Customer feedback, part two

Five final rules to work by
By Carl Tompkins
February 1, 2009

Editor’s note: This article is part two of a two-part series on how to benefit from customer feedback. Click here for the previous article.

Customers are the lifeline of a business. Last month, we took a look at the first five rules business owners should follow to obtain customer feedback (see sidebar). Here, we’ll examine the final five. Remember, the rules are listed in order of importance and should be followed in their entirety. If you skip one rule, the remainder will not work.

Rule no. 6: Encourage constructive criticism.
An inflated ego can cause business owners to dismiss the most valuable feedback possible: constructive criticism. While it’s important to note what customers like, businesses grow and profit when management learns and reacts to customers’ suggestions for improvement.
Assure customers that you want to learn how to become a better product and service provider, and encourage them to share at least one new idea, even when their experience was pleasant.

Rule no. 7: Seek out former customers.
Tightly linked to rule no. 6 is seeking out former customers. Many organizations only send out customer satisfaction surveys to happy or current customers. Nothing can be gained by associating only with those who like you. Set the ego aside and cherish those who have fired you. You will learn what is wrong with your company, and might even get back some former business.

Rule no. 8: Reward employees.
Some of your most valuable customers are your employees. They are exposed to the circumstances of your business on a more frequent basis, and they see things from the perspective of an employee and a customer. In addition, one employee might have heard the same rating on the same topic from 20 customers in one day.

It is critical that employees have the same level of pride and ownership in their company as the top executives. To maintain that sense of pride, however, you must reward employees when they solicit customer feedback and send it up the ladder. Rewards do not have to be monetary. Make sure to give public recognition to those who participate in customer feedback development.

Toyota is a great example of how companies benefit when they reward employees for their feedback. The auto manufacturer continues to rate high in customer preference due to product quality. It’s no coincidence that its employees receive compensation rewards when they stop the production line due to observed flaws in the manufacturing process.

Rule no. 9: Ask for feedback regularly and frequently.
While rule no. 1 (see sidebar) focuses on asking customers for feedback, here we devote our attention to persistently seeking customer feedback. Many organizations that claim to attain customer feedback do not implement programs with enough frequency or regularity. I’ve witnessed major corporations send out customer feedback surveys on an annual basis. This might meet the standard of regularity, but misses the mark on frequency. Companies that collect customer feedback daily capture the highest value.

Rule no. 10: Consistently track and measure feedback results.
When creating customer feedback documents to use as part of a customer survey, make each question understandable and specific. Offer multiple-choice answers and add up the responses to determine how well your company meets or exceeds customer expectations. Use the same questions and answers each year to track company progress. You might add questions to the survey, but make sure you do not delete questions from the previous year.

The author is western states area sales manager for Sika Corp., Madison Heights, Mich. Write him at

  • The 10 commandments of customer feedback

    1. Ask for customer feedback.
    2. Make it easy for customers to provide feedback.
    3. Reward customers who contribute.
    4. Communicate receipt, appreciation and process.
    5. Use the feedback.
    6. Encourage constructive criticism.
    7. Seek out former customers.
    8. Reward employees who provide feedback.
    9. Ask for feedback regularly and frequently.
    10. Consistently track and measure feedback results.