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Looking For Loyalty? Just Ask

Companies have always looked to instill loyalty in their customers. It's an invaluable way of increasing customer retention, generating incremental revenue and growing a business.

Loyalty can be encouraged through a variety of methods, including e-marketing, offering consumer rewards and demonstrating excellent customer service. But perhaps the most effective way of forging a lasting relationship with your customers is by asking for, and acting on, their feedback.

With this in mind, we present our 5 Top Tips for generating and utilising customer feedback.

1. Why do you want it?

Your first task should be to determine why you're conducting the research, and whether you have the resources to make changes on the back of it. You may want to start with general questions to find out what customers think your strengths and weaknesses are, or you may already have an idea of what needs to be improved, and wish to tailor your questions accordingly. Is your poor customer service putting customers off shopping with you again? Is the ordering process easy for customers to understand? Are your prices prohibitively expensive? Once you have an idea of what may be alienating your customers, you can adapt your questions to find the specific things that annoy them, and get their suggestions for improvements.

2. How do you get it?

You also need to decide what form your customer feedback will take. There are several options to choose from including online surveys, emails, suggestion boxes, a 'comments' section on your website and utilising your call centre operatives, who have direct contact with customers every day. They all have their advantages, but it's essential to match the method of generating feedback with your customer base. For example, online surveys or emailed questionnaires have the benefit of anonymity, which may allow customers to be more honest in their assessments. However, they are unlikely to elicit a useful response unless your customers are web-literate.

Generally, speaking to customers over the phone is a really good way of generating feedback, as it feels more personal, helps to develop a two way relationship between business and consumer, and allows you to investigate dissatisfaction by asking additional questions. Also, do not be afraid of receiving negative feedback from your customers. After all, if they only tell you what you're doing well, you'll never discover the improvements that can help your business reach its full potential.

3. The Reward (for your customers)

Many companies shy away from carrying out feedback surveys for fear of annoying their customers. But demonstrating a genuine interest in their thoughts and feelings lets them know that they are valued, and that you're committed to providing the highest levels of service possible to them. Providing you're polite, unobtrusive and respect the wishes of people who don't want to participate, you should get some great results.

You can also offer consumer rewards and incentives either from your own company, or from a specialist provider of loyalty and reward programmes to sweeten the deal, and remind them that you took the time to ask for their opinions. Remember to thank your customers for taking the time out to answer your questions, and if their comments end up changing something about your business, tell them!

4. What do you do with it?

There is little use in spending the time and resources generating customer feedback if you're not going to do anything with it. This is where the initial objective of carrying out the research and tailoring your questions to determine specifics about your business becomes so important. There's no point conducting research into, say, the price of your product, if you don't have the necessary margins to alter it when your customers tell you it's too high.

If you've used a numerical system of questioning (asking customers to rate aspects of your business from 1-5 or unsatisfactory to excellent etc), you can analyse the data in a spreadsheet and look for trends, especially if you have also gathered information about the customers you've questioned, like their age, gender and the product they've purchased. If you've used a more anecdotal style of questioning, you'll need to spend some time reading through the responses to understand what issues were uncovered. This may take longer, but it should give you a more detailed understanding of what your customers think of your business, and also has the advantage of providing ready made testimonials from those who've had a good experience.

5. The Reward (for you)

In time, you should start to see customer feedback as an intrinsic part of a cycle of excellent customer service that doesn't simply stop once someone makes a purchase. Instead, by acting on the recommendations of your customers, you're showing that you value their ongoing custom, and are willing to make alterations to your business to make them happy. Customers may also feel that they have an investment in your company if you make it clear you're taking their ideas on board, and this connection between consumer and company is a key ingredient in building brand loyalty. When done correctly, it will help you increase customer retention and incremental revenue, as well as ensuring that your customers stick with you during the good times, and the bad.