Startup Tips: Ask Your Customers For Feedback. Then Act.

A few months ago, veteran crowdSPRING Buyers may have noticed something new when they completed wrapup on a project. Instead of just asking them to rate their experience with the winning Creative in their project, we started asking them to also rate us. It’s a simple survey – just 4 questions and a comment box – but a time-honored tactic.

Thing is, when you ask your customers for feedback, you should take the time to act upon it. This can take a few different forms; a company can choose just to collect this data and periodically analyze it in order to simply ‘keep a finger on the pulse’ of their customers. A second approach would be to use the data to look for ways to improve your product or service and to develop a specific agenda built around the feedback.

The third approach is to develop a culture that is responsive to feedback and criticism and that is structured to act on it quickly and efficiently. The first step is to make sure that you answer your customers directly – let them know that you heard what they had to say, and engage the customer to better understand what they liked and didn’t like about your company. Take those suggestions to heart by creating changes and by using the feedback to drive iterative cycles, improve existing features or offerings, to create new features and tools, and to build a zealous community of advocates for your business.

We developed our “exit survey” for buyers, because we are strong proponents of the third approach I describe above. Since we launched crowdSPRING in 2008, we have tried hard to be active and responsive listeners and have put in place practices which would promote user’s ideas and would help us to act on their suggestions. Here are a few tips on what you can do with your own business to become more actively engaged with your customers and more responsive to their input.

1. Listen always and all ways.  Find ways and build tools to encourage your customers to send you ideas, suggestions, and complaints. Something as simple as a suggestion box by the cash register is a great start, but simply providing a system is not enough.  Get out there and ask for feedback – surveys, emails, phone calls, and in-person appeals for their thoughts are great ways to harvest responses and also great customer service in itself. After all, who doesn’t want to be asked their opinion? When your customers know that your company values their viewpoint, they will value your company all the more.

2. Respond promptly. Let them know you’ve heard them an that you take them seriously. If they leave a note in your suggestion box, remember to ask for their email or their address and send them a thank-you. When they provide feedback in person, look them in the eye and tell them how much you appreciate it and what you do to act on it. One of the ways we get customer feedback is through our own ‘Contact us’ form, which has a special category just for Suggestions. Like all requests we receive for assistance, we try to answer these within 60 minutes during our business hours and we let the customer know immediately that we heard them; we typically send some version of this response: Hey, thanks for the suggestion – we take this kind of feedback really seriously. We meet each week as an entire team and go over ideas for improvement, new features, etc. so I’ll bring up these ideas this week, Please let us know if you need any help!” 

3. Develop meaningful structures.  This is actually best approached in three parts: first, design structures that anticipate and encourage feedback. This can be the simple suggestion box I mentioned or the contact us form, but toll-free phone numbers, social media tools, email, and chat are all great channels for customers to reach you. Second, institute procedures for the intake and assessment of the feedback. For instance make sure your support workers are well trained to watch for and respond quickly and openly to emails and calls; check that you are carefully monitoring social media for mentions of or complaints about your company, and above all don’t leave your customers on hold or awaiting a response – be quick! Third, and most importantly, be ready to take action on suggestions and critiques that you or your team deem worthy of it. The email response I shared above mentioned our weekly team meeting where we discuss our roadmap for improvements and new features. The agenda for this meeting is completely collaboratiev – every member of the team is encouraged (read, required) to contribute discussion items to the agenda with an emphasis on customer feedback, complaints, and suggestions. In fact, customer feedback typically comprises over 50% of the agenda for these weekly meetings.

4. Empower your team. Some suggestions and comments can be acted on immediately, without a meeting or discussion and your front-line workers should be empowered to do so. Zappos authorizes their customer service agents to immediately upgrade customers accounts or to issue full refunds when a customer is unhappy. Four Seasons hotels allows it’s front-desk clerks to spend up to a certain dollar amount to resolve an issue or make a customer happy. At crowdSPRING our customer service agents are empowered to issue credits, upgrade projects, and even unlock features that we normally charge for – in short they are trained to do what it takes to delight a customer.

5. Build a culture. Zappos and Four Seasons Hotels are great examples of companies that have built incredibly strong, customer-service oriented cultures. To get a better feel for the approach that these two industry-leaders have taken, just go to the ‘About’ page on the Zappos site or have a look at item #1 on the Four Season’s Privacy Policy. We can all learn a great deal from these examples; the four tips above are aspects of high standards for great customer service, but there is more to building a real culture than those. Try to approach your own customer service with the goal of being an industry leader and adopting the best practices in all things service related. Make sure that everyone on your team (not just your support folks) are performing service to customers – interacting, answering questions, considering impact on the customer – in their day-to-day existence at your company. For instance, at crowdSPRING every person on the team is trained to use our customer service software and is required to spend time working the help desk and interacting with customers directly, listening to their issues and responding appropriately.

Illustration: Wikimedia: War Production Board, Suggestion Box poster, 1942