“You need to go to your room and think about what you’ve done!”
We’ve all heard this line in one form or another (some variations may have been more fit for the sea). The problem with this type of punishment is that five-year-olds are irrational and don’t know what they actually did wrong. They need feedback.
When children are sent to their room, the likelihood that they achieve a Zen-like state of reflection is low. Instead, they brood. They’re confused. They bury their hot, angry tears in their Disney themed bedspread and question if in fact, you are the worst parent in the world.
I don’t mean to make fun of five-year-olds, their struggles are real, but I do mean to point out that it’s pretty easy for your business to behave like a child.
I’m not accusing your business is throwing tantrums or pulling the heads off your sister’s Barbies (sorry, Meghan), that’s silly. But if your business doesn’t ask for feedback and regularly practice self-reflection then it’s going to continue to make the same mistakes.
What is self-reflection and why do you need it?
The idea seems simple enough. Self-reflection is the practice of thinking deeply about your character, actions and motives. It’s a way to better understand yourself. Hypothetically, that is.
When we self-reflect, we’re seldom honest with ourselves. It’s hard. We reflect on who we’re trying to be instead of who we’ve actually been. We blame other people and other things for our problems. We’re all guilty of a little Photoshoping here and there. It’s human nature.
But how does self-reflection apply to your business? This seems a little too sappy and introspective for the office.
Well, pretend your business as a living entity that learns and develops just like a child does. What mistakes is it making and what is it doing to fix them?
The goal of business self-reflection is to make improvements to your products, services, systems and processes in order maintain to a high level of customer satisfaction and loyalty.
To do this effectively, you need to open your business to feedback.
The power of the feedback loop.
The jarring difference between personal self-reflection and business self-reflection is that you can’t evaluate the totality of your business without the feedback of your customers. You might think your customer service is excellent, but have you ever been a customer?
Pretend you’re driving down the highway in the midst of a long road trip. To your frustration, your progress is frequently slowed by unnecessarily long construction zones. After being conditioned to recurring work zones, you pay less attention to the reduced speed limit signs and continue at your normal rate of travel. There are no repercussions for your actions.
Now imagine those same tiresome construction zones but this time there are dynamic speed displays every mile or so (more popularly known as “Your Speed” signs). These signs provide you with a digital readout of your speed. But you already know your speed. It’s right there on your speedometer. Why would redundant information make any impact on how fast you’re driving?
Well, multiple studies have found that these signs make a tremendous difference. On average, dynamic speed displays decrease vehicle speed by 10-15 percent.
These signs work because of what’s called a feedback loop. A feedback loop provides someone with information about his or her actions and then gives the person the opportunity to change those actions with the goal of better behavior.
Your customers are your dynamic speed displays, but it’s your job to set all those bleeping signs up.
How to collect feedback about your business.
To setup an effective feedback loop you need to focus on three things: action, information and reaction. You probably have a pretty good idea of what your business does well and what it doesn’t, but you need to collect information to prove it.
Let’s say your business provides a month-to-month service. The success of your business is largely impacted by your customer retention rate. In this scenario, a customer cancellation is an action you’ll want feedback on.
On average, a typical business only hears from four percent of its dissatisfied customers. This means, for every customer that takes the time to complain, 25 others didn't even bother. Yikes.
To prevent being caught off guard, start collecting information from your customers as early and as often as you can. No, this isn’t some type Big Brother operation. The information you should collect is entirely voluntary.
There are a number of ways to collect feedback from your customers:
- Email: This is one of the easiest and most effective tools for collecting customer feedback. You can setup an autoresponder to engage with a customer one-to-one after a certain action is taken. Or you can send out a campaign to a large segment of customers for more general feedback.
- Contact Forms: Businesses often use contact forms as a way to generate leads (get your free estimate, start your 30 day free trial, request a demo, etc.). Contact forms can provide you with the demographic data you need to build client personas that can help identity trends in consumer behavior.
- Surveys: Surveys can act as a truth serum on your clients. The anonymous nature of surveys allows your customers to provide you with candid feedback about your business. Don’t waste your customer’s time though. Only ask meaningful questions. Consider reaching out to your customers on a regular basis to see how things are going.
- Interviews: Sometimes you need to pick up the phone and speak with your customers directly. Use interviews to spot-check the satisfaction of your customers. The interview process is an effective way to get customer feedback on some of your already known issues.
- Online Reviews: Your business has dozens of local listing pages that allow your past and present customers to leave online reviews. Don’t have an emotional reaction to a negative review. Take your medicine and understand it’s a necessary part of the information collecting process.
- Social Media: Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are three effective channels to engage in social listening about your business. What are customers saying in comments on your Facebook wall? What are they tweeting about you? About 80 percent of tweets about customer service are negative or critical. Reach out to customers directly to collect more information if this happens to your business.
Reacting to customer feedback.
Collecting information is an ongoing process. It’s important to continually improve your collection procedures. Ask yourself, “How can I get better customer feedback that allows me to improve my business?”
Whether the data you collect is qualitative or quantitative, you need to know what to do with it. Start by creating a way to organize and store customer feedback. A spreadsheet, CRM or point of sale system are all tools you can use. But I would suggest investing in a third-party customer feedback application to see the best results.
Ultimately, the most important thing to keep in mind when selecting a platform for data storage is that it must make sense for your business. If it's complicated or difficult to use, then your business will never adopt it.
After organizing customer feedback, you need to spot trends your business can act on. This is the reaction stage. Divide your reactions into three buckets: quick wins, pivots and game changers.
- Quick wins: These are simple tactical adjustments that your business can make on the fly that doesn’t take a big investment. Always be on the lookout for quick wins and make sure your business is agile enough to act on these.
- Pivots: These are reactions that take strategic planning and some investment. These reactions will likely cause a ripple effect over the next few months. You should try to make a few of these changes every year. Pivots allow your business to keep up with consumer behavior.
- Game changers: Game changers don’t come around very often, so take them seriously when they do. Game changes impact your business in nearly every facet. These are reactions that change the future of your business.
The practice of business self-reflection is not easy, which is why so many companies don't do it. If your business embraces a culture of customer feedback, self-reflection is an inevitable result. Because as much as it might want to, your business cannot ignore the bright, flashing signs right in front of it.
Other resources you'll enjoy:
From Help Scout: "75 Customer Service Facts, Quotes & Statistics."
From Zapier: "How to Collect Customer Feedback that's Actually Valuable."
From Inside Intercom: "How Customer Feedback Gave Shopseen the Perfect Idea."