While You Might Not Like What You Hear, You Need to Hear It

One of the most important things you can do as a small business owner is to ask your customers for their input on how you’re doing, especially when times are tight and you’ve got to be that much better than your competition.  Let’s face it, this is a case of “What you don’t know can hurt you,” plain and simple.   As Bill Gates likes to say, “You need to know about customer feedback that says things should be better.”

Okay, so we can all agree that customer feedback is important, but how do you go about getting it?  And what if your resources are limited?  What then?

Fortunately, the list of options for how you can communicate with your customers is growing and doing so doesn’t always have to cost a lot.  The key is to find the method that works best for you and that suits your budget and then get going! 

Here are some ideas to get you started on the right track:

  • Person-to-Person Interviews―It may sound obvious, but so many business owners don’t take the time to talk with their customers in any kind of methodical or structured way.  They go off anecdotal feedback as it comes in, never proactively initiating any kind of question and answer opportunity.  This is the easiest and cheapest way to find out what you’re doing right and what you could be doing better.  You’ve just got to take the time to put together a simple questionnaire and start talking to people, either in person or over the phone.  Also, don’t forget your employees are another resource when it comes to obtaining information on what customers are saying, buying and NOT buying and why.
  • Comment Cards―These are a very cost-effective and accepted means of soliciting customer input.  Of course, if you are handing them out, they’re most likely only capturing feedback from customers who are already buying from you, not those who are opting out so keep that in mind. 
  • Surveys by Mail and Email―These options are a great way to get feedback from current customers as well as those you may not have seen for a while.  They’re most successful when you offer something in return for input, such as a coupon or discount of some kind, which also serves as an incentive to regain business from customers you may have lost.
  • Online Tools―If you offer products and/or services via a website, customer feedback mechanisms of various kinds can be built in to your system that will let you know what those who do buy from you think.  You can also ask customers who opt out before completing a transaction why it is they decided NOT to buy.
  • Cloud Customer Care Centers―There are several services that allow you to set up a complete customer feedback center that does much of the work for you, many of which will offer you either a free trial period or free services under certain conditions such as GetSatisfaction or UserVoice.  Other cost-free options of note in this arena include Google Moderator and Zoho Discussions.

Make the conscious decision to develop and implement a customer feedback mechanism of some kind for your business today if you haven’t already.  You may not always like what you hear, that’s true, but you’ve got to keep in mind that the price you will pay for burying your head in the sand could be higher than you know.

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