The Best Ways Small Businesses Can Gather Customer Feedback

Recent news stories have shown that the court of public opinion can be very powerful for small businesses.

A slew of negative comments can sink an enterprise with lightening speed. Conversely, a flurry of positive feedback can give your small business a huge boost.

The smart entrepreneur will encourage feedback, pay attention to customer comments and be responsive to information learned from others. Valuable insights can help shape strategy and identify steps you can take to expand your business.

Research from Verint Systems Inc. revealed last year that the more feedback customers share — both positive and negative — the more companies gain.

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 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.

Be proactive on 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. Foursquare and Google+ are other sites 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 your page or follow you on Twitter.

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 can increase participation.

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