Business growth and success depend on happy clients, which means knowing what your clients want–and don’t want. The knowledge often comes about through trial and error, which can get expensive and result in unhappy clients who then spread their dissatisfaction to their friends and colleagues and make growing your business even more difficult in the face of bad publicity. There’s got to be a better way.

One tried and true method for getting client feedback is to ask for it. It’s that simple and that difficult. Unless you’ve really annoyed a customer, he or she may be reluctant to provide valuable, critical feedback. However good it may feel to receive glowing praise, that won’t help your business improve and grow.

Feedback format

There’s an art to acquiring client feedback. Ask specific, meaningful questions. Experts also recommend keeping questionnaires brief. The Balance suggests basic questions that invite thoughtful answers.
How you ask questions matters, too. Qualitative surveys take more effort on the part of the party posing the questions, but can yield tremendous insight. Obtain qualitative information through conversations with focus groups and individuals. Listen to learn, not to reply. Take no offense if you hear something unflattering and thank your respondents for their candor.

Simply listening to a client’s concerns may, in fact, resurrect a failing relationship with that client, provided that it’s followed by positive action that shows you have listened to and acted upon that client’s concerns to rectify whatever problem was mentioned.

Quantitative surveys, online or in hard copy, also yield valuable information. This type of information lends itself to statistical analysis and works best with large numbers of responses to determine trends. The conundrum with surveys is that closed-end questions receive a greater quantity of responses than do open-ended questions; however, open-ended questions yield the most insightful information.

Point of view

The how of asking feedback questions involves crafting the questions that your clients will want to answer. By putting yourself in customers’ shoes, you can focus on their perspectives which can then be analyzed to develop action plans that will more precisely focus your business on meeting the needs of its clientele. Client-focused questions often involve scale responses and work best for retail or wholesale operations.
When preparing a questionnaire, keep in mind that the more effort required of your client to answer the questions, the faster the response rate will plummet and the more skewed those responses will be to extremes at either end of the like-dislike spectrum.

What not to ask

Questback notes that to determine whether to include a question, ask yourself how the results of that question will be used. If you don’t know, eliminate that question. Does the question gather information you need to know or just want to know? Responster states that putting yourself in customers’ shoes will help determine whether a question is a waste of his or her valuable time.

Feedback questions are a part of client relationship management: customer service. Complex data from complicated questions ventures into market research, not customer feedback. Responster cautions you to remember the purpose of collecting client feedback: “to check how happy your customers are, and finding and fixing the things that make them unhappy.”