While there have never been more ways for comments – be it positive or negative – to be given on products or services, customer feedback can be a powerful tool, if used wisely.
Customers can do more than provide a source of income for a business. Engaging with them effectively, and listening to their thoughts, can provide essential data and insights into making a company more efficient, productive and profitable.
Even highly-successful businesses must be ever-more agile these days, and using customer feedback effectively can help to stay ahead of the competition ensure a business is placed to make the most of new opportunities.
Dan Szor moved from Manhattan to the Cotswolds where, after a successful career in the financial services industry in London and Paris, he opened the Cotswolds Distillery in 2014. As well as producing award-winning whisky and gin, the company is a visitor attraction.
“As we witnessed the fast growth of interest in our visitor experience we moved quickly to establish ourselves on TripAdvisor, which is in my opinion the most valuable source of feedback for a hospitality provider like us,” he said.
“I religiously read every single review we receive – there are now about 1,200 – and make sure that we reply to any review that is under three stars, or where there has been any sort of disappointment expressed with our offering.”
Szor and his team collate customer feedback from a variety of sources and then use it to hone their product range and offering to visitors. “We sometimes receive comments from disappointed customers who have turned up at the distillery hoping to see us in action, only to find that all tours have been booked solid days in advance,” he said. “Because of this we now go to great pains on our website to forewarn people of the need to book early.”
Some visitors have complained about not being able to try the company’s products because staff are busy attending to other customers. “We’ve added more staff and we make certain that all drop-in customers, most who have driven a number of miles to reach us, are offered a taste of any of our spirits that interest them,” explained Szor.
“We’ve set up an automatic SurveyMonkey form which is sent to all visitors who’ve been on a tour of our distillery so that we can mine this rich source of data on the quality of our offering and see if there’s anything that’s missing,” he added. “It turns out that the number one request is for some sort of café – a place visitors can sit down before or after their tour and have a cup of tea or a light bite. This realisation has prompted us to apply for and receive planning permission for a new, larger and more comfortable visitor centre – one which will most definitely have a café.”
Szor’s previous experience in the world of finance has also been useful. “I think my comfort with, and reliance on, quantitative analytical tools has fared me well,” he said. “We make certain to record not only how many bottles of each spirit and items of merchandise has sold every day, but also our visitor numbers – both tours and walk-ins. After months and years of painstaking data collection, trends start to emerge – and they allow us to plan and invest more confidently.”
With any business, when using customer feedback it’s important to decide what comments and insights that have been collated are going to be used for – is the aim to overhaul a particular part of your service or are you looking for insights into new product development, for instance? From this, companies can then identify which sources of feedback work best and how they can be managed together.
“We collect customer feedback in a variety of different ways because each of them has something to tell us,” said Luca Faloni, who launched his eponymous premium menswear brand in 2014 after a career in business consultancy – including time at Bain & Co. “Complaints often come through email and we’ll immediately reply, find out what went wrong and use that information to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
“Generally we’re always asking customers about what we can do to offer them a better service and create new products for them. Our customers expect to have a voice and they’re very willing to give feedback.” As a smaller more agile company with a turnover of around £2m, Luca Faloni, which is based in London but manufacturers in Italy, can act on customer feedback quickly.
Although the company is primarily online, it regularly holds events in pop-up stores because Faloni believes that human interaction and a chance for both staff and customers to look at the product together is essential. “We like to see how the clothes fit on people and get their feedback on sizing. We discovered that with one range, for instance, the sleeves were slightly too short, so we lengthened them a bit on the next production run,” he said.
“Pop-up shops are an opportunity simply to ask customers about new products that they’d like to see us launch,” explained Faloni. “You can really learn from customers this way. We also carry out online surveys – but even then we like to keep the questions quite open.”
Collating customer feedback
With so many channels available these days choosing the right mix is essential. Online surveys can provide statistical data whereas face-to-face conversations allow for more nuanced, qualitative feedback as customers relax and open up. Matching the various inputs so that, for example, those personal interactions prompt questions for online surveys and data from these surveys can inform conversations, is essential.
With online surveys, to make using customer feedback easier, it’s important to ensure questions are clear and relevant. Multiple choice questions take less cognitive effort and make it more likely that customers will take part. It’s always possible to allow space for comments if respondents want to leave them.
When it comes to using customer feedback, it’s important to share data around the company so that everyone can add their thoughts and take away lessons. After all, the customer experience has a relation to bear on everything from finance to HR and legal to new product development.
Reacting quickly, especially to negative feedback is vital, believes Szor. He received a comment on TripAdvisor from a dissatisfied visitor who’d been unable to get onto a tour and who was in the hospitality industry herself.
“I quickly wrote her a personal apology and had a bottle of gin sent free of charge. A week later a package arrived for me from her along with the most lovely note,” he said. “Inside the package was a distillery exclusive bottle of Jameson whiskey – it turns out my complainant was none other than the head of the visitor centre in Middleton, Ireland. So, from an enemy came a friend, and also a valuable lesson in the importance of responding swiftly and strongly to negative feedback.”
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