How to Communicate With Your Customers

Businesses that use a one-way stream of information to communicate with their customers are missing out on a key…
January 24, 2011
Businesses that use a one-way stream of information to communicate with their customers are missing out on a key engagement marketing ingredient: The power of feedback.

Why listen to what your customers have to say? It's free feedback from the people who matter most to your business. They will tell if you there's a problem with your products, your service, or some of the processes used by your company. How else will you know there's a problem? Listening is about constantly trying to improve and ensuring that customers get the best possible experience from you every step of the way.

In addition to listening to those who call you, e-mail directly, or chat with you in person, there are four ways you can "listen" to what your customers have to say:

Open feedback: In each of your e-mail newsletter campaigns, ask people to provide their feedback about the content in the newsletter itself or your business in general. In your plea for feedback, link to an online survey or provide an e-mail address that people can use to give their opinions. The online survey option is better since you can ask specific questions and easily analyze the data, but e-mail is a good second option.

In my company's monthly Hints & Tips e-mail newsletter, our managing editor asks people for the their feedback at the top of the message and links to an online survey. People love to give their opinions; you just have to ask, "How are we doing?"

Transactional feedback: After any transaction, you should follow up with the customer to ensure they've had a good experience with your product and service. The restaurant comment card is one example of transactional feedback. Bigger brands like Home Depot and Dunkin' Donuts put a link to a feedback survey on every customer receipt and add a little incentive to customers to give their time and opinions. In the case of Home Depot, it's a chance to win a $5,000 shopping spree. For Dunkin' Donuts, it's a free donut.

Small businesses may not be able to offer big incentives, but they can create a short online survey and print the URL on each receipt that's handed out to customers. Make sure to collect name and e-mail information from respondents and ask if they would like to be added to your e-mail list. 

Note: This transactional feedback advice applies to post-event feedback as well.

Satisfaction surveys: What five questions do you have for your customers? For businesses that have a subscriber base (i.e., you charge per month to be a member) or have customers that shop regularly with you (a grocery store, butcher, etc.), send one question per month to your list, alternating between the five. This way, you can continue to get regular feedback and fresh data, and customers don't feel like they're answering the same question every time.

Monitoring social media: Twitter and Facebook are great tools for getting customer feedback. People love to share their experiences with friends and followers, so keeping an eye on social media channels is a great way for any business to watch for trends or individual problems. And, you don't need any expensive software or services to do so. Facebook will show you anyone who tags your business page or profile in a status update. Twitter offers its own search tool, which allows you to search for any keyword (your company or product name), phrase, handle or hashtag, for example.

Of course, while Twitter's search results are great, they show up in real-time, so it can be tough to dedicate resources to tracking them all day long.

If you find a lot of people mentioning you, try a tool like  Hootsuite,  Tweetdeck or  NutshellMail. All three are free and can help you better manage your social media monitoring.

Eric Groves is Constant Contact's senior vice president of Strategy, Corporate Development and Innovation. Follow him on Twitter at @e_groves.