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Customer Feedback: Are We All Chasing the Great White Whale?

Call me Ishmael

Customer feedback. Are we doing it right?

We spend so much time creating comment cards, and coming up with survey questions so that we can better understand what our customers want. Try googling "comment card templates" and see how many hundreds of websites pop up promising to help you create the most effective questions. But what do we really learn from customers answering our questions? Well, we get the answers to our questions, but that's not what customer feedback is all about.

Let's take a step back and talk about why we want customer feedback. It's simple really, they are the reason we are in business, so we want to make sure we are meeting their expectations. So why are we asking them questions that we think will make us better? We ask questions like, "How would you rate the quality of the food? On a scale of 1-5 how was your service?" Sure, these questions give us metrics to measure and help us find areas that need improving. But what really matters is customer perception. Each customer has a different experience and therefore has a different "top-of-mind" thought, or impression, when it comes to your business...

impressions are everything.

These are the things that your customer is going to tell their friends. They are the things that come to mind when someone asks for a recommendation of where to eat, and where to stay when they are visiting. These are the things we need to know. What do customers think of when they think of our business? In other words, we shouldn't be asking customers pre-scripted questions but instead should be letting them start the conversation. When we let them start the conversation we get a much deeper understanding of how they view our business.

When customers are able to tell us their initial impressions of our business we begin to see trends. We start to hear over and over the same "top-of-mind" themes, both positive and negative. This is where we can begin to make improvements. We can amplify the positive; really drill down and become experts on the things our customers have come to know us for, and perhaps use these things in our marketing efforts. We can solve the negative; train our staff to watch for these issues, and give them tools to correct problems before they happen.

Moby Dick

Our customers talk about our businesses in the most random of conversations. I'll give you a couple of personal examples.

The other day a friend was reminiscing about when he was young and how he grew up drinking out of mason jars. This immediately brought to mind a bar I had recently checked out for the first time that served all of their drinks in mason jars. Do you think they have a question on their comment card or survey that asks you about your opinion of a mason jar? I highly doubt it. But regardless it was the whole reason I told him about this bar. And now they have a new and excited patron who can't wait to check the place out.

Or how about this one? A friend of mine was posting pictures on her Facebook of cool crafts she'd learned to make out of old, empty liquor bottles. Again, I was immediately reminded of a really cool restaurant that brings out your water in old whiskey bottles. I posted this as a comment on her pictures and spurred a whole conversation about this particular restaurant. Their comment card? Well I checked it out and it certainly didn't ask anything about your opinion of how your water was served.

So what?!? How does this type of feedback help your company at all? Let's think about how customers make decisions. They make them based on emotions. In both cases above conversations were started that led to new customers, customers who will most likely talk about your business to their friends, and not because of any of the metrics you are measuring. They are talking about you because of some small little thing you did that evoked an emotion. Do you measure the emotions evoked in your customers in your survey? Does that 1-5 scale truly capture the experience they had?

What would your customers say about you?

If you stripped away the comment card, and took down your survey, do you know what your customers would say? Do you know the trends that would emerge? Do you understand what you give to your customer that's much deeper than the product/service you provide them? Do you know what emotion you evoke? Did you make their life easier? Or perhaps put a smile on their face? Did you give them an experience worth sharing with their friends?

This is customer feedback. Don't ask your customers to waste their time answering your pre-scripted questions. Sure those things can help, but if you simply ask them to start a conversation with you, and give them a convenient way to do so, you'll likely be quite surprised at how much you can learn about the experiences your customers are having.

So put the comment cards away for a minute, set down the metrics report, and try giving your customers a direct line to share their thoughts with you. It's time to listen.

photo credit: Dunechaser via photopin cc

photo credit: Kman999 via photopin cc

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Jeremy Luby

Startup junkie! I'm addicted to helping entrepreneurs and making friends in the process. I'm a UW grad who's looking to change the world. If you want to help me, let's connect!

Austin, TX
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