Launching a business is incredibly exciting, particularly if you’re fresh to the world of entrepreneurialism. Everything feels raw and vital: a bright future is ahead of you, and you’re ready to chart the course of your destiny. However… it isn’t that simple. Whether you’re planning to sell products or offer a service, you’re going to be dealing with customers — which means taking all the ideas that you’ve kept private and subjecting them to broad scrutiny.
It’s an unpleasant process, inarguably. No matter how prepared you feel you are, it will always be nerve-wracking to discover what others think of you and your work. But it’s essential. No business has ever thrived and gone from strength to strength having resolved to ignore the topic of customer feedback and simply hope it goes away.
And just as the process of learning from feedback is about identifying mistakes and finding ways to rectify them, you can take a great deal of inspiration from the various things that new business owners tend to get wrong about customer feedback. What are they?
Let’s take a look at a selection of the most common offenders:
They don’t frame it properly (or at all)
Customer feedback of any type holds relevance that depends on the context. Simply knowing that customer X said they don’t like feature B doesn’t tell you all that much — you benefit hugely from knowing more about the circumstances, such as when they expressed that opinion, what they were doing at the time, what other comments they’ve made, etc.
Despite this, new business owners can be very sloppy with how they approach feedback. They can settle for sitting back and letting it come in context-free, assuming for whatever reason (and incorrectly) that they’ll be able to make sense of it when the time comes. This approach leads to hasty and ineffective ad-hoc efforts to pick through customer opinions, usually resulting from sudden panic about business performance.
Here’s the key takeaway: if you want to use feedback properly, you must parse and segment it based on the conditions that gave rise to particular comments. Only by understanding the context of feedback can you accurately gauge its significance.
They make no effort to encourage it
Whether they’ve started their business from scratch or bought it wholesale as an organisational shortcut, a business owner can simply assume that it’s easy enough for people to provide feedback (typically through direct emails) and leave things there.
The latter origin is a particularly frequent offender: as convenient as it is to be able to buy businesses online, the presence of performance analytics (vetted in detail on sites such as Exchange or Empire Flippers) can lead buyers to assume that everything is under control and there’s no reason for them to step in and make sweeping architectural changes. After all, the current owners presumably know what they’re doing — why go against that?
Source: Barry University
But there are myriad ways to receive feedback, many of which are worth pursuing. You can run surveys (manual or automated), for instance, or carry out a social media AMA (Ask Me Anything). If you’re pursuing social media for promotion (and you may well be, since platforms such as Instagram are highly valuable for marketing), then you should have located relevant followers anyway and you might as well use them.
Most usefully, you can implement an integrated feedback gathering solution to both gather and contextualise valuable feedback. The more decent feedback you can get, the better.
They choose to ignore criticism
A piece of harsh criticism from a customer isn’t a sign that they hate the business and don’t want to deal with it again, yet it’s often treated as one. It might sound silly, but it’s shockingly hard to act dispassionately and not let criticism get in your head when you’re putting everything you have into growing your business.
Because of this, plenty of companies fear negative feedback so much that they seek to ignore or discount it wherever possible. They reason that the customers don’t understand what they’re complaining about, or that the results are inaccurate somehow, or even that they’re being targeted by malicious actors seeking to undermine them.
But this urgent determination to explain away any negatives misses something vitally important: that even the most cutting negative can ultimately lead to a strong positive. After all, if you know what’s not working, then you can fix it and end up with something better. If all the evidence suggests that your homepage is unclear, stop fighting against the tide and make some appropriate changes. It will ultimately be a great benefit to you, and give you the strongest chance of overcoming the classic startup stumbles.
They address their customers unprofessionally
In a time of Twitter exchanges dominating the news cycles, the perceived need of businesses to be active on social media has made many business owners more relaxed about casually interacting with customers. You’ll see company accounts cracking jokes, responding to brand comments, and even engaging in lighthearted brand warfare.
This is often fine, but it can easily turn sour and damaging when negative feedback enters the picture. New business owners can be very sensitive about their companies and feel the need to defend them when they should be using diplomacy and acting professionally.
Suppose someone discovers that most of their customers dislike a page design they built from scratch, and decides to vent their frustration on Twitter, explaining why those critics are wrong. Not only will it make them look childish and unstable, but it will also make it clear to everyone that they don’t care about providing a good service — they just expect everyone to like everything they do.
They misread its importance
What should you do if you get a lot of feedback suggesting that you should completely rework a particular feature of your service? Let’s imagine that you’re committed to reading through it carefully and not reacting emotionally, and you give it a lot of thought.
Here are two options:
1. You can ignore it entirely, reasoning that the customers who weighed in genuinely don’t understand a part of your business, but that can easily push people away through convincing them that your service isn’t going to improve and you’re unwilling to listen. Even if you’re right in thinking the change would be a mistake, it might matter enough to your customers that you need to openly address it.
2. You can immediately bend to the pressure and make the change a top priority, but what if it transpires that your customers don’t really know what they want? They might dislike the result and determine that they preferred your service before, ensuring that all the time and effort you put into making the change goes to waste.
The point here is that feedback doesn’t have inherent value, and you shouldn’t immediately reject or accept any particular suggestion. Everything with evident thought and legitimacy behind it deserves serious consideration, but you must always reach your own conclusions and get ready to justify them.
Never forget that open lines of communication can defuse most situations in which customers ask for things that you’re unable or unwilling to provide. If you don’t think a suggestion should be followed, you can just let people know your reasoning — they may agree or disagree, but at least they’ll know that you strongly considered their feedback.
Collecting, parsing and learning from customer feedback is a key part of the iterative improvement process — a process that’s irreplaceable for sustainable long-term business growth. If you’re running a business, be mindful of these mistakes, and ensure that you’re treating customer feedback as a top (and indefinite) priority.
Ecommerce Tips is an industry-leading ecommerce blog dedicated to sharing business and entrepreneurial insights from the sector. Start growing your business today and check out the latest on Twitter: @myecommercetips.
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