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No business will last for long without taking the needs of their customers seriously. Flexibility is an essential ingredient for business success; a company should always be ready to respond to the demands of the marketplace. These days, businesses have no excuse, as there are multiple ways in which customers can make themselves heard; from a variety of Internet tools to their frontline staff, organizations have the resources available to determine what customers want; the big question is how should they use that information?

Below are five tips for using customer feedback to improve how a business functions.

1. Understanding Customer Priorities

Most importantly, this means knowing who the customers are. A business cannot meet the needs of the marketplace if it does not have a solid understanding of their customer base and its needs. The goal is to build a long-term relationship with the customer; this cannot be done without actively listening. Fortunately, there are resources for businesses that want to understand their customers. The resources include social media and using third-party surveys. Social media can make or break your customer service, so use it wisely. Take Walmart’s Facebook page for an example of a great way to solicit customer feedback. They have a Feedback? section where customers can give general or store-specific feedback. When you structure feedback channels for your customers, you’re likely to get better feedback at a higher rate. Consider following suit by giving your customers a place to give feedback over social media.

2. Identifying and Adapting to New Trends

The term “out of touch” applies here and relates to those companies that have lost focus on the market they were built to serve. Not knowing what customers want can make a business slow to adapt when the market changes. It is worth nothing that all markets do change, and companies that have no idea what the next big thing will be will lose out to competitors that do. Customer feedback can be one of the most effective ways to get a feel for what the market will want next, even before the desire is clearly articulated. Home automation company Vivint has benefitted greatly by listening to it’s customers; through customer comments and Vivint reviews, the home automation company determined that there would soon be an emerging market for wireless automation options and leased home solar energy.

Your business can get the same type of customer feedback by getting your product out to customers and in the hands of people who write reviews. Urge customers to review your products on site like Yelp, Angie’s List, and other review sites. Reviews of your product can really help boost customer trust in your company. However, adapting to emerging trends requires more than just collecting feedback; a company will need to know how to decipher their feedback as a means spotting trends that may not be immediately obvious. This means paying close attention.

3. Finding and Fixing Problems

The first step to fixing any problem within a business is knowing about it. Customer reviews are one of the best tools for discovering problems. Discovering and fixing problems is what keeps customers from drifting away to the competition. Catching problems early on can allow a business to implement a fix before the problem affects even more of their customers. All businesses should be constantly looking for ways in which they can improve. Customer feedback is useful for discovering those areas where there is room for improvement

One of the easiest ways to solicit customer feedback is a brief question or survey after a customer has made a conversion. For example, once a customer clicks to sign up for your newsletter or buys a product, offer a simple pop up question that relates to their satisfaction, where they heard about you, or any other customer feedback metric you are looking to track. There are several tools you can use to create these mini surveys or questions, varying from free to paid options.

4. Evaluating Customer Service

Customer service is one of the pillars of any business. This is where the customer’s perception of a company is formed; as a result, this is also where a company can build or destroy its reputation. As a core element of success, customer service must be constantly evaluated and improved. It is also the point at which customers interact with a company, which means that their insight can be particularly important.

With your business’s website, the easiest way to give customers access to immediate customer service is by offering a live chat with a representative. A live chat option might give you insight into common questions your company needs to have on your site but doesn’t. It also gives customers a chance to clarify any questions they might have. The process for creating a live chat window can be extensive, so here is a great tutorial for adding a chat window to your WordPress site.

5. Building Lasting Relationships

One of the benefits of using social media as a tool for monitoring feedback is the fact that it allows for a conversation. Genuine back-and-forth interaction is the stuff of which long-term relationships are formed. Businesses get to listen and to share, as do the customers; surveys and other tools for temperature-taking do not permit this. One of the benefits of interaction is that it makes customers feel valued and that the company places a high priority on retaining them. The more of a relationship there is, the more likely it is that they will return. Returning customers are the core of business success; these are the customers who speak highly of a business and who recommend it to their friends.

Written by: David Glenn, Retired Entrepreneur and Home Improvement Expert