Part IV: Using Slow Times to Delve into Customer Feedback

In the 1980’s the Mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, became known for his constant refrain, “How am I doing?” He knew that consistently checking in with constituents was key to his success. The same rule applies to businesses. Most organizations have no idea what their customers really think of them. A 2009 study done by the Chief Marketing Officer Council showed that 38 percent of companies tracked did not use any method of gaining customer feedback. They simply assume that if business is good, customers are happy. That assumption is the biggest mistake a business can make. Profit might be exponentially better if that feedback were received. This is particularly important in tight economic times, when competition is fierce.

If your business or department isn’t already engaged in a process of customer feedback and improvement, now is the time to start. If you are already doing it, there are several ways to make it better. Consider five options:

  1. Time sensitive surveys. Make sure your customers receive a survey at the time of service, if possible. Studies show a much lower return rate of surveys after a time lapse. That means either having a hard copy survey customers complete on premises, or sending one electronically within 24 hours of the service. The surveys should be user-friendly. A simple scoring system with no more than three open ending questions works well.
  2. The perfection question. If you only have one open-ended question on your survey, make sure it is about what it would take to make your service or product perfect. This shows the customer that you are striving for the absolute best, and it gives you some very important feedback.
  3. Verbal information. There is nothing like face-to-face communication. The surveys are a systematic way of gathering information over time, but there is also great value in simply asking people when they are on the phone or in front of you about their experience. Informal feedback can often be the most telling. Front line people should be asked to inquire about the customer experience. More importantly, don’t settle for a yes/no question like “Did you find everything you needed today?” Instead, try something like, “How was your experience with us?” or “What could we have done to make your experience even better?”
  4. Use your surveys. Many organizations have surveys, but don’t use them in a meaningful way. Someone from the organization should be assigned to track the feedback on a monthly basis to see if scores are increasing, and to look for themes that come up in the customer experience. This information must be shared with all staff at a monthly meeting. It is extremely useful to have departments come up with a goal or ideal score they are seeking. That way, they have something to shoot for. It is critical to actually follow through and make the changes that customers suggest (if you agree with them). It is a good idea to dedicate about 10 minutes of your monthly meetings to improving customer experience based on the surveys and informal feedback.
  5. Communicate changes. It’s not enough to actually make the changes. You have to let customers know you have done the job. Imagine how great it would feel to you if you took the time to complete a survey, and then received a personal message from the manager thanking you and explaining how they have incorporated your idea. That’s an excellent way to reinforce customer loyalty.

In sum, there is no better person to help your business grow than your customer. The best thing about them is that you don’t have to hire them to consult for you – all you have to do is ask, and do it regularly and systematically. Then, your job is to use it to get the most out of your product and service.