Your Secret Weapon: Customer Feedback

When it comes to making improvements in your work, or how you make your products, or tweaking  the products themselves, who do you ask for help?

When it comes to improving yourself, how do you figure out what you need to focus on? It starts with the pain, right?

Usually we wait until the discomfort becomes too great for us to bear and then we start fixing things that are causing the pain, but sometimes we’re smart enough to ask for help before reaching that point, and when we ask, we turn to the people we trust. Don’t you ask your friends?

Unless you have very few competitors in your niche, you can’t rest on your laurels when it comes to keeping up with the changes that  innovations and time pushes onto any market. If you don’t push yourself to keep learning — making mistakes and adjusting for them along the way — you won’t expand your knowledge. You won’t be able to adjust when something new comes along that can impact you, your products, and your business.

Think of it. The things we’re capable of doing today — mobile banking, on-demand streaming services, seamless virtual conferencing, for example — didn’t exist two decades ago. The infrastructure and the technology simply weren’t there. Now that they are, look at the changes they made to how people manage money, music, entertainment and media, and how we communicate across borders and time-zones.

And even now, with all the advances in science and collaborative technology, we really have no way to predict with pinpoint accuracy what’s going to pop up in the next twenty years.  Entire industries got turned over since then, and long-standing business practices eroded and were swept away by the change brought about by new tech.

The speed at which we were able to generate and share our discoveries zoomed, and so did the amount of data let out into the world.  There’s too much information for any one person to get all sides and perspectives of issues.

And that means that you have to stay sharp — and staying sharp requires resources, time-management, and dedication. Working smart and working hard — and asking questions. Questions are a timeless way of getting more information, and with the apps and online tools we have at our disposal, well, we can all drown in looking for what we can use to make improvements.

Which leads then to this: Have you ever crowd-sourced brainpower?

Yes, ‘crowd-sourcing’ is the latest power-phrase, but it’s basically old-fashioned asking for help. When you use the word itself it’s mainly applied to fund-raising— so the hybrid ‘crowd-funding’ also came to be.

But seriously though, when it comes to asking for help in improving yourself, or your products, what you can do to make the process easier and get more relevant data is to ask your customers. We are all of stuck in our individual heads, and we need to talk to others so we can build bridges out of our heads. Build a bridge, get unstuck, put ideas into action and start testing, you can make things better.

After all, without customers, your business is cut off from its source of income, not to mention connection and relationship. You made your products in mind for them, ask them how to improve. Ask your customers what they want, how you can make things better for them and  you get ideas. You get involved with your target markets, and you help extend the longevity of your business: people will keep coming back because you’ll be giving them what they want and need, the way they told you you could.

Lay things out in a general plan:
“What’s your best source for improvement? How do you know what to improve on –what, where, how?”

What better source than the people who use your products or services? Hand-on means direct experience. They see your product in action up close and personal. Any bugs, sputters, or glitches, they’re the ones who feel the direct impact. Any mistakes and flubs for them because of your product should be a cause for concern for you.  Those are signs that you can actually do better.

Sure, there will always complaints about not being able to do things that your product was not designed for, it’s human nature. But when you study the trends of your customer concerns and complaints, enough data points will make a pattern — which can be breadcrumbs to show you what to smooth out in the next version, or reveal something you never thought to address.

When people use your product and you get complaints, the initial reaction might be personal.
Distress: “Where did we go wrong?”
Outrage: “It wasn’t designed for that!”
Scorn: “It’s user error. Some people just can’t follow directions.”
Push the ego-flinch aside and look into the validity of the complaints and the questions raised. Each one is an opening to possible improvement.  You never know what you overlook until someone points it out to you, right? There’s no difference here.

Friends and family  can downplay their feedback because of friendship, but customers won’t care who you are, they want results Cultivating a thick skin and a willingness to listen to criticism can help you define boundaries when it comes to making good work better — and that’s the point of asking.

You put defensiveness to the side when you refuse to make it personal. Focus on what is the pebble in the shoe is for your customers. You are not the work, the work is the work. You focus on making it good, it’ll speak for  itself.

The pressure can make you better at taking care of yourself. You can take things personally, making it about you, or you can focus on the work. The information you get can truly help you make improvements. And  you could  actually create better relationships by learning to be a good listener and being transparent about your  processes. People appreciate that since it’s so rare these days.

Making it more specific:
How do you solicit responses? What are the ways you use to get customer feedback?

It all depends on what your goals are and how much time you plan to dedicate to this. incremental improvement isn’t a one-time thing, but if you’re just setting things up, be open to making mistakes and learning from the process.

Feedback is inevitable in a service-oriented market: Having a system to monitor, assess and respond to that is customer service, and incorporating feedback into products is yet another process. What do you regularly use to get in touch with your customers? Email? Twitter? Facebook? Each has it’s strengths, but let’s go with email, and use the strength of your mailing list. You can ask them through email.

A survey or poll could work. Here are a few helpful links to guide you in making surveys with Typeform and Google Docs.

 

Polls can help with segmentation (What are their circumstances ?) They can help pinpoint issues that worry the customers (What do they want to improve, lose, or add – the answers can be the seeds for  future services). Feedback can help you close loopholes you’ve missed (What do they think you can improve on?) and what can you help them with.

You want to know what you can improve on, you know from the inside–as a creator, programmer, designer, etc.  From the side of the people you made your product for? The difference of perspective is  enough to start thinking in different angles of approach and resolution.

Data mining for ideas starts with identifying where to dig.  You don’t fish when there’s no fish– dip in your own select pool: your email list.

Ask the people who are intimately engaged with the subject–with your product, with what you offer….they use it, it’s real to them, with all its nooks and crannies, and its bugs.

The nuts and bolts of asking.
Setting  up a poll means making up a list of questions. Making these questions takes time, answering them can take even longer, so make sure that you focus on making questions asking them what they need for a better product or experience.

In essence, “How can I help you help yourself better with my service/product?”

  • Questions — what data do you need to help you help them?
  • Set expectations  — how short or long is the poll?
  • Set boundaries: Are you willing to follow up in detail? Do you have their permission to do so?
  • Do you have the resources to do so — outsourcing interviews, for example.

 

Ask. The world is not that savage it will bite your head off and shame you for not knowing  all the answers. You went into this business for a reason: you saw a need and sought to fill it. You’re helping other people, and now’s a very good time as any to ask them for help in how to do it better. Ask. You’d be amazed at what you can receive.

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