Interview with the CEO

How to use customer feedback to improve your business. Part 1

Featured article on Useful Social Media

Stephanie Burak, CEO and founder of Web Design on Fire was interviewed on the importance of customer service and acquiring customer data for business success. You can find the article at Useful Social Media.

1. Why is capturing data about customers a step towards better customer service?

Too many businesses assume that they know what their customers want and wonder why they fall flat. Even if your business started off on the right track, the market is constantly evolving and so are the needs of your customers. In this progressive age, customers are continuously faced variable conditions, which affect their needs and decision-making processes. As business professionals, it behooves us to be at the forefront of our customers' needs and desires, which we can only do if we regularly ask them for feedback and monitor their consumer behaviour. Furthermore, the more we know our customers, the better we can communicate with them, both in the styles and methods we choose.
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2. What techniques can be used to capture this data effectively and in a way that can translate to improved customer service?

We need to remember that consumers are bombarded with messaging and ads at every turn, so we want to strategic when we design our data capture techniques. Well-crafted surveys, very brief questionnaires (emphasis on the brief), focus groups, formal and informal interviews are still great solutions. Monitoring the ebb and flow of product sales, consumer behavior, conversion rate, email open rates and site metrics are also essential. However, the way you implement the data gathering process is key. The latter list consists of data you can capture through well-designed book keeping and a website analytics application; these are unobtrusive solutions and fairly easy to implement successfully. Any data that requires engaging your customers must be approached strategically since you do not want to come across as pushy or invasive. Moreover, one would have to question the quality of data derived from methods where the audience feels pressured during the data collection process.

I recommend "pull" methods such as offers, contests, engaging activities, and events, where the customer feels like they are receiving much more than they are asked to give. You can also find out what your customers are thinking through social media. For example, you can sign up for Twitter alerts that inform you whenever your company name is mentioned in a tweet, or a specified search term is used, such as "best (your business type) ever." Let the information you uncover inform how you serve and interact with your customers.
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3. What platforms do you recommend for this, and why?

It really depends on the industry and your target audience. You want to go where your customers are, so my first recommendation is to research where to find your target audience. A popular channel to look into is social media.

To generalize, you will find a lot of women interested in recipes, movies and shopping on Pinterest; millenials and more progressive business types on Twitter; B2B companies, service industry professionals and potential affiliates on LinkedIn; and everyone on Facebook.

The key to all of these social media platforms is to remember why people are there, because this knowledge will inform how to successfully interact with them. For example, with Facebook, people are there to socialize, so interspersing requests for feedback in with light-hearted commentary and media that people will want to "share" will be important for disseminating your message and seeing what people think about it.

I can imagine a bricks-and-mortar retail store posting funny ads related to products they sell, and then asking their fans to vote on their favorite ad and separately, their favourite product. This information would reveal the kinds of ads that may attract their fan base, and then which product they prefer. As a "thank you" for participation, the business could offer an exclusive Facebook discount on the product that receives the most votes. Or, taking this idea a step further, the business can promote their Facebook fan page in-store by announcing that a particular product is on sale thanks to their Facebook fan base, and by becoming a Facebook fan and sharing their opinions, the in-store customers can influence future sales and offers.

Making the data collection process a positive experience for your customers is the key to accurate data and willing participation; and since every B2C interaction is a touch point, it also reflects on your overall quality of service.
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4. How has your business driven data capture for improved customer services? Why? Has it worked?

For both my clients and my own businesses, I have done careful analysis of website metrics following key email campaigns sent through email management services such as MailChimp or Constant Contact. If I notice that the open-rate for an email is high but the click-thru rate to the website is low, I may surmise that the subject line of the email was attractive to my audience, but the actual content of the email did not draw conversions. From there I may conduct a/b testing (which is where you send different emails to different test groups) to see if I could figure out what might boost click-thru rates. This information would give me a better sense of what my customers are looking for and how I can better serve them.

This same principle works in other areas, such as social media. I may send out Facebook posts through a fan page and notice in the Insights that messages I send out at 8am get 40% more impressions than messages sent out at 3pm. This tells me something about when my customers are on Facebook. I may also notice that there is more engagement with posts where I share links to web resources on a certain topic, which lets me know that this is a topic of interest for my potential clients. The more information I can provide on that topic, probably the better.

Again, I can conduct a/b testing by posting the same link on different days of the week, at different times of the day, or with different explanations as to why the resource is a good one. I tend to change one variable at a time so that I can tell what is causing the change in response. I found this method to be very effective for figuring out what my audience is looking for in terms of product/service, methods of communication, areas of interest, and frequency and time of communication, to name a few. This research often leads me to recognize a core group of loyal customers I can contact for direct and honest feedback through phone interviews, informal meetings, focus groups, and surveys.
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5. Can you provide me with an example as to how you have used this information to benefit the business in terms of customer services?

I remember a time when I was working on a weekly email campaign for an organization and after an email template change, the core group of people who would open the email stopped doing so. Initially, we had a higher open rate from people over 45 years old, and a low open rate for people in their 20s and 30s. After the template change, the open rates flip-flopped.

I had a feeling I knew why the younger folks started opening the emails: they were informed of new template launch and were excited. The email format went from a long vertical list of announcements and details randomly ordered to a more streamlined and topically-organized version with a list of contents for quick access to specific areas of interest. The younger folks didn't want to spend the time to wade through paragraphs of text to find the couple announcements that interested them. I confirmed this through individual conversations with newly-active email recipients and a follow-up opinion poll a few weeks later.

As for why the 45+ recipients stopped opening the emails also required some personal investigation. I contacted a few of those core customers and found out that the reason they stopped opening the emails was because of the colors used in the new template; even though it was more convenient and efficient in its organization, there was not enough contrast between the words and the background color. Plus, the font-size was too small in certain sections and the users did not know how to make the text larger. From this information, I changed the palettes used in the template and included directions for enlarging the text (the directions were large and legible.) In just a couple weeks, we had our core email recipients reading their emails again and went from a 20-30% open rate per email to a 55% open rate. Anything around 40% is considered to be really good. Plus, we had higher attendance to events geared towards the 20s-30s crowd now that they were reading their email announcements.
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6. Why do you believe that customer services is so important?

Customer service has become the unique value proposition for most successful businesses in this day and age. Copyright only protects the expression of ideas, but not the ideas themselves; so in essence, anyone can reproduce your product or service. The way businesses differentiate themselves while validating the cost of their services and products is through exceptional customer service.
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7. Please outline why you think that this data will enhance long term performance and improve customer sentiment.

When customers are asked for feedback and they see positive change as a result, this builds brand loyalty awareness. If you follow the recommendations in this interview, not only will you be seen as the business your customers can count on to bring them exactly what they need, but you will also be demonstrating your unique value proposition, validating your customers' decisions for choosing you over the competition.
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8. Any thoughts or additional pointers?

If you are going to ask for feedback, be sure to acknowledge the effort your customer put forth to deliver that feedback. It is a gift of time and valuable information, even if it is negative and delivered with frustration. Wouldn't you rather know something is wrong, thus allowing you to fix it and improve your overall business success? Even if you do not plan to implement the idea provided by a customer, it is still important to thank that customer for the valuable input. If you do in fact make a change or improvement based on customer feedback or data collection, let your customers know that as well. As I mentioned before, this lets your customers know that you value them and their opinions, which will go a long way in building customer loyalty and growing your customer base.
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