Recently, I was asked about the complex and mystical black art of small business customer feedback. The questioner wanted to know the best way to collect customer feedback.
My response was pretty straightforward:
Ask your customers.
I know that sounds pretty plain, but it doesn’t have to be complex to work. If you want to ask your customers something, simply do it in a straightforward fashion and you will be a long way ahead of most organizations.
You can use lots of different mediums to communicate with them: email, face-to-face, telephone, or even carrier pigeons if that is what works in your industry. But the starting point is to go out and ask customers what they think about your business.
Keep the Process Simple and Straightforward
For example, don’t introduce a bunch of other questions into your survey. I call it “Christmas treeing the customer feedback survey”.
When you are creating your surveys, marketing will pipe up and want to add one question after another. Customer service will also want to know something and so they will add a question or two, as well. On and on it goes…
Pretty soon you end up with a really long questionnaire that customers will hate.
So, just keep it simple and set yourself a maximum number of questions before you commence. I’d suggest you start with no more than 10 questions.
Make sure you include a qualitative feedback or open-text questions. You need this to provide details about your business that customers like or dislike.
Don’t worry too much about having everything worded correctly. Don’t’ worry too much about the exact scale you should use. The methodology is less important than just doing it.
Over time, you can improve on the wording and details of the process but you can’t improve if you don’t start.
What Questions Should You Ask?
A good place to start is with an approach called Net Promoter Score. This has gained a lot of influence over the last few years and is very useful for small and large businesses alike.
Their simple question is:
“On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely would you be to recommend us to a friend or colleague?”
It is a really good first question to ask (starting-point question) because, after you analyse the results, it is a very good way to gauge customer loyalty.
After asking that question, you can just follow it up with:
“Please tell us why you gave that answer.”
So, it can be as simple as a two-question survey.
You will get great feedback from customers using these two simple questions. You will understand whether they are loyal, whether they like you or don’t like you, and then you’ll get a really good understanding of what about your business is important.
Then, of course, you can add other attribute questions to your survey.
Attribute questions are questions about the attributes of your business that you think customers may care about. These questions will give you valuable insight on how well your customer perceives the services you deliver and how well your product works.
For instance, you can ask:
“How responsive is our business?”
“How good is our account management?”
Who Should Send the Survey?
When you send survey invites, you can do so from two places: your organisation or another company that can send them on your behalf. The difference is the ability for the respondent to be anonymous. If they are sent by another company, the respondent can remain anonymous.
What difference does that make?
The difference matters when there is a high-value relationship in play. So, if you’re a B2B organization and you’ve got a high-value relationship with your customer, you will see that they can sometimes be a bit cagey in the responses they provide, mainly because they don’t want to upset you or change the status quo.
It may be surprising but they don’t want to cause a problem in the relationship because, just as they are important customers for you and your business, you are an important supplier to them.
In that case, using a third party can be a good way of getting anonymity into that survey response, and making the client feel comfortable to be much more open and honest. Above all, that’s what you want: open and honest feedback.
But in general, you can send it directly from the organization. There’s no issue with that at all.
In fact, if you send it from the organization, you can do some really good work in area of service recovery.
Service recovery is responding to the customer when they give you feedback, e.g. calling them and saying:
“We really appreciate your feedback,” and
“We see you had a problem here, how can we solve that for you?”
If you do that:
- The customer will be surprised that anybody actually read their feedback; and
- You can turn that customer around. A customer turned around can become a very loyal customer.
Asking Personal and Demographic Questions?
I have really strong feelings on this particular point: you can ask customers anything that you do not already know about them and that helps you to serve them more effectively.
For instance, unless it’s directly helping you to deliver better service, asking a customer “what band does your salary lie in?” is not customer feedback. At best it’s market research, and market research is not customer feedback.
Customers see that and think:
“Why are you asking me this? It has nothing to do with the product you’re delivering. You’re just trying to improve your marketing to me.”
These days, customers see through those types of questions and react by ignoring your customer feedback survey entirely.
Also, if you know the piece of information, then you should not be asking for it. I’ll give you an example. If you are an online retailer that tracks purchases, you should never send a customer feedback survey that asks:
“Please tell us what your last purchase from us was,”
You have no right to ask the customer to provide information that you already know. You should be mining your backend and only asking the customer things that you don’t know: what they feel, how they feel, what worked, what didn’t work in the customer service process.
Every time you ask a customer a question to which they would expect you to know the answer, you are eating away at some of the trust they have for you.
Recently, I received a surveys invite by email. The first question of the survey was
“What is your email address?”
You just emailed me the invite! Surely you can do the ten-seconds of technology required to link the two pieces of information. Personally, I resent that when I see it in surveys, but it’s very common. You should strive not to do that if you possibly can.
Leveraging Customer Feedback For Testimonials
I think that one of the big challenges small businesses face when competing with larger businesses is getting good testimonials and reviews.
We’ve all seen the data on getting testimonials and reviews, and how they influence other customers to buy, so use your customer feedback process to gather them.
You can gather testimonials through the customer feedback process in a couple of ways.
Sometimes one way is in the commentary; customers will say terrific things about the business. Right there you have your testimonial.
However, before you simply use that as a customer testimonial you really should go back to the customer and say, “Hey, do you mind if we use this as a testimonial for our business?” Most customers will say yeah, that’s fine. If they say no, that’s life.
The other one you can use is a little bit cheeky.
You can look at the score they’ve provided in something like the Net Provider Score or customer satisfaction response. If they give you a good score, a 9 or 10, you can go back to them and say, “Would you mind giving us a testimonial?”
Be proactive. It’s a little bit cheeky in that you’re probably not going to ask the people that give you a low score to give you a testimonial but it’s a fair thing to do.
If You Do Just One Thing, Do This.
Do Something With the Feedback.
Getting the feedback is not the hard part. Doing something with the feedback is the hard part, and so the thing you should do much more of is just to take action on the feedback you receive.
It doesn’t have to be PhD level statistical analysis of their feedback.
Simply get a piece of feedback on your business and make a change.
If you do that, the customers will love you for:
- Making a change; and
- Using the feedback they’ve provided.
It’s a win/win outcome.