How to Start a Recurring Customer Feedback Program

Have you been considering doing some customer research and just not really known how to get started?  I mean you read about doing "customer satisfaction research" and how important it is, but they just leave it there -- no one ever tells you how to actually implement a customer feedback program that actually gives YOU the information you need to run your business better, and your customers the opportunity to tell you what will make them happier and more loyal.

When should I start doing research?

There is no magic moment. But if you're sitting there trying to make a business decision and you find yourself thinking FOR or ON BEHALF of your customer -- that's a good time to actually ASK them what they think.

If you're in a meeting and your team starts saying what the customer wants -- and they aren't looking at a data set -- that would be a trigger to tell you that you need research.

Market or customer research isn't so much about knowing what your customer thinks as it is to help you make better decisions.  So every time you're about to make a decision that is rooted in what your customer might like or not like or what action they might take -- that's the time to do some research.

How to get started

Sit down with your team and just start talking.  Come up with some of the key decisions that you're trying to make and then dig deeper into what's holding you back.  Chances are, it's going to have something to do with a lack of information about what will work for your customers.  And since you aren't asking them and you're guessing -- your project is delayed.

Generate a list of respondents.   This is not a branding survey.  That means that it won't be blind.  You will tell your respondents EXACTLY what you are doing -- You are trying to figure out what's important to them -- what matters to them so that you can improve your product or service.

Generate a list of customers who you know will give you GOOD feedback.  Good feedback means that they will tell you the good and the bad.  Create 3 segments of customers in your list:

  1. Customers you love that love you back

  2. Customers with whom you've hit a few bumps in the road - they aren't satisfied

  3. Customers who are on the fence - and haven't decided to work with you yet or haven't decided to buy more from you even though you know they could.

Have conversations with a few customers and explore what matters to them -- a.k.a. In-depth-Interviews

I started this headline with In-depth-interviews and instantly remembered that this phrase usually stopped every customer research project in its tracks.  That's because it rang (cha-chings) in the budgets of managers.

People are afraid of in-depth-interviews because it sounds overwhelming and expensive.  The truth is they are just conversations with customers about what matters to them.  The only difference is that you are following a pre-written set of questions and asking each customer the same question -- it's more organized than a standard chit chat .

Create an online discussion guide.  QuestionPro and SurveyAnalytics have online survey tools, but you can actually use these same online surveys to document your in-depth-interviews.

Create an online discussion guide that can be taken online as well as during a phone interview.  That means make sure that the questions are conversational and create a good experience for the respondent.

Develop a list of questions that you'd like to ask:

  1. Tell me about your relationship with (company name)

  2. What triggered you to contact them?

  3. What was it about (company name) that made them an obvious choice for you?

  4. What alternatives did you consider?

Develop a list of things that might be important to your customer:  This is a fantastic benchmarking opportunity.  Include items in your list that are existing features or services that you offer and also include those items that you might consider offering.  Finally, sneak in a few items that a competitor is offering but that you aren't to see how they value those things.

This list will drive your action items and projects, so you want to make sure that it's concrete and easy to understand.  For example you might include "online ordering" as a feature that might be important, but that you currently don't offer and a competitor does.  If your customers say that this is important to them -- you may decide to put an online ordering system in place.

Brainstorm a long list and then choose the top 5-7 most critical items.

Generate a list of other alternatives or competitors. Create a list of other companies that your customers can purchase the same products or services from.

Use the importance/Satisfaction question style.  QuestionPro and SurveyAnalytics have a variety of question styles to choose from but I think that the Importance/Satisfaction style is one of the simplest and yet most powerful.

Insert your 5-7 attributes inside this question type.

When the respondent gets to this question, they will rate HOW IMPORTANT an attribute is to you -- and then they will rate how satisfied they are with YOUR performance in that area

Ask them what other companies they purchase from.  After the attribute question, ask them who else they purchase from.  Some will say and other won't.  You won't know until you ask.

Repeat those same attributes from the importance/satisfaction question as a matrix.

Use the branching/Looping feature to insert the competitor's name inside of the attribute matrix.  This will allow the respondent to rate every alternative based on the same attributes.

These ratings will actually create benchmarking data that will allow you to compare your performance against the competition AND against what's important to your customer.  Your next new product or service can come out of this question -- alone!

Give respondents a heads-up.  BEFORE you contact any respondent to do the discussion with you, send them an email or a letter (letters are taken more seriously and don't get caught in spam) to tell them what you are up to.  Explain that someone will be calling them to schedule an interview.  Ask them to be honest and open and to share freely.  This will greatly increase your response rates and the quality of your responses.

Send an email invitation.  Next, send them an email invitation to the survey.  Inside the invitation, give respondents the opportunity to schedule time with you.  I like to use a link to my Tungle calendar - this way they can pick and choose times that work for them and schedule themselves right into my calendar.

Also offer them the option to complete the discussion online -- this also increases your response rates.

Aim for at least 30 telephone completions.  Make sure you TALK TO at least 30 people.  Actually talking to people will give you significantly more insight into what really matters to them.

Then aim for another 30 online completions.

Follow this process and the results will AMAZE you!