Have you ever thought you knew how you were doing but then got some unexpected feedback that absolutely stopped you in your tracks?
As a small business owner, you could be vulnerable to this phenomenon. Let’s face it: You’re so busy running the business, solving problems, and uncovering new opportunities that you may not know what you don’t know … unless you’re regularly soliciting, analyzing and responding to feedback from your customers.
Once upon a time, listening and responding to customers was viewed in a more perfunctory way, more or less as a chore. But now there are tools to make this doable and even easy. Business owners find this a rich experience—one that they ignore at their own peril!
Focus on the opportunity, not the task. First, if managing customer feedback feels like just another item on your to-do list, change your thinking. Gathering and using feedback—both positive and negative—to your advantage is one of the hottest marketing tools around. Customer reviews and comments provide insights and perspective you just can’t get any other way. Plus, the power and credibility of real feedback from real people can’t be matched in any other promotional efforts you may undertake yourself.
Understand the differences. Customer feedback comes in different forms that are unsolicited or solicited. Both are valuable but have different motivations, nuances, pros and cons. Unsolicited comments pop up on various social media platforms like Facebook and Yelp. Although it’s become more commonplace to review businesses on a regular basis, some believe that a good portion of unsolicited comments will be at the extremes, usually negative. Even so, don’t dismiss them. These customers can ultimately become some of your best cheerleaders.
Solicited comments, on the other hand, are gathered with tools you initiate—surveys, comment cards, phone calls, even focus groups. The question here is, if not asked, would these customers feel strongly enough one way or another to comment? And does being asked for feedback prompt respondents to come up with negatives, even if they’re constructive? However, these are still invaluable tools.
Go after it. Contributor Debra Donston-Miller writes on informationweek.com that you’re probably going to have to offer some encouragement to build your comments and reviews, so that you have both volume and variety. Have a trustworthy employee respond quickly—and prominently—on Facebook or Twitter, for example. Others reading the responses will be impressed! It’s also not out of line to offer incentives (e.g., drawings) for feedback.
Collect & analyze over the long run. Individual comments are legitimate. But you’re also looking for trends, which emerge over time. Now you’ve got some concrete, actionable information. Think about engaging an outside expert to help you gather and manage feedback as it grows.
Incorporate it. Customer feedback will help you do everything from fine-tuning your website to making changes in your product selection. Embrace it—and act on it. And make sure you have a system in place for regularly sharing feedback with your entire staff.
While you’re formulating your plans for getting the most—and best—feedback from your customers, you’ll want to check out inc.com’s guide, How to Make the Most of Customer Feedback. It offers even more insight on using and tracking customer feedback and reminds business owners how important it is to always ‘close the loop’ with those providing the feedback.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net