho Survey, and Typeform.
So pick a format and get to work. Just don’t lose sight of the reason you’re gathering customer feedback. You don’t want to get it just to have it, or to give yourself a pat on the back. Instead, you have to use it to identify strengths and weaknesses in order to improve specific aspects of your business and your marketing strategy.