Customer service is the heart of every small business. It is also one of the key factors that make or break the sale for you, or guarantee a repeat order.
In other words, how you treat your clients, on many levels, makes them want to do business with you, come back for more, and tell others about you, period.
All of this is fairly known, or I have thought that it is. However, recent research concluded in Ireland, where I live, showed that customer service on our little island here is down by a staggering 33%! Mind you, this is in a country where business was heavily hit by the recession.
I compared this report with experiences of some of my colleagues in other corners of the world and it seems that my country is not isolated with its low customer service problem. Many of the people I talked to voiced the same worries that with prices for goods and services going down, so goes the value of a good customer service.
And what seems to be even worse, good customer service is not something that many startups consider their top priority. Sure, they have some idea of how to provide good service. They know that being nice to the customer, offering the best service, and always trying to exceed the clients’ expectations pay off. They realize that the friendlier you are to the customer, the more likely he is to come back for more. They understand that it is they who have to solve any potential problems the client has, not the other way around. However, practically all of them fail at two things, fully implementing all this in their day to day practices and getting satisfaction surveys to make that service even better.
There is only one way to improve your customer service, by a continuous feedback from the people who have done business with you. Only they can tell you the true value of your service. Only by asking the people who have trusted you and decided to do business with you, you can discover if what you are doing satisfies your customers and what, if anything, may be making them uncomfortable to come back.
Here is the thing though. Most of us associate customer satisfaction surveys with complaints. When we think of customer feedback, we have an image of an angry customer in front of our eyes whereas nothing is further from the truth. In most businesses there are more happy clients than the angry ones (unless the business provides staggeringly low customer service) however unless you ask, the only clients that give you feedback are the angry ones. People who enjoyed working with you usually don’t come back to tell you about their experiences.
The problem is that you should know about them too.
Over the last while I started paying closer attention to how small businesses gather customer feedback data and today I want to show you the most typical mistakes I noticed plus one single, the simplest possible solution to them all.
6 Common Customer Satisfaction Survey and One Solution to Them All
- Providing no tools to give feedback. You have probably seen this many times in banks and other large institutions, although I had noticed this problem in many small companies I visited. Many places have a designated drop inbox where you could leave your feedback, however, in most cases, there is no pen and paper provided to voice your opinions with. And what are the chances you think that the customer will actually pull out his own notepad, tear off a piece of paper from it and scribble a note to the manager?
- Questionnaires sent in PDF Another common mistake is to assume that your clients have the same technical knowledge as you. Sending your clients a file that requires specific software to edit and email back may not work so well. Naturally, the PDF can look amazingly well. The form can be beautifully designed, practically every aspect of the document can be made pleasing to the eye but …. I gave one such questionnaire I previously received myself to my mom to complete. A result? She didn’t fill it in and what’s worse, she felt stupid that she didn’t know how, even though that editing a PDF was beyond her technical abilities.
- Fancy design in Word Documents Quite opposite to the problem above is sending questionnaires in Word (well done, even my Mom can open it and give feedback) but trying to still design it to look amazingly well on every computer. A result? Fonts falling apart, the whole design being a mess and generally the document making you feel that you don’t want to look at it again.
- Limiting the amount of information the customer can provide I know it is a good idea to steer the customer in one specific way in their feedback. You can be sure that the customer answers will relate to what you really want to know and that he will no be simply commenting on the carpet you have in your office. It is easier to gather and process such data since it was designed by you however limiting what the customer can speak out about only to the “safe aspects” of your business may not be a that good idea. It is always good to leave some room for the customer so that he can truly tell you what he or she thinks about working with you.
- Not asking for feedback at all OK, not really a survey mistake as such but something I decided to include it anyway. Most small businesses, startups, and any other ventures I visited, talked to or even did business with didn’t ask me even for basic feedback at all.
I am sure there are more mistakes that companies make when it comes to customer satisfaction survey. The above are the ones I identified recently (or made myself in the past, shame to admit), and I am pretty sure that they are universal. However, what is the most striking in them all is that they can be solved in a single, very simple way:
Simply, by asking directly.
Want to know what you clients think of you and your service, simply ask them. You don’t need fancy tools for that, you don’t need sophisticated designer forms or any of that crap. What you need is a smile on your face and few words, “Hello, you just did some business with us, I wonder if everything was as you expected?”.
That’s all it takes to win.
So, if you want to find out what your clients think of you, simply:
- Ask them in person. If you are often visited by your clients, you run a store or a service company where clients come to your premises, as them every time you see them. If you have people working for you, train them to ask every client they see leaving the shop about their experience. Of course, you don’t have to have people running after everyone that walked into your store, just get them to be aware that they need to collect some data from people they have noticed in your premises. You will be surprised how much different your clients will feel when someone will finally offer them personalized service and actually show them that he cares.
- Email them. If, like me, you run a business where you don’t meet many of your clients in person very often, email is your best solution. However, don’t make a mistake of sending some fancy forms, unless you are a huge company and require specific data. All you need to find out is whether your client was happy to have done business with you. So email him to ask about that. You will be surprised how many people will be glad to tell you what they think of you. And if you do a great job, many will tell you that.
- Meet up with your best clients to discuss your service in person. Naturally, you can’t get every single of your clients for lunch or coffee. However, you should do so with your best ones (for some tips on finding out which of your clients you should value most, see my post here). Ask them in person, discuss the quality of your service with them. Again, you will be surprised how different (and better) your relationship with them will become.
Here is the most important thing about this strategy, start as early as possible.
It is easy to implement simple customer feedback into your system when you don’t have many clients on, it is much more difficult to do so if you are an established business.
As a new company start asking for feedback right now. Even if you have only one or two clients, doesn’t matter, start now. It will become natural to you and later, when your company grows and you will have plenty of clients and jobs in, you won’t have any problems continuing with getting feedback and improving your customer service.
I made a mistake of not collecting any feedback for the first few years in my company. It was really hard for us to implement any strategy later when we finally decided to do it. We had a lot of clients by then, the company was extremely busy and it just was tough to squeeze this one, extremely crucial aspect of running our business in. As a result, we were losing just like any other company not collecting customer feedback is. And it took us a long time and took a lot of hard work to finally implement a solid strategy.