Getting customer feedback

The customer is always right, apparently. So it follows that listening to your customers and finding out exactly what they want is a sure-fire way of improving your product or service and consequently boosting revenue. But sadly, it is not usually that simple.

For instance, asking customers specifically what functionality they would like to see in a product can be a dangerous game. Even though they are the end users, clients are not usually design experts. The classic worst-case scenario is when a company goes to its customers and says, ‘tell us, what the next version of our product should be like?’ The customers tell the company, the company makes the product and then, mysteriously, the customers fail to buy the product. What went wrong?

Customers may know what they want but they often have no idea how to make it happen. For a more useful and relevant response, it is better to ask what customers want the product to do, what they will get out of it. Once you know that, it is down to you to work out how to deliver it, be it through a design change to a product or an alternative way of delivering the service.

Get in touch with feelings

You might think that quantifying the thoughts and feelings of customers is a tall order (after all, how do you measure feelings?) and you would be right. However, it can make all the difference when it comes to tailoring a product to needs and wants.

The issues you need to address include how strongly consumers feel about your product compared to a competitor’s; what emotions are associated with the product (for example, respect, trust, comfort, pleasure); what factors dictate their preferences; and how prone they are to switching to another brand.

Can I ask you a personal question?

Finding out the answers to these issues can involve asking some fairly strange questions. For instance, how would you describe your relationship with our brand? a) like a close friend, b) like a parent, c) like a sibling, d) like an acquaintance. Other questions can involve asking what personality types are associated with the brand: introvert or extrovert; impulsive or considered. The answers to these questions can help shape a picture of the customer, which in turn should inform decisions on changing (or not changing) the product or service. To add further complication to an already knotty problem, the order in which questions are asked (in person or via questionnaire) can also have a bearing on the answers given.

DIY or outside help?

This is clearly a difficult process and a great deal depends on how results are interpreted and acted upon.

For this reason it may be preferable to employ an experienced and reputable market research firm; obviously a more expensive option but potentially a more reliably rewarding one.

Whether doing it yourself or outsourcing, it’s key to ensure that the research is accurate, usable and understandable. It is also worth bearing in mind that people are fickle and what they think today may not hold true in a year’s time.

Address negative feedback immediately to protect your business

As director of the painting and decorating division of construction company Axis Europe, Joe Ibrahim wanted to find a way of measuring how his business was performing and created a customer feedback programme as one way of finding out.

‘We devised a questionnaire for clients and we kept it tightly focused on the areas we wanted to measure,’ he explains. ’One question, for example, was, “Did the painters tidy up to your satisfaction?” The possible answers we offered clients were simple: either “yes” or “no” or a satisfaction rating which ranged from one to ten and used faces going from scowls to smiles.

‘Any strong negative feedback is immediately investigated, but otherwise we look at all the feedback from the jobs we’ve done half-yearly, present the findings on pie charts and search for any trends.’

The responses have not all been complimentary. Initially around a third of Axis’ clients said contractors were not tidying up enough after themselves, so this was addressed as a matter of urgency.

To use feedback as a way of improving the division, Ibrahim has monthly meetings with staff where they discuss customer satisfaction, performance and where the company is going.

For anyone setting up their own feedback project, Ibrahim suggests starting simply and developing your methods as you go along. ‘You won’t get everything right straight away, but you should always address negative feedback immediately as it can actually win business for you in the long term. Make it as easy as possible for customers to provide feedback, but don’t be disappointed when not everyone is keen to; 30 per cent is a good return.’

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