If you know how to collect it, customer feedback can be invaluable to your business. It provides a way to troubleshoot issues as well as improve products and tweak how you serve your customers. Good customer feedback is the cornerstone of a customer-centric approach to business.
In this age of digital analytics, it can be easy to overlook the human aspect of doing business. No amount of data can replicate the real and actionable insights which customers can provide. They’re the people who can tell you what’s good and what’s not so good about your firm and your products.
That’s why it’s critical to know how to ask for customer feedback. To understand the best ways of getting the kinds of insights that will help your business to thrive and grow.
Why Asking for Customer Feedback is Important
Customer feedback benefits a business in several ways. Customers are uniquely placed to offer insights into your company. They have real experience of how you operate and what it’s like to be your customer. That’s a perspective which you need to tap into.
As the business owner or manager, you know the company better than anyone. Unfortunately, that can result in you being too close to things to see the wood from the trees. Being within the firm’s operations day in and day out can make it hard to step back and look at issues with clear eyes. Customer feedback helps you get that clarity back and makes it easier to find ways to improve your operations and create personalized marketing experiences.
Your customers aren’t going to fall over themselves to offer their feedback. It’s estimated that of 26 unhappy customers, only one will typically make a complaint. The chances of satisfied customers telling you what they liked about your firm are even slimmer. That is if you don’t make an effort to ask them.
Reaching out and asking for feedback in the right way is the only way for businesses to get it. What, though, is the right way? How can you ask for feedback and be sure to get those all-important insights?
Preparing to Ask for Customer Feedback
A big mistake many firms make when asking for feedback is to blunder into the process unprepared. Customer feedback should be a critical aspect of your business’s operation. That’s what it is. As such, you need to give it the care and attention you would any other vital business process. To get the most valuable insights, you need to ask the right questions. This involves preparation.
Define & Understand Your Goals
Before you can think about how to ask for customer feedback, you must first consider what you want to achieve. Why are you reaching out to your customers? You need to have this clear in your mind.
You might, for instance, want to learn how customers think a product or range of products may be improved. In that case, the feedback you want is on the functionality and performance of your products.
On the other hand, you could be more interested in your firm’s customer service. You may wish to know what customers feel about how your company and staff interact with them. Feedback, in that case, needs to regard how your business handled customer interactions.
Your goal could also be to gather enough information on your customers’ behavior to develop a user persona guide that your sales team can refer to when trying to understand how customers use your product.
Once you’ve defined your own feedback goals, you can start preparing in earnest. That begins by thinking about the questions you need to ask customers.
Think About the Right Kinds of Questions
Whatever your final method of asking for customer feedback, it will always involve questions. You’ll need to ask different questions depending on what it is you’re looking for from the input. That’s why defining your feedback goals is always your first step.
There are certain types of questions that will always work better than others, regardless of their exact wording or topic.
Open questions invite a more detailed answer. A person can’t answer them with a simple yes or no. If you’re trying to get feedback on a new website, for instance, a good question to ask might be ‘how could the checkout process be improved?’
That doesn’t mean your questions should be vague. If you contact a customer and ask ‘what feedback do you have on your experience?’, you won’t get many responses. What you’re looking for are open yet specific questions.
Be Aware of the Dangers
While on the subject of picking the right questions, it’s worth thinking about the dangers associated with selecting the wrong ones. Your choice of question can taint your customer feedback in several ways.
Leading and loaded questions are two related examples of the kinds of queries you want to avoid. Asking them will spoil your feedback. It will impact and change the answers customers give. The feedback you get, therefore, will be distorted.
Let’s look at leading questions first. A good way to spot a leading question is to see if it contains a non-neutral word or phrase. For instance, the following is a leading question due to the presence of the word angry:
‘How angry would you say John was?’
The question itself tells the respondent that John was angry. They might not have thought he was. Thus, the question has impacted the answer just by how it was worded. The following would have been a better choice of question:
‘How would you describe John’s emotional state?’
Loaded questions are similar. They force respondents to give an answer that might not represent their initial opinion or their priorities. For instance, in a customer feedback survey, you might ask:
‘Why did you enjoy using our website?’
This is a classic loaded question. The person you’re asking might not have enjoyed using your website. It will be helpful for you to know that. The wording of your question, though, makes it almost impossible for them to say so.
Only a customer who’s already very unhappy with your company is likely to answer the above question by saying, ‘I didn’t.’ That relates to one further danger of customer feedback to keep in mind.
That’s that many customers will – either consciously or unconsciously – try to tell you what they think you want to hear. This can be a particular problem if you offer rewards or incentives in exchange for feedback. Being aware of this danger is the first step to avoiding it.
Other steps you can take are simple yet effective. Try to stress to customers how important accurate feedback is. You can even go as far as to tell them that you most want to hear any criticisms, as that’s how you can improve your service. Then, avoid the kinds of dodgy questions described above, and the quality of your feedback will be much higher.
Remember You’re Talking to Real People
When asking questions, it is essential to remember you’re talking to a person. It’s easy to get bogged down in practicalities. To forget that asking for feedback is at its heart, the same as having a conversation.
You’re asking a customer to give over their precious time to help you out. They’re more likely to do so if you make a genuine connection with them. Customer communication is always about building trust. It’s even more pertinent when you’re asking for rather than offering something.
It’s easy to ignore an impersonal and formal feedback request. However, it’s less likely that a customer would shut down someone genuinely trying to start a dialogue with them. At the very least, you should ensure that you use their name. In an ideal world, it’s great also to tailor the questions you ask to their individual experience with a firm.
That way, they’ll feel like you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say. This is important. Customer feedback should not be about going through the motions; that would be a waste of everybody’s time.
How to Ask For Customer Feedback
With your preparation done, you can start thinking about the different ways to ask for feedback. There are plenty of options to choose from. Some will work better for certain businesses than others. The following six are alternatives, which often deliver great feedback results.
1. Email Surveys
Email surveys are the route that most companies go down. They’re easy to set up, and much of the process of asking for feedback this way can be automated. That’s handy if you don’t have much time to devote to the task.
There are two main ways to go with email surveys. You could send out messages with links to a full survey you’ve built for the purpose. Tools like SurveyMonkey and others are great for that. Your other choice is to ask a customer for a direct reply to your emails, sharing their thoughts.
The former option helps you get feedback, often at scale, to specific questions. The latter gives customers a bit more freedom to share their insights. Collating and processing the feedback takes more time and effort, however.
Whatever type of email survey you opt for, try to keep things short and sweet. You need to keep your customer’s attention. At least for as long as it takes for them to send their feedback into you. The average human attention, after all, is only around eight seconds.
2. Feedback Forms
It’s also a good idea to give customers the chance to offer feedback while they’re on your site. You can achieve this by including feedback forms on your pages. Keep them unobtrusive but evident to customers, and you may be surprised how many choose to use them.
You have a couple of choices as to the shape these feedback forms can take. They could be quite like a survey. You might choose a couple of questions that pop up when a customer clicks or taps the feedback option. Otherwise, you may decide to give customers free rein to tell you whatever they wish.
Either way, feedback forms should be very relevant to the pages on which you feature them. Don’t try to get a customer to fill out a full survey when what they want is to offer feedback on one aspect of one product. That’s a sure-fire way to persuade them to look elsewhere.
3. Speak on the Phone or in Person
The way we communicate, in business and our private lives, has changed hugely in recent years. Social media, instant messaging, and even email are all relatively new communications channels. There are still people who prefer the personal touch. That’s why all businesses still have a traditional landline or VoIP system in their office.
Asking for customer feedback over the phone or in-person is often undervalued. It takes time and effort but can deliver far better results than other methods of customer outreach. That’s because, with those other methods of communication, you miss out on context and emotion.
Only by speaking to someone can you get a full sense of how they feel about your business. They might say the same things as they’d write in an email. If you listen, you’ll get a better sense of which of those things that matter to them. That helps you prioritize your responses to their comments.
4. Feedback Through Reward Programs
As mentioned earlier, many customers are reluctant to provide feedback. People are busy and have other priorities than helping out a firm they’ve bought something from. Running reward programs linked to your search for feedback can help overcome this.
The idea is pretty simple. You email your customers and ask them for their thoughts on your business and products. Rather than leave it at that, you give them an incentive for providing feedback. That might be a prize or money off a future purchase in exchange for feedback.
You could even link your search for feedback with referral marketing. Promote the prize or reward you’re offering as if it’s a giveaway. Frame the request for feedback as merely a way for customers to take part. You get your feedback, as well as the significant benefits that a top viral giveaway can deliver.
5. Social Media Polls
There are more than 3.4 billion worldwide users of social media in 2019. Whatever your personal opinions of social networks, as a business, it’s foolish to ignore them. Social media polls are an informal and fun way to ask for customer feedback and get it almost instantly.
Pretty much all the major social networks now let you post polls. Your followers can then vote in them with just a click or a tap. They’ll be keen to do so, too, as that’s the only way for them to see how others have voted. These polls are great for getting customers engaged with your brand. What they don’t do is get you the same kind of comprehensive feedback as other methods on this list.
6. Usability Tests
It’s perhaps a stretch to include usability tests in a guide to how to ask for customer feedback. They don’t involve you asking customers anything. What they do give you are the same crucial insights into the strengths and weaknesses of your products or services.
The idea of usability tests is a straightforward one. You round up a focus group of people representative of your customers. You then watch them use your website, service, or product. That lets you see what makes them happy and what they don’t like so much. It helps you identify the things you need to change to make your offering to customers better.
After the Feedback Process
Once you’ve got your customer feedback, there are a few other things to keep in mind. First, you should always show your gratitude to the customers who provided it. At the very least, have a thank you email which goes out after any feedback is submitted. Aside from just being good manners, it’s a great way to bolster your relationship with those customers further.
You don’t have to leave it at that. If customer feedback led to you making substantive changes, let those customers who provided it know. If the input were negative, they’d be happy to see you’ve acted to rectify the issue they flagged up. It might even persuade them to give you their business again when they wouldn’t otherwise have done so.
What do you think about customer feedback? Do you find customer feedback as a valuable asset to a business? Let us know in the comments.
Bio: Sam O’Brien is the Senior Website Optimisation & User Experience Manager for EMEA at RingCentral, a global VOIP provider. You can connect with him on LinkedIn. Sam has a passion for innovation and loves exploring ways to collaborate more with dispersed teams.