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Historically, companies have relied on surveys using open-ended and multiple choice questions to get customer feedback, with some larger companies using focus groups or one-on-one interviews, said Vivek Astvansh, assistant professor of marketing at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

While these methods are still in use, a broader trend is underfoot to derive customer feedback from other sources, including social media posts, reviews and more. Large enterprises can use sophisticated tools to analyze this content, while medium-size and larger small businesses can use analytical tools from Facebook, Twitter and Google. But these tools are too expensive for smaller businesses, Astvansh said. Smaller companies will still use social media for customer feedback, but rather than sophisticated analytical tools, they will more often than not look at social media on occasion to get a general feel for customer feedback.

Whatever the organization's size, businesses are turning to a wider variety of sources, some of which are decidedly low-tech, in the pursuit of learning what their customers really think. 

1. Incented Surveys

Businesses frequently follow up a customer service interaction with an online or telephone survey, depending on which channel the service request came in on. Those requests often go ignored, so the organization may or may not have enough to draw any meaningful conclusions.

To help ensure that customers complete the feedback surveys, Herrman and Herrman, PLLC offers those that complete the 10-question queries a $15 Starbucks gift card, said Eric Holguin, brand ambassador. “These client surveys provide valuable feedback for our law firm to continue improving after every case. Our survey questions offer insight into how our clients heard of our law firm, what made them choose our firm over other personal injury attorneys, what search terms they use on search engines and what our clients liked most and least about their experience with our law firm.”

2. Phone Calls

“At BusinessWaste.co.uk, we only have one feedback model and that is to pick up the phone,” said Mark Hall, director. “We speak to every customer — we try not to use email. We have over 16,000 customers so it’s time consuming, however we create customers for life and have the lowest attrition in the industry.”

The phone calls lead to good, honest feedback, Hall added. “Some might say it’s old-fashioned, but it works. We create relationships with our clients in a way that no email or electronic feedback ever will.”

Relying on the phone benefits consumers as well, according to Hall. When customer has an issue, he or she calls one number that is answered by someone at headquarters who is empowered to solve customer issues.

3. Video Feedback

Wordable relies on two types of video feedback from customers, said Brad Smith, the company’s CEO.

Interviewing customers via video calls has produced the best results, Smith said. “Typical questions include: Why do they use our product? What other features/use cases would you like to see in the product? How has been your experience with our customer service executives? How can we make our customer service better? What is the most important feature of our product for you? All these questions help us understand the pain points of our customers and how we can improve our product and services.”

The company also relies on usability testing, Smith added. “It is more expensive than interviewing customers. However, it helps us know how customers use our product. We set up 30-minute sessions with our customers where we record the screen while they are using the product. We give them certain test cases to work on. This method helps us understand usability and user experience issues faced by our customers.”

4. Open-Ended Surveys

“Of all the customer feedback models we have used, the best are from surveys with open-ended questions or analytics where the most important thing is not what the customer says but what the customer does,” said Bryan Philips, head of marketing for In Motion Marketing.

In surveys, it’s important to understand the voice of the customer, how they see their problems, and also how they see a company’s product or service, Philips added. This is why the questions should be open-ended. The intent is to hear what the customer say and how they say it.

“One question that we commonly use seeks to have the client tell their journey, describing the problems they had before using our product/service, their discovery of our product/service and the results after using our product/service. These are great for social proof on landing pages and websites.”

With user testing, heatmaps and analytics, Philips tracks how customers interact with the company’s digital marketing platforms. The company measures and quantifies time on page, bounce rate, cart abandonment, percentage of scrolling and button clicks to understand better what actions customers are taking and what modifications are needed to provide a better experience.

5. Social Media

“Social media is a great way to monitor what your customers are thinking about you,” said Donna Bloss, Thrive Cuisine CMO. “Maybe you don't have a physical product or direct service that can be rated explicitly, like an NPS. Blogs are indeed services and while we can and do send out surveys twice a year to find out what our customers are thinking, it is still also important to analyse the online activity of your brand name.”

If your target audience is speaking about influencers and bloggers on social media sites like Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, etc., they can be talking about you, Bloss added. Monitoring your competitors online can give you great insights into what you are doing wrong, or at least how you can improve.

“With blogs, it has to do with what's trending,” Bloss said. “You don't want to be yet another blog posting about a subject, but rather one of the first leading the discussion. You need to find who are influencing these discussions and follow them on social media.”