Customer Service

Part 3. Find Feedback Before It Finds You

This is part 3 in a 5 part series: Big Picture Ideas for Small Businesses.

In Part 1 of this series, we talked about how important it was to keep an eye on and maintain your reputation online. Keeping an eye on what is said about you on the internet is not particularly elegant, but it’s a frank necessity in a world of ubiquitous real time news.

With that in mind, ignoring negativity is no solution either, gathering feedback is as important to running your business as any other business intelligence. The question is, how do you gather useful feedback without annoying your customers?

Pick Up the Phone

It might seem old fashioned, but picking up the phone and chatting with a loyal customer or client is a great way to hear honest and actionable feedback. Investing in the time to hear legitimate concerns (and compliments!) directly from your clients is a win-win scenario. You gain valuable information from your client, and you have an opportunity to proactively repair or shore up your relationship with your customer.

A phone call shouldn’t be a reactive gesture. This is a chance for you to communicate in a much more personal way, you are dedicating time to the relationship and in today’s economy that’s a valuable commodity. By taking a proactive approach to customer service and customer feedback, you can help nip issues in the bud before they cause you to unnecessarily lose business.

The easiest way to accomplish this is by incorporating it into your daily workflow. Using post-sale surveys or having follow-up procedures after a sale are great umbrellas for gathering feedback from your customers. If you want to go the survey route there are many options to choose from if you would prefer not to code one yourself. The most popular online survey system that I’ve seen in recent years is Survey Monkey which offers free surveys for up to 100 respondents and paid packages for larger samples. If their format doesn’t mesh with your type of business or customer, there are hundreds of others to choose from after a short Google search.

If you want to avoid surveys, there are a few high tech and low tech options for you as well. Many CRM programs, both in software and online, have tools that can help you build a system to gather and measure this feedback. If you already use Sugar or Salesforce.com to manage your customer base, you can create follow up reminders in these applications to help you stay on top of proactive follow ups.

The 5-30-90

For those who are unsure of when to contact customers, the 5-30-90 rule is a good rule of thumb that I learned early on in my former sales career.

The idea is simple, you contact the customer after 5 days to ensure everything is working properly and that they have transitioned well. Typically, this call was part tech support, part troubleshooting session, and sometimes even a therapy session.

The 30 day call is for both feedback and sales. In the hosting industry, this is a scenario where we would assess, along with the customer of course, how his or her server was performing. We would then make appropriate recommendations depending on how the site was doing, i.e. more RAM, smaller or larger package, etc.

Finally, the 90 day call is the relationship call. This is an avenue to better learn who your customer is and how you can help them grow their business while they help you grow yours.

Hold Yourself Accountable, Follow Up the Follow Up

Let’s use a hypothetical situation to better illustrate this point. Let’s say you run a bakery and you bake a very large wedding cake for an important client.

5 days after the delivery, you call the customer to see how things went and you realize he or she is less-than-happy with the outcome. It turns out that somehow, an 11 pound salmon ended up being baked into the cake.

(EDITORS NOTE: We did not say the hypothetical situation had to make sense.)

After hearing the conversation through, you realize two key items, 1. the customer was 100% right, there was no reason a large fish should have been baked into the client’s wedding cake and 2. the customer’s gripe was actionable, there are steps you can take to ensure that no cake will ever be baked with a fish in it again.

This is an opportunity in disguise. You can contact the customer and let them know that they were responsible for a tangible change in your policy, that they bettered your business and you hope to turn the leaner, meaner you into a healthier partner for them. While this particular metaphor might not be the most compelling (or hygienic) you get the idea.

People respond to responses. Taking a potentially disastrous situation and showing a client how he or she made an institutional difference in your company is empowering and shows you are committed to making things right.

How do you gather feedback from customers? Any tips or tricks that might make those uncomfortable conversations a little less…well…uncomfortable? Tell us in the comments, on Twitter, or on Facebook!

Stay tuned to The ServInt Source for our next tip, Death, Taxes, and Buzzwords, soon!

Photo by woodleywonderworks

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