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It’s never too late to start listening to customers

Even the largest corporations can go back to basics

Gulf News

One of the greatest mistakes a company can ever make is to ignore customer feedback. There is no point in just paying lip service to the notion that the customer is king by sending out surveys without a system in place to analyse the response.

Responding to comments is essential. It is the difference between hearing and listening, between simply acknowledging sounds or consciously choosing to do so and formulating an intellectual response.

Bearing this in mind, how can you improve the way you listen to your customers and navigate through all the noise? Knowing what tools are available to you – and how to effectively implement them – is half the battle.

In its essence, feedback is response, reaction, comment, opinion and criticism. The easiest way to go about capturing this is simply to ask for it. However, in the 21st century science of customer relationships, there are numerous methods in the market on how to ask, capture and analyse this information.

New technology has in many ways made the task less onerous with online surveys now one of the fastest ways to elicit customer feedback. At the same time, there is no difference in data capture and methodology from offline surveys of the past.

It is no surprise, then, that there are dozens of online surveys and feedback tools available to businesses of all sizes at very affordable prices, including from larger players such as Survey Monkey, Zoomerang and Formstack.

It sounds simple, and it is. Data is readily available for anyone accessing the relevant file. Alternative or complementary methodology includes the setting up of an online customer community that contains all the necessary information on your products or services. There should also be inclusion of frequently asked questions and info on where people can dig to find solutions based on common problems.

It’s a tried and tested solution to involve customers, both those with problems and those with solutions. It is an example of a structure used to great success by the Linux computer operating system.

Another way to obtain customer comments is to host a feedback form on your website. It makes for a more expansive version of the online survey that requires written responses rather than just ‘true’ for ‘false’ answers.

These are excellent vehicles to get people to express opinions, giving both positive and negative views about products and services, and can also be used to initiate sales or support requests online.

Finally, there is the new world of social media, often regarded as an easier and cheaper extension of traditional broadcast systems. It offers a measurement of popularity in terms of ‘follower’ numbers. But both assumptions are wrong.

Social media is about building conversations and relating with customers, thus sharing and collecting useful information as a complement to other forms of feedback.

Certainly, in posing a question such as, “Do you like the new feature we added?”, a company is likely to trigger conversations about that feature, and how suggestions on how innovation should be channeled.

It is the core focus of any feedback technology – using response to improve products and services, innovate and build relationships with their customers. Even the largest corporations can go back to basics and benefit from the feedback.

Executives at Barclaycard US decided to do something bold and potentially risky, according to head of customer experience, Doug Villone: “We started listening to our customers.”

But it paid off. Recently Barclaycard US, Cisco and The Vanguard Group won Forrester Research’s 2012 ‘Voice of the Customer’ awards. This recognises organisations that excel in collecting, analysing and acting on feedback from their customers.