The Power of Customer Feedback

Business goes where it is asked and stays where it is thanked.

The famous singer, Roger Williams, was on tour and stopped by a nursing home to visit his mother. Unfortunately, he got lost looking for her room and was wandering around somewhat confused. It was at that point that an elderly woman came up to him and looked at him with an intensely curious, but recognizing, stare.

After a moment, he broke the awkward silence by asking, “Do you know who I am?” Surveying him from head to toe, she replied, “No, but if you go to the front desk, they can tell you.”

Roger Williams asked a great question. In fact you should be asking a similar question when it comes to your business and your customer service. Do your customers know who you are?

The answer to this question will make or break your business. And the answer isn’t so difficult to get. As the elderly lady said, just go up to the front desk and ask. Or in the case of your business, just go out and ask your customers for some feedback.

The problem is, SOME BUSINESSES DON’T ASK THEIR CUSTOMERS FOR NEARLY ENOUGH FEEDBACK. OTHER BUSINESSES DON’T BELIEVE IT OR HEAR IT. And any one of those mistakes can seriously affect the success of your business.

Some businesses “don’t ask” for the feedback until it is too late. An important customer jumps ship, and all of a sudden, the business is calling that customer, groveling, asking for another chance, wanting to know what it would take to get back their loyalty. Good luck. It seldom works.

Other businesses “don’t believe” it. In other words, they don’t believe there’s any adverse feedback to collect from customers. Afterall, if there was any negative feedback, they figure they would know about it.

Wrong! Research has repeatedly shown that for every 100 unhappy customers a business has, only 4 will ever tell that business. Most people don’t say anything because they don’t think it would be worth the hassle.

So be careful. Just because you’re not hearing a lot of negative customer feedback, don’t assume there isn’t any. Smart businesses, prosperous businesses, beg their customers for complaints.

Still other businesses “don’t hear” it. Oh, they may ask their customers for feedback. But the business doesn’t get it. They don’t really hear it. They don’t hear all that is being said or left unsaid by the customer.

It’s like the man who conducted an experiment to find out whether people really listen to one another. Whenever he got a phone call, he responded to the standard question of “How are you?” with a simple, “Oh, feeling.”

Then he kept score of what people said back. The responses were, “Good…Great…or…That’s nice.” Nobody paid any attention to what he said, except once. The fellow at the other end perked right up. “Oh!” he exclaimed with interest. “Anybody I know?”

So what should you do? You should find out what your customer needs, meet those needs as best you can, and then ask for feedback on how well you delivered.

To do that, you need to ask two kinds of questions, preventative and inventive. Preventative questions focus on preventing wrong. In other words, they gather information from your customers on what you have to do so you don’t accidentally screw up or turn off your customers. They gather information about your customer’s likes and dislikes.

The two most common preventative questions you should be asking your customers are: “What did you like about our products and services? And what didn’t you like about our products and services?”

In essence you’re trying to figure out why your customers keep buying from you. You’re trying to prevent some things that would make your customers stop buying from you.

As telesales trainer Art Sobczak says, “This is so incredibly simple, yet it’s rarely used by companies.” You may think your product or service offers a particularly wonderful benefit for your customer, but that “benefit” may not mean anything to your customer. He or she might buy for a totally unrelated reason.

For example, my financial planner might like to believe that he gets my business because of all the superb economic analyses he does for me. The truth is–I’ve stayed with him simply because he calls more often than the other financial planners I’ve used. Of course, he may not know this because he’s never asked why I do business with him.

Ask your customers why they keep buying from you. Try something like, “Betty, I want to make sure we’re providing you with what you want. So please, tell me why you keep doing business with us?”

Then ask your customers some inventive questions. Unlike preventative questions that help you prevent wrong, inventive questions help you invent right. Ask such questions as, “What would you like from us in the way of products and services?” And, “What should we do differently?” Whether you use customer score cards, telephone calls, focus groups, or just ask your customers informally, face to face, you’ll get a gold mine of good ideas.

When you ask for customer feedback, you’ll also get a few complaints. So you may think it’s better to not ask for any customer feedback. You may think it’s better to leave well enough alone rather than encourage customers to vent.

Not so! Most research says that customer satisfaction actually goes up if you “respond” to customer complaints in 24 to 48 hours. Mind you, I said “respond,” not “resolve.” Customers don’t expect you to resolve all their problems immediately, but they are delighted if you take some action and get back to them as quickly as possible.

Today’s tip says, “Business goes where it is asked and stays where it is thanked.” I’ve been writing about the first part. You’ve got to ask for customer feedback. But you’ve also got to show appreciation.

To show appreciation, I would suggest you follow the advice given in the famous poem, “And Then Some.”

And Then Some

“These three little words are the secrets to success. They are the difference between average people and top people in most companies. The top people always do what’s expected…and then some. They are thoughtful of others. They are considerate and kind…and then some. They meet their obligations and responsibilities fairly and squarely…and then some. They are good friends and helpful neighbors… and then some. They can be counted on in an emergency… and then some. I am thankful for people like this, for they make the world more livable. Their spirit of service is summed up in these little words…and then some.”


Select three of your customers and ask each of them a couple of preventative and inventive customer service questions. Really listen to what they are saying, and then take one action that will exceed your customers’ expectations. In other words, use the feedback.