I recently completed an experiment to test whether one type of technology would influence the volume and quality of customer feedback three retail businesses received. I placed physical comment boxes in each store, then hung signs that invited customers to send feedback via text message. After four weeks, the trial was a total dud. We didn’t generate much feedback at all, and the comments we did receive were not all that helpful.

I knew that this wasn’t a testament against the value of customer feedback, but rather a failure in implementation. I was conducting research for a software buyers’ guide, so I called CustomerSure to figure out where I went wrong. I learned several ways I could have made the test more successful and realize the full potential of the feedback I wanted to receive. Here’s what I learned:

1: Stay in Tune with Customer Needs

One of the biggest mistakes I made while devising my experiment was just thinking about things from the companies’ point of view – only thinking about what they would get from the feedback. For example, they could identify staff that might need more training, or areas of the store that needed improving.

While these are useful insights, I learned from CustomerSure that customer feedback shouldn’t just be viewed in terms of “what’s in it for the company.” After all, you are asking people to take time out of their day to give you something, so you need to return the favor.

This was one of the main reasons we weren’t able to generate much feedback in our experiment. The customers didn’t see any benefit in it for them. If staff on the floor had verbally told customers that their feedback would be used to implement changes, they might have been more inclined to participate. For example, they could have said something like:

“We want to know what we can do to make your experience better. We are collecting ideas from our customers, and will implement changes based on the most popular ideas.”

2: Increase Retention, Loyalty and Positive Word of Mouth

Staying in tune with your customers’ needs also increases your customer retention and satisfaction. Just the act of asking them for their advice demonstrates to them that you care, but you must also follow through with your promise.

Staying with my previous example, say the retailers in my experiment explained the benefits of leaving feedback to the customers, and as a result they received a flood of requests from customers for a new product line they weren’t offering. If the stores decided then to start selling that brand, it’s in their interest to let the customers know they had made this change.

For example, they could post a Facebook update about how their customers voted to add this brand, and tag each person that provided the feedback. This shows all customers that the company both values and responds to customer needs. This not only increases your customer loyalty and retention potential, it creates a post that others can easily share to spread positive word of mouth.

3: Uncover Bad Customer Experiences and Correct Them

Customer feedback shouldn’t just be used as a data set. It can also uncover bad experiences in the moment, and provide an opportunity to correct them.

Think, of eating at a restaurant. A good waiter will ask a few minutes after receiving your meal whether everything arrived okay, and if there’s anything else they can do to improve the experience. If your order was wrong or cold, you can let them know at that moment and the waiter can correct the issue. This would not be the case if the restaurant asked as you while walking out the door, or emailed you a week later. Sure, you could still let them know about the cold food, but they can’t actually do anything about it.

This same concept extends beyond the dining experience. In my experiment, for example, one comment we did receive in a text message said, “no one talked to me the whole time I was in the store.” The manager could have responded at that moment apologizing and emphasizing that that’s not how they want their customers to be treated. Then, he could have provided a coupon, or other incentive to come back and allow them to correct that experience.

How has your company capitalized on the potential of customer feedback? Chime into the conversation with a comment here.

Ashley Verrill is a software analyst for Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. Currently, her research focuses on various topics related to CRM software, sales, customer service and marketing strategy.

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