Unfortunately, many growth companies do not effectively leverage feedback from their customers because they lack a formal customer feedback process. They balk at setting one up for several reasons, including a belief that they already know what their customers think about their products/service/company because they spend time with them every day; an aversion to spending for market research; and a belief that their customers can’t describe or don’t know what they want. When pulling out this last excuse, they often point to Steve Jobs who was famously reported as saying “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Most companies are not Apple, however, and despite the near-mythic status Steve and this quote have achieved, you should consider a formal process for gathering customer feedback and the benefits it can provide. (Plus, it turns out that Apple does do research after all.)
Although they know and interact with your customers on a daily basis, you should not rely on sales and service reps as your primary source of customer feedback.They often do not have a full view of the customer’s needs or business, and may not have a complete sense of the customers’ buying criteria, options or decision making process. They also tend to be myopic in regards to the competition and can place too much reliance on pricing pressure and product issues that are more their perception rather than the customer’s. In addition, it’s often difficult for customers to provide honest feedback to sales and service reps with whom they have built relationships with over time. Plus, they may only interact with a small subset of customers who are not representative of the broader customer base.
There are several options available which can help you gather useful customer feedback without breaking your budget. The practicality and effectiveness of these methods may vary somewhat depending on the nature of your business and the makeup of your customer base.
Informal focus groups – All you need is a quiet place to gather 6-10 customers together to discuss their needs in an informal setting. You should use a discussion guide to keep the conversation focused and moving.
Customer advisory boards – Advisory Boards meet on a regular basis to provide more strategic input into for your business. Members participate on a voluntary basis, and benefit from the time commitment they make to participate by helping to drive your product and/or service strategy.
Online surveys – There are a number of free or inexpensive online survey options available. In fact, the software you’re already using for email campaigns may have a survey option. Your survey needs to be clearly written, focused on your audience, with questions that are brief, to-the-point and specific to the type of feedback you’re trying to collect.
Phone surveys – Phone surveys should be short, to-the-point and unbiased in their wording. They can be a good way to gather deeper comments from a broader set of customers.
Comment cards – Comment cards can be used in most businesses with physical locations like hotels, restaurants, retail stores and other service based operations. They can be included with invoices or customer receipts or left on the counter of the store. You can also include a place for customers to provide comments on your website.
Social media – Monitoring social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and certain blogs can be an easy and inexpensive way to gathering feedback from customers. They also provide an avenue to respond to issues in a positive and proactive way. Just be prepared for what you hear and don’t be defensive about negative comments.
Whichever method you choose to gather customer feedback, make it a process rather than a one-time event. The more your customers become accustomed to your requests for feedback, the more likely they are to provide it. Your team is also likely to take it more seriously, as they realize it’s not just a one-time thing or a fad. Also, give yourself time to get the process right, and to learn the best way to use the feedback to make changes in your business. Both you and your customers may need some time to learn how to leverage these new insights.
Please share your own customer feedback gathering tips.
For more information, download our new ebook “The Growth Company’s Guide to Gathering Customer Feedback”.