Talk to Your Customers: The Importance of Customer Feedback for Your Business

Cartoon #0512 - So, as you can see, customer satisfaction is up considerably since phasing out the complaint forms.

So, you're starting a new online business.

Do you try something out, come up with a service, promote a product, and just sit back and wait for praise or complaints?

If so, you've got it backwards. By the time you know what you're doing wrong -- and right -- it's far too late.

So what's the right way to go about it? Product development surveys and customer support surveys. Give them early and often.

Why are they so important to your fledging Web-based business?

Take for example, the classic case of Boo.com. The European startup stands as one of the first big dot.com crash and burns. Beefed up with more than 350 staff members and a history of killer success stories on the part of its principals, the Boo.com idea was that customers seeking high-end sports and athletic wear would love to first put samples of the products onto digital mannequins and spin them on their computer screens, seeing how the item might look from all sides.

Boo.com's entrepreneurs had a great idea that needed some serious customer feedback on the front end.

Remember, it was just the end of the 1990s, and not everyone was screaming through bytes on broadband connections. Would a customer want to wait for the graphics-intensive experience to work on their then-slower connections?

Turns out the answer was no. Business sagged, and compounded with other problems, Boo.com lost its footing for good.

This is exactly the kind of customer-feedback opportunity you want to consider. Don't wait until you've sunk too much time and money to discover your site's weak spot(s).

Time your customer-feedback process to coincide with your very early days of business. This is crucial because early-stage users of a website tend to detect 90% of the problems that site is going to present. So, start tapping your first visitors right away.

Here are some tips on how to get the process of customer-care contact going — by building it directly into your website and your business activities — and also some advice on what to do once feedback starts to come in.

Reaching Out, Inviting Input: We recommend a two-prong approach: send and receive. On the send side, e-mail your feedback survey to your known customers. Ask them what they like about their online experience with your service or product, and be sure to give them space to tell you what they'd like to see in addition to what your website already does. Likewise, at your site, be certain there's an opportunity for visiting customers to leave comments, whether it's in response to a blog you keep there, or as part of a forum page.

Talk Back and Take Charge. Perhaps hard for you to believe, but not everyone is going to love your site. The truth may hurt, but it's always helpful. The key is to manage all kinds of feedback, and manage it toward success.

If you receive negative feedback on your site, early on — or any time, really — choose to interact. You can moderate what makes it to the site itself, but communicate with the unhappy customer directly and you may find that they still want to do business with you, they simply want whatever problem they've identified to be solved. Solving that problem means everybody wins.

So, there's your primer. Now get out there and get some feedback.