Some time ago I wrote a post on lessons learned this summer. One lesson was that business owners do not always want to hear the truth.

Me being a DIY Marketing Mentor, it shouldn’t surprise you that I am quite the marketing nut; I cannot help but observe businesses around me and see how they are doing. It is the marketing anthropologist in me that loves to watch and assess small business owners and their habits.

Why don’t people ask for feedback

One habit I observed last summer was the “not being willing to hear the truth” habit by several business owners. I get it up to a certain point. Your business is your baby and if you do not believe in it, who will? Feedback however is necessary to find out what your customers really think about your business.

I found this interesting post on why people do not want to ask for  feedback:

  1. Cultural norms – it’s not the done thing, whether in our country, our community or our business.
  2. It is pushy.
  3. It terrifies us. How long do you think we spend checking and deliberating before we do it? How long do you think we put it off for?
  4. It is too salesy – we have got some brilliant stuff on getting over this idea of selling in an upcoming blog
  5. We figure “We get paid for it. That ‘s enough.”
  6. We figure “Oh, if we were good enough then they would have said something spontaneously.”
  7. We worry that we might not have done a good enough job. We underestimate the impact of the work we do and the value we deliver to the people we serve.

I would like to add another reason, which  I call Blinding Ego. Sometimes people’s egos are so big it blinds them. It doesn’t even occur to them that there could be something wrong with their product or service. And if you think your product or service is great, then there is no need to ask for feedback, now is there?

It is similar to CEOs of big companies thinking they have all the answers themselves and then eliminating everyone who has a different opinion. Research done by Sydney Finkelstein shows that these are two of the reasons Why Smart Executives Fail. I think it is a similar trait in CEOs as well as small business owners that leads to this feedback avoiding behavior.

The importance of feedback

Feedback or criticism is important. It is a gift. But its necessity is also common sense, because if your customers are happy, they come back and recommend your business, and your business makes more money as a result. Not being open to feedback means you are robbing your own purse!

© Juri Samsonov – Fotolia.com

If you continuously want to improve your business’ products or services you have to know your customers’ likes and dislikes. It wouldn’t be worth your while continuing a product or service that no one cares about;  be it a dish on your menu or treatment at your spa.

Asking customers for input makes them feel important and increases their engagement with your business. An engaged customer could end up being your most enthusiastic ambassador. And every ambassador is word of mouth for your business.

If you do not have an idea of the spectrum of customer opinions about your business you may miss that there are negative rumors going around. What you do not know you cannot do anything about.

A brief example: When a new restaurant opened in my area they seemed to be doing pretty well for themselves. The place was booked with reservations every night during the summer and some positive reviews appeared on Tripadvisor. After some time however, the same feedback was heard over and over again: the food in itself was good, but the dishes were not complete (carbs and veggies had to be ordered separately), and because of the latter, the restaurant was considered poor value for money. As the owners never seemed to do anything about this – they even increased prices – it is fair to conclude they either didn’t know about it or choose to reject it. Both potentially fatal mistakes.

Ways to gather feedback

Like I said in my previous post as a customer you are not always inclined to be honest when someone asks for feedback. In restaurants for instance, I do not want to spoil the mood by telling the waiter that the meat really was too red, or the tapas just too bland. I just let it pass and vote with my feet; I just do not eat there again or when I go, I will only order drinks. And if anyone will ask for my opinion, I will tell them to go somewhere else.

Method #1 Ask your customer directly

Having said that I think the best way to gather feedback is just to ask your customers in person. In the restaurant example, it may be better to ask them at a different time from when they are having their meal. Also do not only ask the people who are raving about you, ask the people who stopped being your client, or changed their buying behavior. Find your most unhappy customer and ask him. Like Bill Gates said: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”

Of course you can also ask by phone or via email. Use the channel that works for you and gives you the feedback you may not want to hear, but need to hear to run your business.

Method #2 Council of truth speaking people

Another way of getting feedback is gathering some people around you, you trust, but who are also known to speak the honest truth. This may be a friend or a business acquaintance or an employee, the only prerequisite is that the tell you the truth and that they have a good sense of what is being said about your business, especially if your business is a local business. There also shouldn’t be any repercussions for them speaking their mind. Remember they are only trying to help you.

Method #3 Do a survey

If you do not want to ask your customers in person, you can do a survey; online or offline. SurveyMonkey makes it possible to ask 10 questions for free. They even have example questions to help you set up your survey. Also this way your customers can be anonymous if that is what they prefer.

Another online method is to have a poll on your website or Facebook page. The advantage of SurveyMonkey is that it can place the survey directly on your site or Facebook page. So if that is where you meet your customers, ask them there.

You can of course also do a questionnaire offline and give people an list of questions to fill out. This may not be perceived as anonymous though and it will take more time to analyze.

If you do not know how to set up such a survey when it comes to questions or the online technical part, hire someone to help you. It will only take a couple of hours times someone’s hourly fee. An investment surely worth it, considering the insights you will gain.

Method #4 Listen to what is being said about you online

You may want to use listening tools to hear what is being said about you online. There are quite some expensive tools that are outside an small business owner’s reach, but a simple one is Google Alerts. You can add your business name to the search terms and set an alert. You will receive an email for every search term you have set up and you will know if people speak about your business and what they say.

If people say bad stuff about your business that isn’t good. If nothing is being said about your business, that isn’t good either.

Method #5 Look for behavior that isn’t there

To finish with the hardest way of getting feedback: observing what is not being said or done. Like with the former method, if nothing is being said about your business online, this isn’t a good sign.

Observing behavior that isn’t there, is tricky because it could lead to you drawing the wrong conclusions: “People do not shop at my store because my products are bad”. It could be that they love your products, but they simply cannot afford them. Same result, different cause.

So take these observations as a starting point. A question you want to find the answer to. Not as a final conclusion about your products or services. Make them the beginning of you as a business owner actively seeking feedback in order to improve your business and make more money as a result.

What to do with feedback?

Depending on how you receive feedback, respond to it. If someone sends you an email with feedback, acknowledge it. If someone posts something on your Facebook page, be it positive or negative, respond to it. If someone left a review on some review site, reply to it. This may take time, but it is important for building your business and building relationships with your customers.

Another important thing to do with feedback is to analyze it and work with it. In the feedback you get, look for the trends, the recurring complaints or recurring praise. If something is structurally not right in your business you will hear the same negative feedback over and over again. It also means you will have to do something about it as soon as you can.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask. I’d be delighted to help.

By Pepita Bos

pepita bosAbout the author: Pepita sees marketing as the core of any successful business but also sees that immensely talented small business owners often lack marketing skills. She believes that with some effort anyone can learn to market their own business more effectively. Learning, knowledge sharing, teaching, problem solving, helping, and laughing are what drive Pepita. Her motto is “Marketing is everything and everything is marketing” a quote by Regis McKenna. You can connect with her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest.