How to Ask for Customer Feedback

This guest post was written by Michael Ansaldo, a veteran journalist and content marketer with 20 years experience covering technology and business.

Getting customer feedback is critical for identifying where your business is succeeding and where it’s falling short. Unfortunately, most customers abandon customer satisfaction surveys only halfway through.

Poor response rates aren’t a reflection of the tool itself but the often clumsy way it’s implemented. But you can make surveys a painless process for customers and get the feedback you need by following a few guidelines.

Start with a goal

You need to know why you’re asking for feedback in the first place. Your understanding of the insights you want to glean or problem you want to solve will shape your survey.

“You don’t collect answers to see nice charts—you want to learn something,” says Lucjan Kierczak, an inbound marketer for customer survey platform Survicate. “An example of a good goal: find out why people abandon shopping carts. A clear goal leads to good questions that will help achieve it.”

Watch your wording

Quality questions generate quality feedback.

Keep wording simple and only ask about one thing per question. If your phrasing is too complex or overloaded with industry jargon, you risk customers bailing out of the survey. Straightforward, open-ended questions like “What was the one thing that almost stopped you from buying?” and “How did you first hear about us?” on the other hand, will generate valuable insights, says Kierczak.

Leading (“How awesome is our customer service?”) and subjective questions can also skew feedback. Rob Volpe, founder and CEO of insights and strategy firm Ignite 360, cites a United Airlines survey that asks how you feel at the end of the trip as an example.

“I think what they are trying to ask is, how did I feel at the end of the trip due to my experience on that flight with United,” he says. “Instead, I always read that question as being about my personal emotional state, which has nothing to do with the flight experience. I can be feeling stressed because of some emails I have to answer. Or excited because I’m seeing my partner. United has nothing to do with that so I’m not sure why that question gets asked that way. It’s an example of a question that could be better worded.”

Negative feedback can be positive

Soliciting customer opinions isn’t for the thin-skinned. “Check out some negative Yelp reviews or message boards to see how cruel people can be, whether warranted or not,” Volpe says.

But, he says, customers taking the time to provide feedback may have a higher level of emotion — good or bad — which is prompting them to share their thoughts. Businesses need to be prepared for negative feedback and be able to accept it with graciousness and an eye toward learning from it.

“Companies often aren’t prepared to handle the emotion that can come their way,” he says. “The natural inclination is to dismiss feedback that doesn’t align to your own beliefs, but it’s actually a powerful gift that can improve your business if used the right way.”

Turn insights into action

A successful survey will return more ideas than you can possibly act on. You’ll hear from your biggest brand champions and people with an axe to grind, says Volpe. But you need to keep it all in perspective. Sift through the feedback looking for trends, and act on any issue that comes up repeatedly.

“The key to success with any feedback program is to use collected data to implement changes,” says Kierczak. “Observe how they perform and iterate. This process will help you improve your marketing efforts and create a better customer experience.”

Customer satisfaction surveys don’t need to be onerous for you or your customers, but they do require a strategic approach to be successful.

“Ultimately, [feedback] is a gift from your consumers and you should be grateful for that,” Volpe says. “But you have to understand what you are signing up for first.”

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