Throwing spaghetti against a wall to see if it sticks is about as unglamorous as it gets when it comes to testing out your food (for those of you out there who haven’t studied at Le Cordon Bleu, if it sticks– it’s done). For modern marketers, we simply can’t afford the throw-it-against-the-wall approach in the age of multivariate testing and measurable analytics. We need to be more exacting in our approach and figure out the strongest way to prove, mold and sustain our growth. While the emergence of big data and analytics has given us the tools to make more informed and measured decisions, there are still the dreaded “Un-Measurables” to account for.
Un-Measurables can take many forms: a customer feeling towards your brand, an experience a shopper had with a member of your team—if it involves a human emotion it can be hard to, well, measure. Obviously an entire industry is dedicated to this concept with review industries like Yelp, Angie’s List and beyond, but for the small business looking to understand how they are viewed in the marketplace this can be tough.
Whitney Wood, the managing partner of the Phelon Group, a consultancy that focuses on helping companies better relations with customers told Inc.com a few years back, "every day, companies solicit feedback from customers, yet only a few translate that feedback into meaning. An even smaller fraction of companies actually take action or close the loop with the customer, to let them know their voice was heard. If you handle it right, the dialog between you and your customers can become the lifeline of your business.” As Ms. Wood pointed out, getting your customers to communicate with you is the easy part—closing the loop is the harder part. Before you can close that loop successfully, you need to open up the lines of communication to get the dialogue going.
Adrian Winscoe, a customer retention expert pointed out the golden rule for any firm looking to solicit legitimate feedback: you must make it mind-numbingly easy. While that doesn’t necessarily seem that complicated, some firms apparently neglect this concept. Once you have opened up the feedback loop, you must empower your company to accept and use this information. Some larger firms even contract with third parties to gather feedback. Whatever the solicitation method, everyone is in agreement that the most important thing you do is utilize the feedback and not to ignore it. Wood elaborated on this idea, “to establish and maintain a healthy flow, customer feedback must result in change your customers can see. Change is the most powerful currency to reward vocal and consultative customers." While this concept seems easy—just wait until a customer says they dislike a program you spearheaded!
So, the takeaways?
- Make giving feedback very easy. Very easy.
A simple comment box without any registration for customers might seem like the obvious answer—but there are challenges (SPAM-ers, the approval process and even unsavory content). One tool that allows you to get feedback without dealing with the aforementioned issues is a simple rating system via stars, checks or even thumbs-up/thumbs-down. Each industry has its best practices—so look around and see what your peers are doing here too.
- Use whatever customer feedback tools you feel are appropriate.
Hooking into Facebook and Twitter and utilizing their platforms is certainly the easiest tool, but take some time and look around for the tool that works best for you. If you really need in-depth feedback you could solicit the help of a free (or inexpensive) survey tool like Survey Monkey or KwikSurveys.
- Act on the customer feedback and don’t be scared of what your customers say.
Just last year, a small group of parents lobbied J.C. Penney to cancel an advertising campaign because they felt it promoted bullying—J.C. Penney pulled the campaign immediately in order to save whatever market share they still had.
- Close the loop with your customers when possible.
In the above example, it’s a great act to pull the plug on the offensive marketing campaign, but the real question is do you think J.C. Penney reached out to the offended parties and started a dialogue to avoid having an issue like this come up again? Clearly not every interaction can be closed—but if the opportunity is there—take it.
- Oh, and clean up that spaghetti you left stuck to the wall.