Building a strong relationship with your customers is key to having a successful business. If you’ve been around Anna Montgomery & Co very long, you probably already know that we believe one of the best ways to build strong relationships is by cultivating trust. There are lots of factors that are important in building trust with your customers—from demonstrating expertise in your field, to showing appreciation for your customers, to communicating clearly. But, one of the factors that is easy to overlook and often humbling to consider is proactively seeking customer feedback. Once gathered, we can work towards building trust through feedback with our clients and potential clients.
What is Feedback and Why Make the Effort?
In using the word feedback, we’re referring to the collection of thoughts, opinions, perceptions, and experiences your customers hold when they think of your organization. Your customers hear the promises you make and will naturally compare these to their personal experience with your organization. They are going to form beliefs about your organization based on their interactions with your team and then share those beliefs with others.
Being proactive about gathering feedback means doing some up-front work to determine what information you want to solicit and developing a plan to get and use it. If you don’t actively make the effort to draw this information out of your customers, you’re missing a great opportunity to encourage your team, improve your business, and build customer trust and loyalty.
As customers, we all want to feel heard. Asking for honest customer feedback shows your audience that you care. You care about their experiences. You care about offering excellent customer service. You care about them. When you listen to their experiences, you build relationship credibility that makes you stand out from the competition.
As a matter of fact, Microsoft’s 2017 report, The State of Global Customer Service, indicates that “77% of customers have a more favorable view of brands that ask for and accept customer feedback” (Microsoft, p.3). When you combine this with The Harvard Business Review’s statement that “acquiring a new customer is anywhere from 5 to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one” (Gallo, 2014), proactively seeking customer feedback clearly deserves our attention. Fully embracing feedback, however, often requires a change in perspective, from seeing it as something to be endured to realizing its benefits.
The Upside of Building Trust through Feedback
Let’s start by talking about positive feedback. Why is this necessary? Isn’t the upside of positive feedback already pretty clear?” Well, yes and no. This type of feedback is obviously easy to deal with and fun to hear. However, our tendency is often to dismiss it too quickly. Many of us tend to minimize the positive feedback we receive and dwell on the critical input. Affirming feedback is just as important as critical feedback because it shows us what we’re getting right—which is something to celebrate and repeat. And, celebrating these wins with your team lets them know what’s working and serves as a great encouragement for them to “do more of that!”
But what about the feedback that’s hard to hear? While most of us want to close our ears to critical feedback, it offers at least three great benefits that, if acted upon, will enable your organization to build relationships with your customers that benefit you both.
Analyzing critical feedback gives you valuable audience insight.
Though you do your best to anticipate customer needs, it’s often difficult to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and imagine what they might be thinking or feeling. When you receive customer feedback, you gain valuable insight into what frustrates your audience and what they value most. You can also gain additional information about their wants and needs that will be helpful going forward.
Analyzing critical feedback allows you to see what you might have missed.
Collecting feedback from your audience makes the implicit explicit, the unspoken clear. For example, you might have a customer who chooses to go elsewhere for a product or service you provide. Without proactively asking for feedback regarding this decision, you would be blindly guessing at the reason and miss the opportunity to address problems within your organization. Having actual data allows you to identify repeated problems and address issues you were unaware of before they become larger.
Analyzing critical feedback clarifies the path to growth.
If you have an open mind and willingness to change, customer feedback can point the way forward in improving your products, services, or team—maybe even leading you in a direction you hadn’t considered. Thinking through customer suggestions as a team can get your creative juices flowing and spark new ideas. At the very least, feedback is valuable in helping you know what to prioritize next and how to improve your audience’s experience with your organization.
Preparation Sets the Stage For Success
At this point you might be wondering, “So, where do I start?” We’re glad you asked!
Before seeking feedback, there are several items you’ll want to think through. First, it will be valuable to identify your objectives. Think through your customer’s journey with your organization from first contact forward. What are the key points of contact you have with each customer in this journey? What makes for a successful experience for your customer at each stage of that journey? Is there a specific piece of the customer experience you already know you’d like to improve? Doing this type of upfront discovery work will go a long way in making sure that you capture feedback that will actually be helpful for your team.
Once you have some clarity around your objectives and the type of feedback you feel would be helpful, you can move on to consider what type of feedback platform will work best for collecting the information you desire. One of the best ways to get very specific feedback is to have the customer complete a survey. Because you are able to write out questions for your audience to answer, a survey increases the likelihood that you will get the type of feedback you are looking for. Other options such as review sites like Google or social media review opportunities like Facebook would work for collecting feedback, but the open-ended nature of these options would not allow you to target specific input. Another option would be to make a direct connection with the customer through an in-person meeting or phone call. Each option offers some benefits and drawbacks, so you’ll want to evaluate the options carefully.
Northstar Contracting, one of our clients, is a great example of a company building trust through customer feedback. As a family-owned and -operated construction and remodeling business, Northstar strives for communication excellence with each client. To collect customer feedback, they partnered with us to develop a survey that would be sent to each customer as a link in an email upon completion of their project. We personalized the message, thanked customers for their business, and explained why Northstar was asking for feedback. We stressed that Northstar wanted customers to give honest feedback that would help them improve as a company so that customers would know they want to hear the truth. Then, we developed 10 specific questions that would allow Northstar to get the detailed information they needed while being relatively fast and easy for the customer.
Feedback That Leads to Action Builds Trust
Finally, but maybe most importantly, you’ll want to develop an action plan for the feedback you collect. Obtaining honest customer feedback is the first step, but it won’t do your organization any good unless you are prepared to act on it.
In order to be ready to act, you’ll want to think through some internal logistics. This refers to the plan you have for handling the feedback you receive. You’ll want to consider who will gather the feedback, how you’ll compile it so it can be easily analyzed, how often it will be evaluated, how you will turn the input you collect into tasks within your organization, who will respond to customers, and how you’ll follow up to assess results.
Once you’ve thought through these internal matters and decided who will be connecting with customers, it will be helpful to spend some time with this person or team, discussing the behaviors that will create greater trust with your audience. Just the act of responding to a customer who has provided you with comments will go a long way in building trust through feedback with your audience.
When the feedback is positive, you can respond to a customer with a simple thank you to let them know you heard what they said and you appreciate their willingness to let you know what they liked about their interaction with your team.
When the feedback is critical, it’s important to humbly take responsibility and make sure the problem gets addressed. A 2021 customer service survey by digital customer engagement company, Khoros, revealed that 83% of customers “feel more loyal to brands that respond and resolve their complaints” (Harold, 2021). You don’t necessarily have to agree with all the customer says, but if you follow up with customers, letting them know you hear them and understand their perspective rather than becoming defensive and argumentative, you will cultivate trust. When possible to correct the situation that elicited the negative feedback, by all means, make every effort to do so. To build even greater credibility, let customers know when, and how, the feedback they provided has been implemented to improve your processes. In this way, you reinforce with your customers that you are willing to listen to and implement feedback, and customers will be encouraged to provide additional helpful feedback in the future.
The more someone believes that you value their opinion, the more they will trust you. It’s a win-win. You get input that will help you build loyalty with your customers, better understand your audience, address issues before they become bigger problems, and know how to improve your processes. In return, your customer feels heard, valued, and most of all, pleased with their service. Pleased customers become repeat customers and tell others about their experience with your organization. And that’s the best form of advertising out there.
Fully embracing feedback, however, often requires a change in perspective, from seeing it as something to be endured to realizing its benefits.