How to Help Future-Proof Your Business by Using Customer Feedback

Business owners are using customer feedback to help future-proof their growth plans, allocate resources and spend their time and money more strategically.
May 09, 2017

If there's one thing you can count on in the world of business, it's change. Customers change how they shop, what they like and where they get it, leaving business owners in the not-so-enviable position of responding. But how do you know if your response will actually help your business? That's why some business owners use customer feedback to make proactive changes.

If you want to future-proof your business, staying ahead of your customers' preferences can help you put methods in place for tracking those customer needs. A number of savvy businesses are building customer feedback into their day-to-day processes using everything from customer surveys to advisory panels.

To get an idea of how businesses can harness the power of customer feedback, I spoke to three business owners. They shared how they innovate to meet their customers' needs and desires.

Using Customer Surveys to Get Delicious Results

In 2015, Penn Station East Coast Subs was named the number one limited service sandwich brand by the Nation's Restaurant News Consumer Picks (NRNCS) survey. The survey assessed such qualities as food quality, cleanliness, service, and atmosphere and included more than 42,000 vetted consumer ratings and perceptions of 172 restaurant brands. Overall scores were weighted based on how much consumers in a restaurant segment valued particular restaurant attributes. 

Even though they're only in 15 states, the survey landed Penn Station in the top spot for sandwich restaurants. That got them thinking. Why did consumers like their subs so much?

"We did a nine-month segmentation study of 1,200 consumers with a consulting firm out of Cincinnati, Ohio," says Craig Dunaway, the company's president. "We specifically wanted to see what consumers were saying about our brand and our product. We planned to use the information for some new marketing campaigns, which we did, but it also spurred some other strategy shifts."

The company's segmentation survey quickly brought one key finding to light. "When people knew about us, they love us," says Dunaway.

But how can you love a brand you don't know about? This prompted an inside-out approach to raising brand awareness through a franchisee incentive program. For new leases signed this year in designated markets, franchisees will receive a 12-month royalty abatement. More stores in these underrepresented markets can help build the brand there locally, and the royalty abatement can give those franchisees more money to spend on grand opening and local store marketing in their first year.

Feedback is a goldmine for uncovering what your customers truly need as opposed to what you think they need—and that can make all the difference in your success or failure as a company.

—Heidi Jannenga, co-founder, WebPT

Going forward, the brand plans to keep ongoing customer feedback models in place to shape their future marketing and expansion efforts.

"We will continue to utilize mystery shopper programs for day-to-day input on how we perform operationally," Dunaway says. "However, and more importantly, we will continue to utilize the database of our email program to poll customers on their likes of the brand [and] changes we might consider, and allow for timely follow up from customer feedback and comments."

Rehabbing a Rehab Brand With Customer Feedback

WebPT, a cloud-based EMR technology for medical rehab therapy practices, has long relied on member feedback for software and content improvements. The company treats its members as actual stakeholders.

In fact, WebPT feels one of the most powerful components of its customer service is the way in which it receives, processes and incorporates member feedback. They believe this approach is directly connected to what they say is their 99.9 percent customer retention rate, which has remained steady since launching in 2008.

"In 2016, WebPT improved its customer feedback loop to make it even more meaningful and actionable," says Heidi Jannenga, co-founder and president of WebPT. "What used to be an idea portal where users could add recommendations on how to improve the system is now a strategic process that generates a consistent stream of feedback through a net promoter score (NPS) program. This helps WebPT uncover its true promoters, gain valuable feedback and prioritize the development of new features and functionality."

The company divides its comments into four color-labeled categories—red, yellow, green and gold—which denote increasing levels of satisfaction. For every red or yellow comment, a customer relationship management (CRM) task is automatically created, and WebPT's Success Team—a dedicated team of customer service professionals—is notified to reach out to the member to remedy the problem. They also pass along green and gold comments to the appropriate Success Team professional who then reaches out to the customer to gain more information, or let the customer  know that his or her suggestion is being added to the roadmap.

WebPT has made member feedback an integrated part of their complete business model as well. All executives and directors receive weekly reports, which helps with strategic direction.

As a result of implementing this system, Jannenga says their NPS score has gone up 32.6 points from March 2016 to February 2017. The team also saw a 163 percent increase in response rate, a 90 percent increase in promoters, and 49 percent fewer detractors.

"If you're truly looking for ways to deliver great products and services, you must prioritize people," says Jannenga. "Feedback is a goldmine for uncovering what your customers truly need as opposed to what you think they need—and that can make all the difference in your success or failure as a company."

Using Customer Feedback to Increase Satisfaction

Motus is a cloud-based mobile enterprise platform that provides accurate mileage receipts. In 2016, Motus created a survey and feedback mechanism called a Driver Advisory Board. It helped create a more open dialogue about the actual daily lives and pain points of drivers using their platform. Having this sort of customer feedback has helped guide Motus' product development.

“We have always had a close relationship with our clients and end users, and regularly survey [them] both to understand what we're doing well and what things we could be doing to make their work lives better," says Craig Powell, president and CEO of Motus. "As the company matures, we felt it was important to formalize that process with the Driver Advisory Board. We have created a world-class platform and our goal is to continue expanding it to meet the many business needs of our clients."

Powell reports that the results of their Driver Advisory board have been incredible. From app modifications to help reduce battery drain to expanding the type of apps with which Motus can integrate, Motus users say they are more satisfied than ever. Motus has achieved a 98+ percent unit-level client retention since inception and 100+ percent year-over-year economic-level retention, according to Powell. It currently provides a mobile reimbursement platform for major clients in the food and drink industry, and nearly one-third of the company's end users have transitioned to Motus from its competitors.

Between these three companies above, which one is performing a customer feedback and survey practice that you feel could help your business? Perhaps you want to try out a Motus-like customer or user advisory panel. Maybe it's market research. Or maybe you're interested in Penn Station Subs' approach to cultivating customer feedback through their email list.

Whichever methods you choose, your ability to meaningfully innovate can be honed when you switch places with your customer and put them in the driver's seat.

Read more articles on customer feedback.

Photo: Getty Images

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