Successful businesses work proactively to obtain information from their customers to ensure they are meeting their needs.
Service quality generally refers to a customer’s comparison of service expectations as it relates to a company’s performance. A business with a high level of service quality is likely capable of meeting customer needs while also remaining economically competitive in their respective industry. Successful businesses who remain competitive and relevant in the marketplace work proactively to obtain information from their current or potential customer base so they can ensure they are meeting their needs.
No amount of discussing with professionals, friends, or colleagues will ever replace the information that a company can receive from a real customer.
The following questions are crucial when obtaining customer feedback:
- What does the customer like?
- What do they dislike?
- How can things be improved?
- Are their needs and expectations being met?
- How much will they pay for something?
- Is convenience important?
- Should items be packaged together?
- Is after-sales service critical?
Customer feedback can be collected by:
- Asking consumers directly: This tactic comes across particularly effective during the point-of-purchase at a retail store because consumers are being probed on their experiences while they are shopping.
- Questionnaires: Distribute one-page questionnaires that ask some key questions and encourage customers to fill them out. These can be mailed out as pre-paid postcards or emailed to consumers who give their permission to be contacted.
- Focus groups: This involves gathering a number of customers, sitting them down, and discussing a range of issues relevant to a company’s business. The advantage of using this method over a questionnaire is that it will yield more detailed information and feedback, rather than “tick the box” style responses from a questionnaire. In-person focus groups and one-on-one interviews are helpful tools that provide explanation of product or consumer-related issues because you are going to the main source directly.
- Telephone: Some surveys can be conducted via phone. These yield a more private conversation exchange between the customer and the service provider.
- Virtual online communities or private consumer panels: Technology has made it increasingly easier for companies to obtain feedback from their customers. With the explosion of technology in the marketplace and the consumer’s everyday life, many companies are now building their own proprietary online panels of consumers which give them unencumbered access to their target market on an ongoing basis. In exchange for their honest opinions and feedback, customers are incentivized for their time. Community blogs and forums also enable customers to provide detailed explanations of both negative as well as positive experiences with a company.
Recently, many organizations have implemented feedback loops that allow them to capture feedback at the point of experience. For example, National Express, one of the UK’s leading travel companies, has invited passengers to send text messages while riding the bus. This has been shown to be useful, as it allows companies to improve their customer service before the customer defects, thus making it far more likely that the customer will return next time.