Solicit Honest Feedback and Improve Customer Satisfaction
By: J.D. “Dave” Power III, founder of J.D. Power and Associates, and subject of POWER: How J.D. Power III Became the Auto Industry’s Adviser, Confessor, and Eyewitness to History (2013: Fenwick Publishing Group)
Since founding J.D. Power and Associates in 1968, I’ve had the opportunity to work with scores of businesses across all industries. Regardless of the product or service they offer, I could see that their success was inextricably tied to their ability to listen to customers and then make improvements to achieve customer satisfaction.
How Customer Feedback Raised the Bar
It was sometimes hard to convince managers that an independent survey of their customers was beneficial. Especially in large, entrenched organizations, some individuals were just too invested in the status quo to be interested in change -- even if it meant an improved bottom line.
Often, I would need to go to the top leadership in order to find the will and courage to shine a light on what the customer was thinking. We would employ a range of strategies to obtain an unvarnished understanding of what our clients’ customers were thinking.
As a result of our findings -- and the hard work of the companies who took that feedback and made significant improvements -- service and product quality across all industries has taken off over the decades.
These improvements have, however, raised the bar of customer expectations, making it necessary to continue to keep close tabs on customer opinions in order to stay competitive.
Gather Customer Feedback on a Budget
For small businesses on a budget, it is not necessary to engage a market research services company like J.D. Power to conduct customer surveys. You can take the principles behind the work we’ve done and apply them to your own operation in a way tailored to your needs.
Here are my top five pieces of advice for achieving customer satisfaction through listening to the voice of the customer:
1. Something is better than nothing
As long as you are taking steps to engage customer opinion, you can start small and keep it simple. Just asking every customer about his or her experience with genuine interest and concern is important.
Consider calling customers for feedback, or sending a short email survey a few days after service was provided. There are now low- and no-cost on-line survey services like Survey Monkey and Zoomerang that are ideal for small businesses.
Whatever your means of communication, make sure that the request for participation comes from you as the owner or manager with a sincere appeal for honest opinions: it will likely elicit more thoughtful responses and it will demonstrate how important customer satisfaction is to you.
2. Set a process
Make it a point to collect feedback from your customers at regular intervals rather than sporadically or without clear intent. We found that systematically and directly asking customers for feedback provided the most reliable, actionable responses.
Make it a process to carefully look at the information when you get it back. What sort of trends do you see? Do any new ideas to make things better for your customers pop up? Any apparent problems? By making this a sincere routine process you are more likely to give focus to what you need to do to improve your customer satisfaction.
3. Don't be afraid to hear the rants
Of course, no one likes to face criticism! As a small business owner you pour your time, energy, heart, and money into your business and finding out that customers don’t like everything you do can be difficult to hear.
It’s important, though, to disengage from taking critical feedback personally and instead take an attitude of curiosity and openness. Positioning customer feedback for yourself and your employees as an opportunity to learn what’s working well as well as what’s not is often helpful.
Encourage a spirit of problem-solving by eliminating the fear of being reprimanded: solutions and willingness to improve are what you’re after.
4. Listen to employees
Employees are not only your best teammates for identifying strategies for addressing customer concerns; they’re also often another resource for learning what the customer is thinking.
Ask customer-facing employees to report any feedback they receive in passing. Be receptive to hearing their solicited and spontaneous feedback for how the business is run -- but keep it from becoming a gripe session by focusing on solutions and finding ways for them to take ownership of that solution.
5. Focus on quality
Adopt the principle of continuous improvement and never lull yourself into the notion that you’ve addressed all concerns. Look at customer feedback with an eye for targeting where you can continue to make tweaks to improve the quality of your product or service.
That is the only way to stay competitive as well-informed, discerning customers exercise their choices. You know it’s a competitive world and you need to be figuring out what must be done every day to keep getting better.
Dave Power is the subject of POWER: How J.D. Power III Became the Auto Industry’s Adviser, Confessor, and Eyewitness to History (2013: Fenwick Publishing Group), in bookstores now.