Former New York City mayor Ed Koch was famous for asking, “How am I doing?” The question let his customers–the voters of New York–know that he was interested in their opinions, and that he valued their feedback. Do you regularly ask your customers how you are doing?
As a professional speaker, I am accustomed to getting immediate feedback from my audiences. At the end of each seminar, attendees are asked to complete evaluation forms. Over the years, my performance has been evaluated by thousands of people. Fortunately for my speaking career, the responses have been overwhelmingly positive; however, I learn from both positive and not-so-positive comments.
The secret to successfully implementing changes based on customer feedback is first to determine what changes are necessary. There are several methods that can be used to solicit customer comments.
In-person discussions with customers, such as through focus groups, allow you to hear what customers think. If you run the focus group you may get answers that are not as candid as they should be, as customers may not want to give you the unvarnished truth about problems. Using a facilitator, with you out of the room, can make it easier for them to open up.
Instead of a focus group, consider assembling an advisory board made up of customers. Ask customers who represent various segments of your market to meet with you to give feedback on your products and services and make suggestions about how you could better meet their needs.
A written or online survey may be appropriate for getting opinions from a large group of customers. You can mail a paper survey to customers, or hand out survey or comment cards in your place of business. Make it easy to respond by including a return envelope or putting out a box to collect the forms. Online surveys can be conducted at little or no cost through services such as http://www.SurveyMonkey.com/.
Keep your survey short and simple. If it is too complicated, customers won’t take the time to respond. You may want to focus on one aspect of your service, or one product line, to keep the number of questions at a manageable level.
Give customers the option of providing feedback anonymously. They will be freer to offer their true opinions if they can do so without divulging who they are.
Once you have the results, review them objectively. It is tempting to think that anyone with a negative opinion simply does not know what they are talking about. Do not let your ego get in the way of receiving important information.
Make appropriate changes. If it appears that a lot of customers want you to have hours on Saturday afternoons, it might be worthwhile to do that. You do not have to implement every suggestion, though.
Once you have made changes, let customers know what they are, and that they were made in response to customer requests. Even those who did not participate in the survey will appreciate that you are reaching out to customers to serve them better.