The Best Ways Small Businesses Can Gather Customer Feedback

User reviews are barometers of how your business is perceived by customers and the general public. Depending on the platform, you might have the ability to directly respond to customers who leave reviews to thank them or address any issues.

Reviews can be the secret sauce, giving your business a big boost by helping to improve loyalty, attract new customers, and quash negative comments. Valuable review insights can help shape strategy and identify steps you can take to expand your business.

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Here are some simple steps you can take to gather feedback that can help grow your small business.

Survey Your Customers

SurveyMonkey, Point Shout, PollDaddy and SurveyGizmo all help small business owners obtain insights needed to make informed decisions. In addition to collecting valuable information, you’ll show customers that you care about their opinion.

If you don’t have email addresses for your customers and you have a brick and mortar location, you can go old school and simply print surveys to hand out. Assure customers that their comments will remain anonymous by providing a box for completed surveys. To increase participation, offer an incentive like a discount or a freebie if they fill out your survey.

For immediate and low effort feedback, turn your customers' cell phones into digital comment cards. Customers can offer feedback to you or a site’s manager via cell phone. The Talk to the Manager service provides a phone number and custom signage that allows patrons to text directly to your place of business. Business owners can address issues immediately and can text back. Customers can also visit the Talk to the Manager website to write a review.

Surveys not only give you an overall market analysis, it’s a great way to track performance and discover customer demographics. You can even crowd source information. For example, a restaurant could use a survey to ask customers which new dish they’d like to see on the menu.

Chat with customers one-on-one

If you have a bricks and mortar storefront, you have a great opportunity to chat with your customers face-to-face. Even if you have an online business, you can ask customers for feedback via email or by picking up the phone.

In just a few minutes, you can learn what’s working…and what isn’t.  Have prepared questions ready to go if the opportunity to chat with a customer comes up. Explore likes, dislikes, and additional products or services your customer may want. Also, find out what you could do better or if there are pain points your customers are coming up against.  Keep track of the feedback so you can adjust accordingly to help improve your reputation and your bottom line.

Be proactive online

A small dental practice in Van Nuys, California has hundreds of positive online Yelp reviews. What’s the secret? It’s pretty simple. The practice gives patients a $5.00 Starbucks card for every online review posted on Yelp. The review doesn’t even need to be positive, patients get the gift card no matter what they write.

Yelp is just one online platform where you can find out what your customers are thinking and feeling. Google+ is another site featuring reviews where current customers comment and potential consumers visit to find out more about a small business. Be sure to monitor your business profile across all sites so you can address any negative comments or thank posters for positive feedback.  A business Facebook page or Twitter feed is another effective way to gather feedback. Make sure customers know that you are active by encouraging them to like or follow your feeds.

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Host a focus group

If you have a healthy marketing budget, holding a focus group can be an effective and fast way to gauge how your business is being perceived.  A focus group is a small group of people who are guided through a discussion by an experienced moderator. Questions are typically open-ended to encourage data that can’t be typically found in other feedback methodologies.

Ask employees

Your employees are on the front lines of your business and can be a first-hand source of customer feedback. Put a feedback program in place so that your employees can make suggestions based on customer comments or observations.

Encouraging employee feedback has another big benefit. Research shows that engaged employees who feel that they are heard are happier and less likely to seek other employment. A raffle prize or other nice incentive for employees who garner positive reviews can increase participation.

Respond to all reviews

Once your reviews start rolling in, pay attention to them! Responding to the positive reviews is generally easy. Good reviews are like gold! Take these steps to make the most out of a happy customer’s review:

  • Say thank you
  • Reinforce the positive
  • Tell them you’d love to see them/sell to them again
  • Mention other products or services
  • Share the review with your team
  • Share the review on your website, social media channels, or other high visibility platforms

It may be tempting to ignore negative reviews and pretend they don’t exist, but this is a bad strategy, making you appear aloof and uncaring. Tactfully addressing negative reviews can show commitment to your customers and tamp down any negative issue before it escalates. Don’t take a negative review personally.

  • Respond in a timely manner
  • Stay professional and courteous
  • Understand your customer’s experience
  • Be honest if there’s been a mistake
  • Apologize if appropriate
  • Offer to contact the poster, taking it off line.
  • Be authentic

Final thoughts

Even in times of economic uncertainty, small businesses across every industry are popping up at a rapid rate. Chances are, your business has a healthy amount of competitors with more on the way. Customer feedback is one of the best ways to help you stand out from the crowd. Brands with happy customers and a positive, high profile reputation are in great shape to capture their share of the market. Be sure to factor customer feedback strategies into your overall marketing plan and pay attention to reviews good and bad.

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