Do you know what your customers think about your products and services?
Successful business owners know that no matter how busy they get, it's critical to take the time to get customer feedback. Understanding what your customers think about your products and services will not only help you improve quality, but will also give you insights into what new products and services your customers want so you can diversify your offerings. Knowing what you're doing right also lets you make smart decisions about where to focus your energies, and it may even give you fodder for marketing. Plus, your customers will appreciate having ways to communicate with you—and know they are being heard.
While getting feedback used to be limited to a suggestion box or form on your website, there are now many low-cost approaches to getting customer input and taking the pulse of customers.
Here are four easy ways to make customer feedback a core part of your business:
1. Conduct an online survey
If you have your customers' e-mail addresses, conducting an online survey can be a great way to get range of different feedback in a short amount of time.
One of the most popular tools for online surveys is SurveyMonkey, whose low-cost, Web-based survey solutions are a natural fit for a small businesses on a budget.
SurveyMonkey customer Whitney Greer of brand consulting firm Brandularity uses online surveys extensively with her clients to track and understand brand perceptions and find out what really matters to customers. She also notes that surveys can be an effective way to validate (or debunk) anecdotal feedback before adjusting your approach or product.
"Too often a company will react to a series of customer anecdotes and comments, especially if they're negative, by thinking they need to make big changes," says Greer. "Surveying a wide group of customers before you turn the ship is the best way to determine what's really a burning issue and what's actually just an isolated incident."
Once you've developed your survey, the next step is getting your customers to take it. Many companies provide an incentive for survey participation, such as entering customers into a drawing for a free product or service. You don't have to limit yourself to just e-mailing customers your survey request; if you have a regular newsletter, you can include a link to the survey and information about the incentive. You should make sure to promote the survey on other online touchpoints, such as Facebook and Twitter if it's open to anyone. If your primary interaction with customers is in-store, you could even load up your online survey on an iPad and ask people to take the survey at the point of check-out for an instant discount.
2. Create an online customer community
All businesses thrive on feedback, but some are more distant from the direct experience and input of their customers. And according to Thor Muller, co-founder and CTO of Get Satisfaction, "these are the companies that find it absolutely critical to have a steady stream of feedback."
Muller's company offers a platform for creating customer communities on the Web, on Facebook, via mobile devices and within widgets that can be embedded anywhere. Small businesses can use Get Satisfaction to connect openly with their customers to provide Q&A, peer-to-peer problem solving and feedback.
Internet startup Pixazza uses Get Satisfaction as a forum for its publisher partners to report problems and ask questions about products.
"Though we have had a few publishers post praise and suggest features, the majority of the posts are from publishers reporting an issue or inquiring about how to do something," says Sarah Waterson, a user interface designer at Pixazza. "These posts help us fix bugs and also give us a good understanding of where improvements could be made to our application."
3. Use a hosted feedback forum
Another approach to getting customer feedback on an ongoing basis is a hosted feedback forum such as UserVoice. UserVoice's simple hosted forums and widgets allow customers to submit and vote on ideas for the company, which can then be turned into a prioritized list of feedback. You can also use the product to communicate with users when the ideas they've voted for are acted upon. And because UserVoice offers a free version of the product, any company with an online presence and an interest in ongoing feedback can set up a feedback forum.
UserVoice is also available for your Facebook Page; for example, Ubank is using UserVoice's Facebook app to listen to their customers and actively respond to and engage with these users.
"If you aren't listening, you aren't going to be able to deliver the best possible product or service, and you risk losing those customers," says Evan Hamilton, community manager at UserVoice. "Gathering feedback in an organized fashion is a great way to show your customers that you care and collect great insights for improving your product so you can beat the competition."
4. Ask for feedback on Facebook and Twitter
Of course, if you're just looking for quick opinions from customers, getting this feedback may be as simple as posting a question or poll on your Facebook Wall or via Twitter—you can use this approach to get fast insights into new products, new branding or even new store locations or lines of business.
For example, digital agency 360i advised its client Velveeta to poll its Facebook community for consumer insight into which new flavor packaging concept would highlight the flavors in a more prominent way. Velveeta asked fans to “pick the design that helps the flavor to stand out,” and provided photos of each (marked ‘A’ and ‘B’). The community was very responsive to the poll, demonstrating a very high feedback rate compared to other posts. The poll results later helped Velveeta solidify its decision on the new flavor packaging.
What other methods do you use to get customer feedback?
Image credit: bluestocking