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5 smart ways to collect customer feedback

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You can attract new customers—and keep them—by using a surprisingly simple technique: listening to them.

OK, you’re right: It sounds simple, but listening to customers and using that feedback to make business decisions is a bit more complicated.

With so many low-cost feedback methods to choose from, you really have no excuses. Here are five of the best, including their advantages and disadvantages:

1. On-site surveys. At the point of purchase, ask each customer a short question or two and record the answer. Example: Shortly after Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan opened his first outlet, he asked customers one question every night as they were waiting for orders.

He wrote down the answers and learned that delivery was three times more important than issues such as price and service.

Advantage: Immediate feedback.

Disadvantage: It’s time-consuming.

2. Mail surveys. These can be expensive and time-consuming and usually garner a very low response rate.

Solution: At the point of purchase, give each customer a stamped postcard with a couple of key questions. Open with “Thank you for using (company name). To help us serve you better, please take a minute to answer the following questions.”

3. Telephone surveys. Whether it’s you or an intern doing the phoning, calling customers to gauge their satisfaction (with you and your competitors) is still a wonderful way to gather feedback.

Advantage: Unlike written surveys, you can follow up on responses and probe for details.

Disadvantage: Caller ID and other protections against telemarketing have made this method more difficult. Solution: Ask customers if you or a representative of your business may call, and request a convenient time to do so.

4. Online surveys. This is the way many people now communicate, so why not take advantage of it?

Advantage: E-mail surveys are fast, convenient and inexpensive. It’s easy to collate and analyze information. Plus, the response rate is higher than mail surveys.

Disadvantage: Anti-SPAM filters can easily block your message, and the laws surrounding unsolicited e-mail are tricky. Solution: Ask customers to “opt in” to e-mail messages from you.

5. Customer council or focus group. Choose a group of eight to 12 customers to meet and discuss an aspect of your business.

Disadvantage: These discussions are sometimes difficult to steer. It’s best to hire a professional.

Suggestion: Record the session, make a transcript and analyze it later.

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