Customer Feedback: How To Ask For And Implement It

A detailed look at why you should collect customer feedback, what to ask for and how to use that feedback to grow your business, by giving customers more of what they want without guessing.

Customer Feedback

Running a small business can seem like a never-ending guessing game, especially when it comes to figuring out what your clients are thinking.

You’re an entrepreneur, not a mind reader. So, I’m sure these questions seem all too familiar:

  • Will my customers like our new product?
  • What do they think I should change about my services?
  • How would they rate my business and customer service?

You aren’t the only business owner losing sleep mulling over these questions.

But what would you say if I told you there’s one basic principle that will give you the answer to all of those questions? It’s not a gimmick, just a simple thought shared by many in the industry:

Whoever Gets Closest To The Customer Wins

Think Uber and Lyft over taxis, or Amazon over an in-store shopping experience. These companies learned what their customers actually wanted (not what they thought they wanted) and made it easier for them to get it.

Figuring out what your customers want from you starts with asking them for feedback.

“When you’re trying to make an important decision and you’re sort of divided on the issue, ask yourself: if the customer were here, what would she say?”- Dharmesh Shah, HubSpot CTO and founder

You need to ask for customer feedback to figure out what’s working, what’s not and how you can improve your products if you want to be successful over the long term.

Collecting customer feedback is easy – you just need to know what to ask and how to ask — and what to do with their feedback once you have it.

Why Customer Feedback Is Important

For those who actually want to succeed and move their business forward, collecting customer feedback has to be a major part of your strategy, because it gives you valuable insights into what your customers think about products, services, customer service and more.

Here are some of the key benefits to collecting and acting on customer feedback:

  • It helps you build trust and relationships with your customers (I can’t overstate how important this is)
  • It engages them and keeps them as customers longer
  • It brings complaints and issues to your attention (so you have a chance to fix them)
  • It helps you collect testimonials for marketing (this isn’t the main focus, but it’s an added bonus)

Segment Your Customers First

“The worst thing you can do is communicate with all of your customers at once or do something like say, ‘Hey, we’re taking feedback. That’s unqualified feedback. You’re mixing in long-term, passionate customers with people who signed up yesterday.” — Des Traynor, Intercom co-founder

In other words, not all feedback is created equally. You need to segment your customer base and make sure you ask them the right questions at the right stage in their customer journey.

For example, you wouldn’t ask all of your customers about their purchasing experience, because what if they bought from you 3 years ago? They wouldn’t even remember the experience.

Similarly, you shouldn’t ask customers who bought yesterday whether they love your customer support – because they probably haven’t even needed help yet.

Pay careful consideration to which group of customers you’d like to collect feedback from and make sure you ask them questions that are relevant to them today.

Get ‘Em While They’re Hot

There’s no better time than the present, and that couldn’t be more true than when it comes to your customer feedback. You don’t want to wait a few weeks to ask a site visitor if they had a question while they were scrolling through your services list. That opportunity is gone.

Or, if they are reading a few of your blogs, don’t you want to ask them right then and there if they found the content useful, instead of days later when they probably don’t remember? Timing is everything when it comes to getting reliable, beneficial customer feedback, which is why more and more companies are adding pop-ups and live chats to their sites.

We’ve all seen them: pop-up messages or slide-in CTAs that appear as we scroll through an article or open a new page. Why not put these tools to good use and ask your customers a question or encourage them to fill out a survey? You can even offer them an incentive to give feedback like a free downloadable whitepaper.

An even more instant option, live chats are a great way to get the conversation started in real time. While live chats are an ideal outlet for customers to ask you questions, you can also use this feature to send a few their way. Maybe the chat box pops up when they visit your site and asks how they found your business or what they are looking for. It’s like a two-for-one sale where you can improve their experience and collect feedback.

But if the idea of finding time to manage a “live” feature makes you break out in a cold sweat, take a deep breath: It’s not as overwhelming as it might seem. You can set chat availability times that fit around your team’s schedule, and you can also spread out the responsibility of responding to different employees. We live in an instant society, so do your best to make sure your business can keep up.

Approaching Customer Feedback The Right Way

Similar to quick pop-up questions, you can also gauge what customers think about your business with a feedback tool that helps you calculate your net promoter score (NPS) — or the number of customers who highly rank your business and, hence, are considered promoters.

Place a box or sidebar with a graph that goes from 1 to 10 (or 10 smiley faces ranging in emotions if you’re feeling animated), and ask, “How likely would you be to recommend us to your friends?”.

That question can be tweaked, but you get the point. A customer choice of anything lower than eight or nine warrants some sort of follow up with the customer — whether it’s an immediate pop-up box or email — asking what you could have done better.

Remember, a number only tells you so much. It doesn’t actually help you identify the customer’s problem: It just shows you there is one. These are especially useful deeper in your site, like on a service, check-out or blog pages. That helps eliminate results from passersby who just landed on your homepage and don’t truly know your brand.

Let Your Fingers Do the Talking

The average office worker receives 121 emails a day, so if you’re going to send them another one, it better be worth their time — or it’s going straight to the trash, or worse, blocked as spam.

Emails can be a great way to get feedback from your customers. You can start with a welcome email as soon as you earn their coveted email address showing there’s a person behind the brand. Think about it like a first date: You want to learn about them without scaring them off with your mint-condition Star Wars collection. After thanking them for connecting and giving them a little info on what they can expect from you (ex. weekly newsletters, customer discounts, etc.), open the line of communication for feedback.

It can be as easy as closing out the email with a question like, “What are your goals?” or “Why did you sign up?” Make sure they know these aren’t rhetorical and you actually want them to respond. Emails are also useful feedback tools for more established customers, either as a check-in to make sure they are still happy with everything or to get their responses to specific questions.

No matter the reason for the message, use a conversational tone with your emails. And yes, that starts with your subject line. Every message you send is an opportunity to show your company’s personality (or lack thereof).

Check out these tips on making your writing sound less like, well, writing. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best days to send emails, according to HubSpot’s survey on open rates. To increase your chance of getting a response from your emails, send them at 11 a.m. ET — catching people during their lunch breaks.

Focus Groups and Calls

Do you feel like your customer feedback is lacking that personal touch? As more communication nowadays comes in the form of digital gifs and emojis, you might be missing some direct contact with customers through a focus group or phone call.

These options can take more time and effort to plan and execute, but they can also give you some of the best results. Here are some tips for both:

  • Keep focus groups to a manageable number of attendees (preferably less than 12) so you can address each individual’s concerns and actually take something away from the event, instead of feeling like you’re herding cats.
  • You should also tell each participant how long it will take: Anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour is manageable for both sides.
  • Instead of paying people to participate, which can possibly skew their responses (and cost you extra), offer them a free lunch or maybe a company swag bag.

Also, don’t miss the chance to make the most from your focus group and reach even more customers. For example, you can tweet responses from it, record the event and post videos on your site or social media pages.

Not only does that show other customers you are involved and proactively listening, but it also gives your business an added layer of transparency. Just make sure the participants sign a waiver that they can be featured in your marketing materials.

If picking up the phone is more your style, schedule a time to call and chat with customers — because no one likes getting a cold call. Have a short list of questions you want to go over, and let them know it will only take a few minutes.

As someone who has done too many phone interviews to count, here’s my number one tip: always close out the call asking if there’s anything else they wanted to share.

9 times out of 10, this is when you’re going to get the kind of feedback that’s critical to improving your business. They normally start out with, “No, there’s nothing else, except for…” – and that’s when you get the kind of feedback you’re after.

Remember: you aren’t just trying to collect feedback with these methods. You’re building invaluable relationships with customers, as well.

Ask the Right Questions

The go-to feedback tool for many business, surveys, can return a huge amount of information when used correctly. The type and size of the survey you decide on will mostly depend on your audience, what information you’re trying to collect and how you’ll distribute the survey.

Here are two options to consider:

    • Short web survey: These small boxes are a favorite of news sites, but they can be used in any industry. Simply write a question (ex. “Did you find this blog helpful?”), list multiple-choice answers (Yes, No, Slightly) and pick a page on your site to add the survey. While not a must, people like it when you show the question’s results after they answer, so they can see how they compare to others. It also gives them incentive to answer your question.
    • Email link to survey: Create a survey and email them them the link so they can fill it out. Make sure you explain why you’re sending them the survey, what it’s about and that you appreciate their help.

If you’re giving out gift cards or some other incentive for people to take your survey, you can get away with your survey being a bit longer. But for the most part, you want to keep it as short as possible. Ten questions or less is a great goal.

Brainstorm what type of topics you want to focus on with the survey — like your website’s usability, products or the overall customer experience.

The main focus of collecting the feedback can be as specific as you want. Don’t waste their time with unimportant questions or ones that are too ambiguous. There shouldn’t be any room for interpretation because that can skew your results.

Here are some example survey questions you can use to gather customer feedback:

  • How did you hear about us? That tells you what channels (ex. Facebook, organic search, word of mouth, etc.) are working best so you can put more resources toward those.
  • What do you like about our product/service? It not only tells you what you’re doing well but also what the customer values.
  • What can we do better? This question can garner you some of the most valuable information. Responses can range from a disgruntled customer to one who has a new idea for improving the experience they have with your business.
  • What’s your biggest struggle? You can personalize that question to your industry and even give them multiple-choice answers (with an “other” option). For example, if you’re a marketing company looking to get feedback from clients about their struggles, some of their possible responses might be converting and getting leads, finding the “right” customers or setting their business apart from the rest. Once you know what your customers need help with, you can show how your services or products are the solution. You can also get plenty of blog ideas from these answers.

Put yourself in your client’s shoes and see what questions they’d be happy to answer and don’t require too much thought on their part. They are much more likely to respond if the questions are to the point and related to their specific experience with you.

For example, you wouldn’t ask someone if they liked your product when they haven’t purchased anything from you yet.

You also need to think about your time when creating a form or survey. It will take more time to read through answers that aren’t multiple choice or rankings.

Of course, some responses need detailed answers where multiple choice answers won’t cut it, but you probably don’t want the entire survey to be open answers unless you’re just reaching out to a smaller group of customers.

Remember that customer feedback shouldn’t be a one-way form of communication where you simply receive their input. Your customers want to know that you care about what they’re saying and most would love to receive some sort of response at least thanking them personally for their feedback.

Your customers are investing some of their precious time to help your business, you know?

Simply saying you’ll use their feedback to improve your services and you’ll get back to them soon (if they have a complaint or need a reply) will go a long way and also increase your response rate.

Just make sure you follow through with what you promise.

Now What?

Your inbox, site and brain are all overflowing with customer feedback. Congrats! But if simply collecting the information is all you are going to do, then you might as well not even start. That might sound harsh, but actually putting the feedback to good use is the whole point of gathering it in the first place. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but you’d be surprised how little business owners do with the intel they receive.

Take The Good With The Bad

For starters, respond to your customers, especially if they have an issue or something that needs to be resolved. If you take a while to respond (or even worse, never respond), it’s only going to confirm their negative thoughts about your company.

Start by thanking the customer for sharing their concerns and letting them know you take their feedback seriously. Then, see if there’s something you can do that would remedy their problem.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” — Bill Gates

But make sure you don’t just read through and respond to the not-so-nice feedback: take off your rose-tinted glasses and actually do something with it.

Ask yourself:

  • Is this an issue that affects other customers?
  • How can it be eliminated to reduce future churn?

Basically your aim is to make sure the same problems don’t happen to other customers in the future.

It’s Time To Get Personal

Think about the companies whose products or services you love. Do you feel they understand your needs? You’d probably say yes to most of them, right?

Well,  here’s their secret: they know you and they know what you need.

That might sound a bit creepy, but it’s how successful companies give you the targeted content, products and services you like.

It takes time to really understand who your core customers are, but it’s definitely worth it.

If you’ve ever wondered why companies ask you questions at the end of their surveys about your age, sex, work title, location, etc, that’s because they’re trying to build their “customer persona” – and also so they can segment their customers based on those who spend the most.

They also really want to relate to their customers, too, and that should be one of your goals. If you understand what your customers need BEFORE they need it, you’ve won.

The more info you can gather on a customer, the better. Building a buyer persona (a representation of your ideal customer based on data) requires gathering feedback about their personal and work background, along with their goals, preferences and struggles.

Once you know who your customer is, you can better position your products and services to be what they need.

And really, isn’t that the whole point of collecting customer feedback in the first place?

Wordsmith for Fieldboom. Interviewed by Jay Leno. Award-winning writer. Crime show junky. Animal lover. #SocialMedia guru.

  • Sarah Evans

    Great post Lauren, especially the part about taking the good with the bad. Even if you get bad feedback, at least you can use it to improve and get better. Thanks for taking the time to write this!

    • Lauren Heartsill Dowdle

      Thanks so much, Sarah! I’m glad you found the post useful. I completely agree: The best companies are the ones that take time to learn from negative feedback. Thanks!

  • Great insights here. So important to get feedback, and just as important (if not even more so), to do something with it once you have it.

    • Lauren Heartsill Dowdle

      Glad you liked the piece! You’re right on point: Customer feedback is only helpful if you use it.

  • Ashish Jain

    Great insights Lauren. We always consider negative inputs as a great source to self improvisation..!!