Customer feedback is immensely valuable for small business owners.

Big companies spend bundles of money collecting feedback and compiling consumer research to guide their strategy and tweak product offerings. Small businesses need that same information, but often don’t have the resources available to get it. That’s where creativity, persistence, and ingenuity come into play.

Want to get more customer feedback?

Here are some guidelines to get you started:

DO: Use a variety of info-gathering methods

You’ve got a lot of options when it comes to collecting important feedback: Online and offline surveys, text messages and direct mail are all great starting points. Not to mention in-person interviews and focus groups.

Use the resources available to you. Customers have many different preferred methods of communication, and your ability to get feedback from them should be equally diverse.

DON’T: Take every answer at face value

Not every response you’re going to get will produce value for your company. A lot of customers will come to your survey with an uncommon viewpoint, either due to a bad experience or their own disposition. Many more will say they are satisfied with your services, but further questioning reveals dissatisfaction with their experience.

Many more will come from people who maybe didn’t even buy anything — they want a discount or just want to create mischief. The response you get from “Seymour Butts” isn’t going to help your company much.

When you’re evaluating feedback, try and maintain a healthy sense of skepticism. Even real feedback from real customers can be reflective of extreme edge cases that won’t apply to 99% of your business. However, these edge cases can be extremely valuable when you’re thinking creatively about how you evolve and grow — they can offer radical new possibilities that you or your core customer base might never have considered.

DO: Use online surveys to gather info

The occasional prankster or grumpy response shouldn’t steer you away from online surveys. Most feedback today comes digitally. Which makes sense — online feedback is instantaneous, easy to process, and affordable for companies of all sizes.

Be sure that your online survey is mobile-friendly. 40 percent of online orders come from mobile devices and tablets according to Forrester. People who buy a product on mobile aren’t going to fill an online survey or review portal that isn’t compatible — and they certainly aren’t going to pull out a laptop to do it.

One of the most popular approaches for ecommerce companies involves sending a feedback survey right after a sale to gather info while the relationship is still fresh. This can either come in the form of a pop up or a follow up email.

If your business uses an automated sales process, set it to request feedback immediately as part of the sale. Install a prompt for a quick online survey right after checkout or auto-send one to the email address they provided.

DON’T: Survey too often

Some companies will focus too much on getting lots of feedback and neglect the most important thing: how the customer feels about their company post-purchase. After a sale, companies have a great opportunity to seed future purchases or customer referrals by creating a great experience.

Putting too much focus on getting feedback — or pushing too hard for online reviews — can sour the relationship at a moment when it holds so much potential. Don’t survey too often and become a nuisance.

Finding the balance between inspiring delight and collecting feedback may seem like a tightrope walk. For guidance, try to think like your customer — when you make a purchase, do you want several emails in a row asking for feedback?

DO: Reward customers for their insight

Whoever said “the best things in life are free” clearly didn’t spend much time soliciting customer feedback. While some people will be happy to offer information on their sales experience, most people won’t. The people who do respond will likely give very cursory answers that offer little value to your company.

Instead, offer a small reward in exchange for your customer’s time. Something as miniscule as a one-time discount code can increase your response rates — and justify asking more in-depth questions. People who feel like they are being compensated for their response are likely to answer all your questions with more detail and insight.

DON’T: Make Your Surveys hard to complete

Make giving feedback as easy as possible for the customer. Asking for feedback the correct way means making questions quick and straightforward. Avoid compound questions, and instead look for brief responses tied to products and process that don’t involve looking up information.

When you’re designing a survey, think about usability. How long will it take to complete? Does it ask a lot of redundant questions? Are the questions in a logical order, or do they jump all over the place? To become a survey pro, you’ll need to understand concepts like the Likert Scale and how to compensate for bias amongst your respondents.

If you need help getting up to speed on best practices for online surveys, popular platform SurveyMonkey has created a very valuable database of resources you can access for free. Even if you don’t use their platform, SurveyMonkey’s recommendations can help you ensure your survey is optimized to get you the best information possible.

DO: Analyze and follow up on feedback

Now that you have all that data stored up, what next? The first step is to organize and analyze your responses. The second is to let your customers know that you heard their feedback and you’re making changes to meet their needs.

Let’s say for example that your customers aren’t happy about your payment processing options. Maybe your existing payment platform doesn’t accept Apple Pay. Or maybe, in order to cover credit card costs, you are forced to charge people a service fee on purchases.

Switching to a new payment processor like Talus can ease that pain point. But most customers won’t know that you made a change unless you let them know. Keep customers up to date on big changes you make.

DON’T: Forget to Capture All The Value

Small businesses that don’t change to meet customer needs don’t grow. Once you have your responses, be proactive in making adjustments to improve how your business works. Making small changes to simple things like email subject lines or vendor relations can make a big difference in helping boost sales.

Beyond helping you to understand your customers’ satisfaction and sentiments, direct feedback from surveys can be a rich vein for creating compelling marketing and sales materials. The stories you uncover can be used (with permission of course!) to create great testimonials to get the word out about the value you offer customers. Testimonials can be used on your website, for social media marketing, or even in brochures and on signs.

Your customers are your most precious resource – listening to their feedback is the best way to make sure you’re keeping those relationships healthy.

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Lisa Weinberger

Lisa is the Content Marketing Manager at Talus Pay. She has led editorial teams since 2003 and has been published on Bankrate, The Altucher Report, LendIt, Fidelity, Credit Karma, Conductor and Yahoo Finance.

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