Customer feedback

Five rules to work by
By Carl Tompkins
December 1, 2008
RETAIL : SALES

Editor’s note: This article is part one of a two-part series on how to benefit from customer feedback. See the January 2009 issue of Glass Magazine for its conclusion.

Customer feedback is crucial to the success of any business, but too often companies fail to attain it. Following are five rules to adhere to when navigating the process. They are listed in order of importance and should be followed in their entirety. If you skip one rule, the remainder will not work. Look for the next five of the 10 recommended steps in a follow-up article in the January issue.

Rule no. 1: Ask for customer feedback.
Successful companies understand that customer satisfaction is paramount to growing a profitable business, so this rule should come as common sense to most business owners. Unsuccessful companies base their judgments on whether or not sales goals are met. If not, they just cut their resale prices. In almost all cases, price is not the cause of business failure but a symptom of a far deeper problem.
Successful organizations must be on the offense. From top to bottom, every person within the organization must ask for customer feedback.

Rule no. 2: Make it easy for customers to provide feedback.
I cannot believe how hard companies have made it for customers to provide feedback! In most cases, the process is so cumbersome that customers toss their hands in the air and say, “Forget it!”

Case in point: While shopping at, what used to be, one of my favorite sporting goods stores near my home, the employees required my help in locating a number of products that had been stocked in odd and unrelated locations on the showroom floor. Each employee was as frustrated as I was, so I asked to speak to the store manager. She arrived at the checkout stand, where I asked, “Can you tell me why I need to go to seven different locations in this store to shop for polarized sunglasses?” Her answer: The company headquarters sends Plano grams that must be followed. She claimed to appreciate my concern and asked that I go online and provide headquarters with my feedback. My response was, “No, I will not! I’ve already provided your company more helpful feedback than most, and it should be your job, not mine, to record and pass along what I’ve already submitted.”

To avoid this problem, have simple business processes in place that capture customer feedback as close to the time of sale as possible. “Business processes” refer to consistent, well defined, well understood procedures that all personnel follow.

The most user-friendly method of gathering customer feedback is to pick up the phone. People readily respond to direct, personal contact. When doing so, make sure the caller clearly identifies the purpose of his or her call within the first 15 seconds.

Rule no. 3: Reward customers who contribute.
Failure to reward customers for their feedback results in a lack of customer involvement, incomplete information and participation by those who are either super-mad or super-excited about their experience. All three of these results are unacceptable.

Rewards do not have to be expensive. The average customer is not seeking compensation but acknowledgment of their efforts. So, make a considerate gesture. For example, I recently received a crisp $1 bill from a company that solicited my customer feedback. This gesture created a positive mindset on my part that resulted in a comprehensive response.

Stay away from providing coupons or discounts since they require a purchase to activate the reward. Gift cards are OK as long as they are not store-specific. Remember, if the reward is too large, it can cause customers to provide falsely positive feedback that taints the results.

Rule no. 4: Communicate receipt, appreciation and process.
The no. 1 reason businesses fail to attain meaningful customer feedback is a failure to communicate with the customer after the exchange. Like the average customer, I don’t mind sharing input as long as I know my thoughts are heard. Send customers a short, personalized form of communication informing them that their feedback was well received and will be considered. An electronic, automated “thank you” message won’t cut it.

Rule no. 5: Use the feedback.
What really drives customers nuts is when they report a major problem and the company does not correct it. Follow through with immediate corrective action. Customers will no longer provide feedback if you don’t address the problems they identify.
 

The author is western states area sales manager for Sika Corp., Madison Heights, Mich. Write him at Tompkins.carl@sika-corp.com.

  • Customer turn-offs

    1. Long, complicated hard-copy mailers or Internet surveys.
    Unfortunately, many companies resort to hard-copy mailers or Internet communications when soliciting customer feedback. There is nothing wrong with these two modes of solicitation, as long as they require as little time and effort as possible on behalf of the customer. Lousy layouts, too much reading or too many keystrokes guarantee a poor return.

    2. Busy signals or lengthy automated recordings.
    Some organizations maintain an 800-number for customers to file questions or complaints. This is a great offering, but only if customers aren’t subject to busy signals or lengthy automated recordings. One busy signal or more than three key commands will result in a permanently dropped call.

    3. Electronic, automated “thank you” messages.
    Instead, send customers a short, personalized form of communication informing them that their feedback was well received and will be considered.