In today’s fast-paced world, where our thoughts, opinions, and ideas can be shared with the click of a mouse or with a few taps on a keyboard, there seems to be a constant yearning to have our voices heard, to offer advice, and to give our opinions in as short amount of time as possible. This may work on social media; however, when you have a business to run and clients to serve, this can cause problems.
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If you want to provide the best customer experience you can for those—the men, women, and other businesses—that keep your company running, it is important to communicate as effectively as possible while remembering that communication works two ways. It involves speaking, voicing your opinions, and sharing your expertise, but it also involves hearing clients and listening closely to what they do and do not say.
Giving and taking feedback is perhaps the most important means of communication in business, whether that feedback is acquired over an online survey or through an in-person interview or focus group. Too often, businesses are hearing the feedback clients give, the concerns they raise, and the questions they ask, but not truly listening. If you’re a business owner, improving communications will not only help you refine your client relationship and improve the experience you offer customers, but you’ll also grow your business in the process.
In Stephen Covey’s popular The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey argues that people should “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” We’ve spent our lives learning to communicate, but very little time learning to listen. When we’re approached by another who has an issue or concern, we do one of four things according to Covey: we evaluate, probe, advise, or interpret. We try to make ourselves understood by the other, instead of taking the time to understand them.
As business owners, especially as consultants, you may want to give advice right away. While clients or customers are talking and giving feedback, your brain may already be racing and your ideas and opinions may already be threatening to escape. But it’s important that you stop yourself from answering right away and instead hold those ideas back, no matter how helpful you may find them. Chances are, you may not truly understand the situation your client finds his or herself in, not at first and not well enough to solve all of their problems immediately.
Let them speak and when they are done, ask them questions. If they’ve given you some feedback on the service you’ve performed or the job you’ve done, ask them why they feel the way they do or why they left the feedback they did. Questions will let them delve deeper into the issue, force them to approach it in a way they perhaps had never before considered, and maybe even help them say the things that would have otherwise gone unspoken.
Yahoo outlines a series of useful questions to start with when talking to a prospective client, but they can also be useful when garnering feedback from a long-term client, as well: What do you need? What are you expecting? What would you view as a successful project? Where do we go from here?
When soliciting feedback and asking questions, think of yourself as a hard-hitting journalist trying to get to the heart of the issue. A Walter Cronkite or a Helen Thomas of sorts. Don’t just end with the questions you ask. Build on the answers. If something they say makes you think of another question, ask it.
However, future Walter Cronkites and other students of journalism are also taught to “embrace the silence” and hold firm to those awkward moments so many wish to escape. This works well in face-to-face feedback sessions or focus groups. Don’t try to fill every moment of silence with questions or advice, with defensive remarks or explanations. Just as it is important to ask questions and to listen to all that your client may answer in response, it’s important to listen to the silence between the words, to what your clients may not be saying. Chances are, if you embrace the silence long enough, they’ll crack and tell you what they’re really thinking, giving you the feedback your business is in need of. Sometimes it may not be the feedback you’re longing to hear, but it’s the feedback your business probably needs to listen to.
Later, Ask Again
Feedback isn’t a once and done process. Your business should always be after feedback from both old and new clients on a regular basis.
Feedback gives your business a customer experience benchmark. Receiving weekly feedback is even more useful because it shows you a consistent look at your customer service and gives you a timely notice when things go wrong. The sooner your company can find out about a problem, the sooner your company can address it.
Regular feedback is also important because it helps your business grow. Satisfied customers are more likely to spread the word about your business and to serve as references, recruiting new customers and clients in the process. Feedback helps you identify who these highly satisfied customers are so that you can better make them feel appreciated and earn that next recommendation from them. After all, word of mouth is responsible for about 85% of a small business’s customers.
You heard, you listened, you understood, and you asked. What comes next? Acting on that feedback. Feedback and the time you took to gather it is worthless if not put to use. Let feedback guide your decision making.
If a customer isn’t happy with a product that you provide, update the product. In the tech world, there is a reason apps are constantly offering updates. It’s because the developers took customers’ feedback seriously and made the changes they requested, whether those changes were made to the app’s speed or display. If it’s the service of your employees being commented upon, implement new training procedures. No matter the feedback, use the “5 Whys” process when addressing it. If you can answer “Why?” the customer gave the feedback he or she did in five separate ways, not only did you ask the right questions and listen, you now have the information you need to make a change.
Even after that change is made, it’s best practice to follow up with customers or clients who left the initial feedback, not only to see how you’re doing but to let them know that you cared enough about their experience to heed their advice and work towards a solution.
However, it’s important that you not only take action on negative feedback. Positive feedback is not something simply to be celebrated and later forgotten about. Or as Entrepreneur points out in an article about positive feedback, it shouldn’t be something that’s simply quoted on your website. It should be used as a stepping stone. If you want your business to grow to its fullest potential, positive feedback also requires action. If clients seem to love something you are doing, push ahead and build on that success. If feedback constantly references a favorite service your business offers, a favorite product it sells, or a food it makes, adjust your other services, products, etc. to mirror what’s worked.
Also, use positive feedback as “social proof.” Case studies, ones that not only use quotes, but also tell stories, are great ways to establish a concrete arsenal of social proof to be shared online. Personal tales about your customers and clients, ones that give backstories and vividly recreate their experiences, are among the most productive means of establishing social proof because they give others the opportunity to establish a personal connection and see themselves as potential clients or customers.
Some Great Ways to Get the Feedback You Need
There are a variety of great ways in which businesses can acquire practical feedback and put it to use.
- Online Surveys – Surveys emailed to clients or customers are easy and quick ways to obtain feedback. But don’t forget to leave a space for open-ended responses, which let clients say what multiple-choice doesn’t always give them the space to.
- Focus groups – More companies are starting to use focus groups that gather clients and customers together and let them vocally give their feedback and opinions in the presence of yourself or your business’s representatives. This setting allows clients to give more detailed feedback than an online survey.
- Social Media – With a majority of the population on social media, making sure your company has an active social media presence isn’t only necessary for increasing your brand’s awareness and transparency, it’s also a valuable platform for feedback. Like surveys, social media offers an easy and quick way for customers or clients to respond and, if your Facebook page is abundant with 5-star ratings, it will let millions of others on social media know of your quality service.
Use one method or all three, but make sure that you’re taking the time to listen, to understand, and to act.