Understanding your customers and what they need from you is a vital part of Lean. Only by knowing them and responding to their desires will you truly be able to add value. Eliciting useful, actionable customer feedback however, can be easier said than done and there are many decisions you have to make when putting together your approach: who, what, why, when, how…? Getting the timing wrong, approaching the wrong person or even how you phrase the questions can all have a major impact on the effectiveness of your efforts.
There are many research experts better qualified than me to advise you on designing the perfect customer feedback questionnaire, but from my many years of experience listening to my customers (candidates and clients), here are my tips for how to unearth those gems which can shape how you add value.
1. Spell out the benefits
Customers are much more willing to provide feedback if they understand what’s in it for them. Obviously you will benefit from hearing what they have to say, but the customer needs to know upfront that there will be a positive outcome for them as a result of telling you what they think. Emphasise how you’ll be able to add value and improve their experience as a direct result of giving you feedback.
2. Explain the process
If your customers understand why you want their feedback and what you’re going to do with it, they are more likely to be willing to contribute to the process. They need to understand that you’re not just going through the motions but that real and positive change will result from their participation.
3. Respond quickly
There is a tendency for customer feedback to be collated and then shoved into a drawer until you have time to analyse it properly. Big mistake. In all likelihood you’ll stumble across it in a year’s time when you decide to do your next customer survey and all that potential value has been lost. One way to ensure that you act quickly on the customer feedback you receive is to publicly declare a timeline for taking action on the findings. React quickly wherever possible and make sure you stick to any deadlines you set.
4. Make it personal
Eliciting feedback is best done as part of an ongoing dialogue. Where there is a personal rapport or, at the very least, a conversation (whether virtual or actual) between named individuals, there will be more openness and honesty, as well as accountability. There are occasions when anonymity can help to extract negative customer feedback (particularly where reticent Brits are concerned), but ultimately someone needs to take ownership if action is required. There are various online tools available (such as Survey Monkey), but often a simple phonecall is the most valuable way to extract qualitative data.
5. Be specific
It’s very important to be clear on what you’re trying to achieve when seeking customer feedback otherwise it can become unwieldy and muddled. Don’t try to cover all the bases at once and design your questions carefully so it’s clear what you’re asking and why. Convoluted questioning confuses customers and can make them suspicious about what you’re trying to conceal in your obfuscation.
6. Mind the gaps
Lastly, you can often learn a lot about a customer and their view of you by what they’re NOT saying, so look at the gaps in the information they give you to make sure that they’re not hiding their dissatisfaction behind platitudes. Cultural or gender differences can come into play here too as some people can be very uncomfortable with giving negative feedback, so don’t assume there aren’t any issues just because no-one mentioned them!
As the title of this article suggests, useful customer feedback is all about good quality information. There is both an art and a science to this and it’s vital to remember that getting the feedback is only one part of the process. But get it right, and it can transform the effectiveness of your business and feed your continuous improvement programme now and in the future.