THE customer is the lifeline for any business and it is critical for all businesses to find a way to listen to their customers. Are they satisfied with the product or service? What can be done to serve them better? Gaining customer feedback will help answer such questions.

All customer feedback should be treasured — both positive and negative. Positive feedback is typically given by satisfied customers, who are strong advocates of your product or service. With a little encouragement, these customers can become brand ambassadors, who will encourage friends and family to try your products and services.

However, negative feedback — more commonly known as customer complaints — is also highly valuable. It identifies a problem with your business, and gives you the opportunity to perform service recovery, where you try to win the unhappy customer over.

Most customers are willing to give businesses a second chance if you are able to resolve their complaint and show genuine concern.

Find a way to convert this feedback into new sales. For example, with proper service recovery, you can transform an upset customer into one who is willing to try again.

Businesses can give satisfied customers promotions to encourage repeat purchases or referrals. Customer feedback can also be used to monitor employee performance. Reward staff who receive positive feedback to further motivate them, and intensively train employees who receive negative feedback.

 

Traditional ways to collect feedback

Now you understand the importance of feedback, let us explore how to gather it. The most direct way is to talk to the customer. This usually elicits sincere responses and engages the customer better. A good example of this is when the manager of a restaurant chats to diners and asks them if they are happy with the food.

However, this is resource-intensive and may not be possible during peak hours. Furthermore in Asia, some customers may dislike direct confrontation and tend not to be so truthful.

Avoid these problems with written feedback forms, which are easier to implement and allow customers to voice their comments, without pressure.

The disadvantage of paper forms is that someone needs to manually integrate all feedback into one centralised system. It can also be logistically difficult to gather feedback, in addition to being environmentally unfriendly.

To ease any operational hassles, business with larger budgets can seek assistance from a marketing research company. This includes mystery shopper programmes where trained professionals visit different retail outlets to gauge service levels.

External consultants provide unbiased results, which give a comprehensive snapshot of the business’s performance. The downside is that their analysis reflects the performance at one point in time.

So if business performance varies significantly over the year, you will need assistance multiple times, which can be expensive.

 

Leveraging on technology

The technology era has introduced more effective ways to gather feedback. E-mail or website feedback forms have all the benefits of written forms, without too many of the troubles. However, experience shows that less than 1 per cent of customers will provide feedback this way.

Social media channels are another great way to increase customer engagement and, if you have savvy staff, this can be done at a relatively low cost. But social media is a double-edged sword. All complaints are shared on public domains, and customer complaints are more likely to go viral than compliments.

There are also a range of technological innovations, including Google forms, where data is exported onto spreadsheets for analysis, and Survey Monkey or Polldaddy, where surveys are collected via computers and mobile devices.

While these tools are useful in generating forms or surveys, they may not necessarily be effective in gathering customer feedback. A new tool like “triibe”, for example, allows customers to provide feedback via their computers or mobile devices.

A simple customisable form allows the customer to provide rankings in areas such as product and service quality, service and overall experience. Qualitative feedback is also encouraged, and any negative feedback is highlighted to the manager for service recovery.

An effective feedback tool can tabulate all data for easy analysis, enable business performance monitoring and generate leads. A clever strategy is to reward customers for giving feedback through discounts on current or future purchases.

Whichever method you choose, remember that “good businesses listen to feedback. Great ones act on it”.

 

Article by Chua Chun Kiat, co-founder of triibe, a technology solution supported by NUS Enterprise that effectively collects and analyses customer feedback. For more information, visit www.trii.be/