Originally published on my blog.
They say a good friend listens closely — and I believe successful businesses do too. One of the keys to building a successful business in the first place is to have loyal customers. Easier said than done. But there’s something you can start doing today to work on that: be proactive about seeking customer feedback.
You might think that waiting for people to tell you what you’re doing right or wrong is the better strategy. But waiting and hoping for the best is not a strategy. It’s laziness. And it’s tempting to assume that a lack of complaints from your customers means you’re doing a good job. That’s an easy trap to fall into.
Entertain me for a second here. Try to recall the last time you gave a company good feedback — an airline on Skytrax, a car rental company on Expedia, or a webshop on Trustpilot. If you’re like most people, you’ll have a tough time remembering. Now try to remember the last time you gave a company a bad review or complained on social media. That’s easier to recall, because consumers are more likely to reach out with negative feedback. Now, for the grand prize, think of the hundreds of products and services you’re using daily. For how many of them have you reached out to the team with feedback? Unless your name is Karen, we’re talking very low numbers.
People have no incentive to give feedback on every product and service they use. They might not have a platform to do so. They might not care enough about your company. They might be on their way out, waiting for that one-year contract you tied them into to run out before they can move on. Patiently waiting for feedback doesn’t seem so smart now, does it?
Product teams need to hold their finger on the pulse. They need to understand what customers are thinking and whether they’re happy with the product or not. They need to understand if someone is on the verge of churning. Because once someone has made up their mind, it will be expensive or even impossible to turn them around.
Prevention beats cure
Proactively seeking customer feedback before anything goes wrong is time well spent. Think about monitoring your health. Is your survival strategy to treat symptoms that manifested months ago? Or do you try to prevent, opting for a health check once a year? The latter is the better approach for health and for business.
Fixing problems after they arise is more expensive than preventing them. Keeping current customers happy is cheaper and easier than acquiring new ones. And as much as your product team might be full of superstars, they can’t do it on their own. They need customer contact to guide them.
Learning about your customers
We already established designers can’t read minds, but it’s tempting to think someone else in your team can: data analysts. You can look at data all day long, but nothing beats coming face to face with the people you’re serving. That’s how you will discover blind spots that you haven’t addressed yet. Customer feedback is how you spot ways to improve and opportunities that data doesn’t have the power to uncover.
A relentless focus on understanding their customers is what allows companies like Apple, Nest, and Amazon to thrive.
“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” — Jeff Bezos
Building customer loyalty
This simple act of reaching out and genuinely being interested in what your customers have to say is a good move in itself. It makes them feel heard, valued, and important, and it confirms that you’re there to serve them rather than the other way around.
The more direct the contact the better. One-on-one interactions beat generic email blasts. Calls and face-to-face communication beat surveys. And usability testing is the pinnacle of it all. Seeing customers use your product is an eye-opening experience, and meeting the creators of services they use is fun for customers too. This builds loyalty. Customers stop seeing you as this heartless entity, because they got to meet John from engineering and Claire from design. What a great way to let customers into your world, so they can see to what lengths you’re willing to go for them.
This is something you need to do continuously. As your customers are evolving, so should your product. Which brings me to my next point:
Evolving with your customers
Acting on that feedback will pay off through better decision-making, more sales, and improved customer experience. Communicating with your customers allows you to tailor your product to them, so you can grow together over time. It all ties in with your bottom line and helps you grow.
Even if you’re at the top of the food chain, you need to make a continuous effort to listen. Most of your unhappy customers have no time, opportunity, or incentive to tell you they’re unhappy. They’re already exploring who can take over and do your job better. You need to start being proactive and seek out that feedback. Not only because it helps you build a loyal customer base, but because it’s a key part of ensuring your business has a successful future.