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When business is rolling steadily along, companies often don’t spend time to asking customers how they’re performing—if they lose one, they just find another. But in tough markets it’s more important than ever to seek customer input.
Gauging the performance of your products and services in the eyes of both customers and employees can give your business the competitive edge it needs to thrive. And you can make it easy. From social media to online surveys, options abound for discovering what people think of your business. And the benefits are numerous.
“Feedback allows you to respond better and stay in tune with your customers,” says Marcus Fischer, CEO of space150, a digital marketing services company with offices in Los Angeles, Minneapolis and New York. “It engages customers in the conversation—it’s not just about the transaction—and it makes you better at what you do. You can attune your products and services to fit in line with customers’ needs. Ultimately when you do that, you improve business.”
Review these simple suggestions, and discover what people really think of your company.
Develop a strategy
Just as you create business and marketing plans for your company, you need a digital strategy for assessing customers’ opinions and experiences. That way you’re not just chasing the newest and shiniest methods, Fischer says. If your strategy includes collecting as many Facebook endorsements or fans as possible—people who will review products or make comments about your services—then stick with tactics that help you land them.
Start with the basics
In many ways, it’s never been easier to hear opinions about your business—and for customers to see and share those appraisals—thanks to social media. To get in on the conversation, set up a page on Facebook where people can make comments. Then check other social media sites like Foursquare, Yelp, Google Places, TripAdvisor and other industry-specific sites to see reviews and customer commentary about your products or services, says Fischer.
Keep it simple
When doing a survey, limit your questionnaires to the three or four most important things you want to know. Patrick Riley, CEO of Modern Survey, a human capital measurement company in Minneapolis that helps businesses survey their employees and customers, has seen it time and again: Companies often want to throw in the kitchen sink on their surveys. Yet people will give only so much of their time—so make it count.
High points to cover include asking customers how satisfied they are, if they will come back, and whether they would recommend your business. Additionally, asking an open-ended question allows people to chime in with other thoughts.
Ask your employees
Just as it’s critical to connect with customers, it’s equally vital to assess the mood, engagement and motivation of employees. Businesses big and small are increasingly realizing that engaged employees translate into loyal and satisfied customers, Riley says.
“The most important asset you have is your people, so it’s as important as ever to understand what your employees think and whether they engage and align with the strategy of your company and products,” adds Riley. “Customers can feel employees’ passion. And if customers believe in your business passionately, that will correspond to their loyalty over time.”
When you get feedback on the Internet, don’t get defensive over negative comments, cautions Fischer. Remember that whatever you say is public and can be read by current or potential customers. Stay detached, calm and professional when responding to criticism—and don’t take it personally.
If you ask customers to give you feedback, don’t review their comments once a quarter and respond later. That’s not going to cut it, notes Craig Key, senior media planner at space150. Monitor their suggestions, criticisms or praise daily if possible—weekly at a minimum—and get back to people quickly regarding any issues. Otherwise you run the risk of looking uncaring and unresponsive.
When surveying customers or employees, make sure you choose a platform that protects their privacy and gives people the freedom to speak their mind, Riley says. If not, you run the risk of getting half the truth—and you might break their trust in the process.
Hearing criticisms from employees and customers can be a great early warning, giving you time to address issues and fix systemic problems before they blow up. “Ultimately the companies getting the best results right now understand employee and customer engagement and how they work together as a system,” Riley says. “Those companies will continue to do well because that engagement results in passion and loyalty around their brand.” And who doesn’t want that?
Suzy Frisch is a Twin Cities–based freelance writer. She’s covered business, politics, law and many other topics for a range of publications, including Twin Cities Business magazine, the Star Tribune and the Chicago Tribune.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FedEx.
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