How to manage customer feedback

OPENforum has a published a really helpful article about managing customer feedback – how to respond to it and how to record it. Check it out in its original context here, or read on below:

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There can be no doubt that social media has provided small businesses with amazing opportunities to connect with customers.  From Twitter to Facebook to Get Satisfaction to your own on-site support channels, it’s likely that you’re getting more feedback than ever before thanks to social media.  But with that flood of feedback comes the burden of managing and responding to it.

Because social media tools have empowered users and customers with the ability to quickly and widely publicize their thoughts about a company, it is important to respond to feedback in ways that ensure customer satisfaction.  As such, managing customer feedback has become an art.

Types of Customer Feedback

Let’s begin by looking at the different types of customer feedback that exist, and we’ll assume that you have the tools in place to monitor social media channels and collect and flag chatter about your company or products.

· Praise – This is probably the best type of feedback to get.  It feels good when someone offers praise unsolicited.  This type of feedback doesn’t always require a response, but a well-timed and well-worded one can increase the satisfaction of an already happy customer.

· Problems – Perhaps the most important type of feedback is support requests (people who have a problem or issue with your company, product, or service), and they should always be elevated to the highest priority.

· Queries – This category covers things like pre-sales questions, questions about your company or its business practices, or people seeking advice from you as a small business leader.  The opportunity exists here to make a sale or build thought capital within your industry with a proper response.

· Requests – Don’t ever promise a customer something they’re requesting, like a new feature in a software program, or a new option on a restaurant menu, unless you positively know it is under development.  But do make sure to respond graciously.

There’s a fifth type of feedback not mentioned: trolling.  Trolls are people who clearly just have an interest in speaking negatively and senselessly about you, your company, or your products.  They are only looking for a rise from you and it is always best to ignore them.  Remember, though, that not all negative feedback is trolling, but all trolling is negative.

How to Respond to Feedback

The first thing to remember when crafting a response to customer feedback is that even negative feedback is still feedback.  Someone still took the time to write to or about your company or product when it wasn’t required of them, and that should be acknowledged.  It’s a good idea to begin every response to feedback by thanking the person who gave it to you.  While it can be a tough pill to swallow to thank someone who thinks your product is no good, or your food tastes bad, or your service is lousy, it is up to you to set a positive tone in your communications.

Feedback responses should also always be personal.  Avoid form letters, and always address your response directly to the person who left the feedback.  Personal responses mean more to your customers than generic ones.

When in your response you address the feedback giver’s point — their praise, problem, question or request — take some time to think about things from their perspective.  Your response will be more meaningful if you can empathize with your customers.  You don’t have to agree with your customers, but realize that their point of view isn’t necessarily wrong.  Keep calm and try to see it from their angle and your response will be more measured and palatable as a result, even if you’re delivering a response that clearly isn’t what they were hoping for.

Always be honest. If there’s something you can’t share with a customer, say so, but never be purposely vague or aloof (customers don’t appreciate that) or be purposely deceptive.  Remember that social media gives your users and customers a megaphone, so being dishonest is never a good policy.

How to Keep Track of Feedback

There are two schools of thought when it comes to keeping track of feedback.  One says that you should keep track of everything your customers tell you.  Log the type of feedback, and what it is in reference to, and start a spreadsheet to keep track of it all.  That way, you’ll be able to more easily notice trends that emerge.  For example, let’s say you run a software company.  If a large number of customers are requesting a certain feature, it might be something you should consider adding.  Or if a high number of customers are reporting a specific problem in figuring out how to use a part of your software program, it might be time to revisit your user interface design or your documentation for that feature.

Another school of thought, though, says to forget about feedback.  The trends will reveal themselves over time anyway.  If enough people are complaining about something, or requesting something, or telling you how much they love something, you’ll notice even if you don’t write it down.  For operations with particularly high volumes of feedback, this might be the preferable route.

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What do you think? How have you responded to customer feedback in the past? Has this article made you think differently about your customer feedback policy?  Tell us about it here!

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