Is Your Customer Feedback Working for You?

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Asking for customer feedback is essential to keeping your company in touch with the people who buy your products and services, or may become customers in the future. In our social media age, customer response is easier and cheaper to acquire than ever before (a previous post discussed this in detail). However, simply asking for ideas or level of satisfaction may not be the best way to get the information you need.

With so many opportunities to engage with customers and gather their thoughts and opinions, there are certain pitfalls to be avoided. Not all customer feedback is created equal, so I want to talk about how to maximize the effect of your interactions with customers. In order for feedback to be productive, it's important to keep a few things in mind.

1. Don't Rely on Consumers For Innovation

Most consumers are notoriously unimaginative. Just look at the house hunters on HGTV who reject a beautiful home because they don't like the wallpaper or the paint color. According to Jeff Dyer, an innovation strategist and contributor to Entrepreneur, asking your customers for innovation (i.e., what they'd like to see as a new product) is unlikely to return a viable idea. While consumers may be thrilled with the idea your R&D department comes up with to solve their problem, thinking outside of the box and coming up with a marketable idea themselves is something most consumers just aren't trained to do.

How many times have you heard the phrase, "that's not the way we've always done it"? This type of thinking, called "functional fixedness" in psychological circles, acts as a roadblock with most people and keeps them from finding a solution to a perceived problem. For companies looking for useful feedback from the customers, this means you should ask about problems, rather than solutions.

2. Ask About Problems Instead of Solutions

When you ask customers about the problems they are having with items in your industry, you'll likely get a deluge of information. If you own a heating and cooling company, perhaps customers would like a filter that doesn't have to be changed so often. If you own a bakery, perhaps your customers are looking for baked goods with organic ingredients. Once you're armed with this information, it's easier to come up with a solution that will delight your customers.

Jeff Dyer's Entrepreneur article cites the example of a large company — Proctor and Gamble — employing a "fly on the wall" approach for getting more useful customer feedback. They watched consumers while they were doing their laundry to learn what detergent problems they would like solved. In doing so, they learned more about their customers' behavior and the impediments they encountered and were able to adjust their product to solve these problems.

3. Improve Your Customer Feedback

Customer response isn't always about what's next. Sometimes you need feedback on a current product or service in order to fine-tune it or discover the best ways to promote it to prospective customers. In these cases, interacting with existing customers is vital. So is knowing which questions to ask, and even more importantly, how to ask them.

In a recent article for Entrepreneur, contributor Chuck Cohn offers these three strategies to maximize the effect of your customer feedback (which I've customized):

  • Ask Questions that Delve Deeper
    Cohn recommends that you "Ask both rating-oriented and open-ended questions that specifically focus on why individuals chose your product or service. Multiple-choice questions or rating systems make quantification easy but can reflect your assumptions, whereas free-response questions can provide surprising insights that you may not have thought to ask about." In targeting the information that you want, you may accidentally bias the information that you receive, so a mix of specific and open-ended questions gives customers the ability to respond with what's important to them.
     
  • Invite Customers To Tell A Story About Their Experience
    Storytelling provides valuable context about customer feedback that may otherwise be missing. It also allows customers to emotionally engage with your product in a way that can provide fresh and compelling information. Stories also make for great testimonials and promotional material.
    Prompts that include both why your product or service was chosen and how it is used will lead to responses that are valuable both for future product development and current marketing and product placement efforts. 
     
  • Ask Specific Follow-Up Questions
    Cohn writes "When it’s clear that a customer has had a pleasant experience, pinpoint specific elements that pleased him or her. For instance, if an individual says he or she enjoyed the meal, ask about his or her favorite part. Perhaps it was the food itself or maybe it was the ambience of the restaurant or the attentiveness of the staff."

    These follow-up questions allow you to get to the heart of your customers experience. What really differentiates your product or service from others? What is the best piece of value you provide? What is the biggest impediment to the success of your product? To answer these questions, you have to prompt your customer in a targeted manner.

4. Ask and You Shall Receive

In my experience, people love to be asked their opinion. Soliciting customer feedback gives your customers the opportunity to share their thoughts and understand their value to your business. That dialogue creates a lasting bond with your brand.

Reach out and engage with your customers, and I bet you'll be surprised at how much you learn. By asking the right questions in the right ways, you can drive innovation, solve problems, create lasting relationships with your customers, and gain valuable insight on how to acquire more. I hope these tips encourage you to reach out and make your customer feedback work for you! As always, please give me feedback by commenting or tweeting @eidsonpartners.

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