In our continuing series on how to Prepare for the Upswing, we discuss several low cost options for inclusion in a customer feedback loop. Recession or not, gathering customer feedback is always a great idea as the best companies are distinguished by exceptional customer service. During a recession when there are fewer disposable dollars, small business owners may question whether general economic trends or business specific issues are keeping customers away from spending. Here are a few suggestions to adopt which can answer your questions as well as help you prepare for the coming growth cycle:
1. Customer Surveys: While you can ask as many questions as you like, ultimately the questions you want answered are: How was your experience? Would you buy from us again? Would you recommend us to a friend?
Web-based survey tools such as www.surverymonkey.com and www.surverygizmo.com offer you the ability to create a survey, distribute it via email and analyze results. Most web-based tools provide excellent resources to help you design effective survey questions for actionable results.
2. Initiate a Customer Experience Team: Invite a sample of customers to map your business from the customer’s perspective and look for ways to create a remarkable customer experience. Customer Experience Teams do not have to meet in person as you can use web conferencing technologies to collaborate and meet while minimizing the time commitment requirements from participants. Your customers will love the opportunity to help you design an exceptional customer experience, investing them even further in the success of your business.
3. Do you have a project that needs customer feedback such as the introduction of a new product or a new website? Provide an incentive and ask target customers to participate in a Project Team. Again, web conferencing technology such as www.gotomeetting.com and www.webex.com are among the leaders but there are a host of other options that may suit your needs, with affordable packages available on a per use or subscription basis. I have created “practice teams” to review classes before I offer them to the general public. Usability Teams are teams which are often created to evaluate the intuitiveness and navigational ease of websites from the customer experience.
4. Do you want to modernize the customer suggestion box? Create an Innovation Community using social networking platforms. Using a platform such as Ning or Facebook, create a closed forum where you can share product concepts and gather reactions. Similarly, you can ask customers to contribute product development ideas. I have used Ning to create private communities and find it takes an afternoon to create a branded community with custom content such as documents, websites, recorded video and audio, message boards, private messaging, connection and community capability. For inspiration, check out Dell’s IdeaStorm where, since 2007, Dell customers have contributed over 13,000 ideas and Dell has implemented over 400 suggestions.
Connecting with your customers in a new way, especially during the low economic periods, lets them know you care. Provide your customers with some kind of incentive for their participation and show your appreciation for their time. Follow up on the feedback you receive and demonstrate how you give serious consideration to their suggestions. A well executed customer feedback loop will not only enhance customer loyalty but inspire ambassadors who spread positive word of mouth about your business.
What tactics have you used to gather customer feedback? What has worked for you and what hasn’t worked for you?