How to dine out on excellent customer feedback

This article originally appeared on Telegraph.

Receiving customer feedback really is vital for an SME. As business owners, we tend to make decisions based on a combination of instinct, assumptions and results-based data. Data will reveal what has happened and highlight a problem, but cannot explain why the problem has occurred. Imagine you see a drop in website traffic. The data shows this but doesn’t explain why. It is only when you talk to your users that you learn that a competitor has undercut your price.

You need to regularly talk to your users. Make it an important part of your weekly agenda. The best way to make decisions is to combine your entrepreneurial instinct and strategy with the results of your data and your customers’ feedback. Feedback can be the most valuable yet difficult asset to secure; so many companies simply don’t bother. Successful companies are those who include user feedback as part of their strategy; they have an established channel and process to communicate with their customers.

There are many established techniques to encourage user feedback. These include:

1. Personal contact

You need to have personal contact with your customers, to talk to them and ask them to give you their brutally honest feedback.

Ideally you should meet them in person but if this is not possible try to talk with them on Skype. Don’t ask closed, yes or no questions such as: “Did you like the product?” This will give limited results and not permit an insight into your customers’ psychology. Instead, ask: “What didn’t you like about the product?” “How could we improve it?” Use customer feedback to understand the problems, not to reinforce what you want to hear or already believe.

When you launch a new product, you may not yet have any customers at all, so it could be more difficult to get feedback. In this instance, it’s useful to be based in the same location as your potential new customers. For example, if you’re launching a new piece of software, it helps to be based in London’s tech hub. Alternatively, if you’re launching an app to help students, you could visit your nearest campus and demonstrate it there so you can invite immediate feedback.

Even if you are an established company, it’s also useful to talk to people who are not yet your customers, to obtain a fresh, unbiased viewpoint.

2. Surveys

Surveys are a great way of securing customer feedback. They’re easy to set up, easy to send out, easy to analyse and scale very well.

Arguably, the most popular survey tools are SurveyMonkey and Qualaroo. Use the software to understand what attendees thought about your recent event or how your pilot group viewed your product demo. You can simply set up a survey and send out the link to all of your customers quickly and easily. Remember though to keep the questions short and open-ended.

3. User opinion

With UserVoice, customers are able to suggest ideas about products and services, and vote for them, offering valuable feedback. It’s vital though that customers feel that they are being heard and so in turn, business owners should always reply and make each participant feel that their opinion is valued — which it should be.

The biggest mistake you can make is to have a user feedback tool in place or ask your users to give you feedback, and then not listen at all to them. It will become a boomerang to you

4. Usability testing

What if you could watch someone actually use your product or website? If you could see which sections they’re drawn to, what features they spend most time focusing on, what catches their eye, and where they get confused. That kind of information is invaluable.

There are services such as Usertesting.com or Trymyui which can give you exactly that. Simply define a task which you’d like someone to complete, ask a person to trial it, and receive a recording of the entire process.

5. Social Listening

Listening through social media can prove particularly useful for gathering candid feedback from customers. I refer to this method as “social listening” because direct comments or mentions on social networks aren’t the only way for your business to receive feedback. So you need to gather, manage and analyse anything that is being discussed about your product or organisation on social media platforms or in forums.

Ignoring customer feedback can be as dangerous as following it blindly. Bear in mind that there is often a lot of noise surrounding feedback. Become embroiled in it and you will find that you cannot end up doing precisely nothing. Stick to your strategy and complement it with data and user feedback.

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