Whenever you read reviews on Amazon or Yelp, host customer feedback sessions, or issue a survey, you’ll notice that customers tend to give feedback when they are extremely happy or extremely annoyed, and the majority in the middle just doesn’t bother. And yet that silent majority makes up more than half of your customers.
Borrowing a term from economic circles, some marketers refer to this feedback cycle as the “J-curve.” Essentially, it’s how feedback typically maps when plotted: with a spike at the very low end of feedback ratings, which quickly dips down but then slowly and steadily lifts upward until the most positive reviews skew higher on the X-axis than the most negative ones.
Thinking more analytically about this, if you remove the best and worst reviews, the majority of polarized opinions skew positive. Now factoring in human nature at the other end of the spectrum of dissatisfied customers, a lot of businesses burn cycles addressing the noisiest contingent. What you’re left with are inaccurate views that don’t reflect the experiences of the majority of your customers.
The good news is that it’s never been easier to get customer insight based on user behavior. For example, a company with a simple SaaS application doesn’t have to wait for users to comment because it can track customers across hundreds or thousands of user sessions. This is just one example of the explicit actionable data that customers leave behind. But no matter how much data you have, nothing beats getting direct feedback from the majority of your customers.
In-Person Vs. Online
Much of our work at The Farland Group is to facilitate customer advisory board meetings with our clients and their top customers to ensure that a meaningful dialogue is started, continued, and/or resolved. When you move from a high touch, highly customized approach like an advisory board and try to bring that sensibility across large groups of customers, there is a tendency to simplify and lose the value.
In this day and age, there are entire companies who specialize in customer intelligence, and how to build a workflow where ongoing dialogue is actually the center of the design and development process, and not something that merely informs the internal thinking sporadically.
But all of that intelligence gathering, social listening, and analysis can’t overcome a lack of curiosity. So don’t be afraid to ask basic questions, listen, and follow-up on what your customers are saying, and fold them into the workflow of how you improve and refine your product.
Tips for Successful Customer Outreach
There are some basic principles to remember when doing customer outreach so that you’ll be able to make decisions based on the insight you get, such as:
• Be specific – If your goal is to get feedback, make that the only element of the outreach. The only call to action should be the webinar, survey link, or whatever you need the customer to do that relates to receiving feedback.
• Give them a chance to speak – If you try to shorten a survey by outlining your objective and getting them to immediately weigh in on a specific matter, you run the risk of shutting down the opportunity for dialogue. It is better to start broad, branch the survey based on how customers respond, and give them the opportunity to write freeform answers toward the end. Similar to the J-curve issue, you need to make sure that you are solving the real problems your customers are facing and not just what the loudest ones have said is the biggest issue.
• Follow up – Take outreach seriously. If your customers are raising issues, then reply to them directly to find out more specifics. It is also another opportunity to make sure you are solving the right pain points. The more you follow up, the more you refine the specific problems and design the best solution.
• Listen – This seems redundant as getting customer feedback is all about listening, but today listening has many meanings. So, if your company has engaged customers who talk about you on social media, you need to be using social listening services to track and monitor these public musings and sift through them for meaningful insights.
• Ask obvious questions – Customers select your product to do a specific task in a specific workflow for a specific reason, and assuming you know all of those factors is risky. So, ask, “Why do you use this product? What problem did it solve for you?” Also, when you ask obvious questions, it allows customers to ask the questions they might feel everybody already knows the answer to and/or you might uncover new ways that customers use your products.
The critical step is making sure to weave all of this data into a customer-first strategy. Don’t ask customers for feedback and forget to follow up, or to weave that insight into a broader outreach plan. If multiple people work on an account with that client, analyze their survey responses together to make sure your customers knows they are being heard and their needs are being addressed.