Vanessa Salvia is an experienced writer and marketing strategist who enjoys helping businesses and the people who run them learn, grow, and succeed.
7 min. read
Updated October 29, 2023
Bill Gates said that your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. Taking the time to listen to customer feedback and improve can be the step that turns good businesses into great businesses.
Many times, customers don’t email you to tell you whether they are happy or not. But when they do, customers can provide very specific information. Positive responses let you know that you’re on the right path, while negative responses tell you there’s room for growth. The emails you get from your customers are a valuable source of (free) market research. Listening to what your customers tell you, applying it to improve your business and your customer satisfaction, and monitoring those changes, will provide valuable business intelligence.
Studies show that the No. 1 source of new leads are referrals. This means customer loyalty and satisfaction are keys to growing your business. Listening to unhappy or unsatisfied customers could be the most important marketing decision you make. What drives customer satisfaction and how do you get the responses to find out? Let’s take a look.
If you’re regularly sending out drip emails to existing or prospective customers, check to see if you’re using a “do not reply” email address. Sending targeted campaigns to your contacts is a great idea. But a “do not reply” email means you lose that touchpoint for customers and prospects because they can’t easily email you back. Make it easy for them to reach you with a question, place an order, or just get general help.
If you’re not using a “do not reply” email address, chances are good customers are already emailing you back. If they have a question about your email message, that’s valuable insight on how you can make your emails and your customer service better. If they have any other suggestions, use them to help you test and improve your systems. Adding friction to their attempt to reach you usually doesn’t increase customer satisfaction—so make it easy.
You want to keep your ear to the ground, and allowing your contacts to reach you is the easiest way to do that. You can survey your customers, (and you should) but don’t toss those emails!
There are numerous ways to gather reactions. An April 2019 IndieHacker thread suggests that simply asking may be the most effective. One comment said that there’s less friction in clicking something like a happy/unhappy button on a web page, for example. But receiving responses via email is “the most thoughtful, sincere, and personal of all forms.”
When should you ask? One solution is to send an email survey or request for feedback a few days after onboarding a new customer. Watching the conversation around your brand or industry on social media is also a good way to determine what people are feeling about your products or services.
On-site analytics, such as visits to your FAQ page, could help you determine what people want to know more about. However, you gather the information, consistently asking as well as tracking that information will help you make the most of it.
Once you start asking your customers for their opinions, you’ll probably get a lot of them. If you’re sending drip email campaigns, you probably get a fair number of responses to those, even though you’re (probably) not requesting feedback explicitly.
Start slotting those responses into different categories using a spreadsheet, your shared inbox tool, or with tags within your CRM. Sorting it into categories such as comments on products, customer service experience, or marketing and sales, can help you can make sense of it and identify trends. With that information, you can address internal product or communication issues, and you can also create email templates to make responding to common messages faster.
Alyssa Powell, a digital marketing specialist at Palo Alto Software, began tracking customer email responses to drip email campaigns using email tags. Tags help you track ongoing themes in your email conversations, so it’s easier to get an aggregate view of common message themes.
She also uses a simple spreadsheet with columns that categorize the feedback. “I started recognizing trends in replies and wanted to capture and highlight the feedback in one spot,” Powell says. “The spreadsheet allows me and the team to focus on our customer’s and the lead’s voices. What are their pain points? What solutions are they looking for? Are there things beyond the data that can help us better serve them? How can we create a more personalized experience to help them succeed? This spreadsheet allows us to view what our audience and customers are sharing so that way we can continue to be as helpful as possible along their business journey.”
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Customer suggestions are most useful if everyone on your team is part of the process of gathering them—so regularly loop them in on trends you’re seeing. Find a system that allows you to seamlessly share questions, comments, or concerns among employees and departments.
Some companies do this with a dedicated Slack channel. Others simply make it a part of weekly team meetings. Just don’t make the mistake of only sharing the information with those on your team who work directly with customers. Positive feedback can be really affirming for everyone across your organization. Negative feedback, especially if there’s a lot in a certain area, can help leaders make better strategic decisions about growth.
As a new response comes in, everyone can see it. The easier it is to share your customers’ opinions with the right people, the easier it will be to put the information to good use.
When you’re replying to customers who reach out with a question or comment, respond quickly and thank them, even if your response is just to say that you’ll be back in touch with more information soon.
When you thank them, try to mean it, even if you have to read between the lines of a highly critical or even rude email to get to the real point: Your customer is providing you with some important perspective about your business. If they’re unhappy, don’t take it personally. Your product or service will never please everyone. But treat their feedback and their time like it’s a valuable resource—because it is.
Empower your team to respond to all feedback, both positive and (especially) negative or angry comments. Get those email templates set up and train your team so they know how to respond—with the appropriate tone and level of formality—so that the majority of customer complaints can be handled without escalating to a manager. You hired them to help you manage your reputation and your customers’ satisfaction. Train them, and then trust them.
Tracking the types of advice or complaints you get helps you think about where to initiate changes. For instance, boosting your FAQs can eliminate friction for your customers who ask the same customer service questions.
At Palo Alto Software, Alyssa Powell says tracking their customer feedback has led to a mindset shift. “We’re now brainstorming and determining what’s best for our audiences,” she says. “It’s given us more qualitative data to pair with quantitative data to help make strategic decisions for optimizing or launching new content and campaigns. Digital marketing trends and needs are constantly transforming, so the more in-tune the customer service is, the better content, resources, and advice we can offer.”
Your customers cared enough about your business to connect with your company, purchase your product, and use it in and day out. When they actively come to you with suggestions and ideas, treat their correspondence with you like the gems they are. Don’t miss the opportunity for continuous improvement for your team, and also on your product or service.