It has been said that customer feedback is one of the most valuable gifts a business can receive.

Which is true, but sometimes collecting that feedback can be a challenge.

Just ask, Scott Jangro and Damien Ambrose, founders of content marketing platform Shareist.

Shareist participated in the pilot of the Constant Contact Small Business Innovation Program, a new program designed to support entrepreneurs and startups as they solve problems for small businesses.

One of the goals Shareist had when joining the program was to find a way to more effectively elicit feedback from their customers.

More specifically, the Shareist team wanted to know which of the wide variety of tools within their platform were most valuable to their customer base, and how to target the right tools to the right customers going forward.

Working with the Constant Contact Innovation Team, Scott and Damien came up with a plan to collect the feedback they needed.

They started by brainstorming a list of facts and assumptions that they thought would be relevant to their customer base.

  • Facts were notions taken to be true of all customers, such as “Content is hard,” “Customers collect content,” and “Having a content process is good.”
  • Assumptions were general impressions Shareist had about their customers, such as “Customers manage social media.”

Using the list, the Innovation Team and Shareist then developed specific questions to ask customers that would either validate or invalidate their facts and assumptions.

Some facts required multiple questions for validation. Here are some examples:

  • Fact: Having a content process is good.
    • Question one: Do you plan content production on a schedule?
    • Question two: Do you have a process to create and publish content?
  • Fact: Content is hard.
    • Question one: Where do you get content ideas?
    • Question two: How do you decide which content to share and product?

Having developed these questions, the team then set out to call customers.

They took detailed notes on the conversations and responses, and afterwards they laid all the responses on a table so that they could see what some of the commonalities were between the customers’ responses.

The responses allowed Shareist to see which facts and assumptions were true, and if there were any that needed to be reconsidered.

While it was determined that customers indeed collect content, the majority of respondents indicated that doing so was not hard, refuting one of the “facts” the team took to be true. Additionally, one of the more surprising results of the survey was that a minority of respondents said that having a definite content process is worthwhile.

The feedback was extremely helpful to Shareist, as they were able to use it to rework their strategy in terms of which products to lead with when marketing to the different segments within their customer base.

“What we learned is that we cannot assume people know specifically what they need in a solution,” said Scott. “We are not our customers, and this helped discover what their pain points are and market to them accordingly.”

If you are looking for a better way to talk to customers, consider using the following five-part process, based off of Shareist’s experience in the Innovation Program:

1. Develop a facts & assumptions list

Take a piece of paper and separate it into two columns. In one column, take down all the “facts” you know about your customers. In the other, note all “assumptions.” Have other employees you work with do the same.

The facts and assumptions list acts as a mirror you can hold up to yourself and your employees. Often times it can be easy to lose sight of your idea of your customers, and the list allows you to reveal everything you think to be true about them. Often times you will find that your fellow employees do not hold the same facts and assumptions as you do.

2. Make a list of questions

Draft questions so that they directly address the facts and assumptions you have developed. This part can be tricky, as the actual word-smithing of the questions is crucial in getting good responses. For example, if Shareist had asked “Do you think having a content process is good?”, they probably would have received a simple “yes” from respondents.

By crafting the questions in a fashion that actually digs into the respondents’ day-to-day processes (e.g. “Do you plan content production on a schedule?”, “Do you have a process to create and publish content?”), you are more likely to get honest, beneficial answers.

3. Collect the feedback you need

One of the best ways to collect feedback is to talk to your customers directly. Is there a list of customers that you would feel comfortable calling? You can also look for opportunities to ask questions in-person at your store or office.

More often than not, especially if they are a loyal and repeat customer, they will happily oblige.

Take diligent notes while asking questions. I would also recommend finding an audio recording mobile app on your smartphone.

Based on the type of feedback you’re looking for, you could also use an online survey to collect feedback from customers. This is perfect for businesses that already have a list of email contacts that are regularly opening and engaging with the content you send out.

4. Validate or invalidate your facts and assumptions list

Compile the feedback you received in a grid, with each customer taking their own table. Find the responses that map to each fact and assumption. You should fairly quickly be able to see whether each has been validated or invalidated.

5. Use the feedback to improve

Feedback is only a gift if you do something with it! Pay attention to the feedback you receive.

Were there things you thought to be true, that were proved wrong? Were there any reoccurring themes? Are there changes you could make right away to help you better serve your customers?

Create a plan to make improvements, and let customers see how their feedback is being used.

Get started!

We all know how important our customer satisfaction is when it comes to our business; however it can be tough to gauge that satisfaction without a set process in place. By using these steps, you will be able to effectively use customer feedback to get an honest, complete look at your offerings and how you can optimize them in the future.

Learn more about the Small Business Innovation Program here.

Have any other tips for eliciting valuable customer feedback? Let us know in the comments below.