By Luc Vezina

An executive at a booming software company recently explained to me that he was hesitant about deploying a branded community on his web site because the customer feedback might get too hot to handle. Considering my position, one might think I was shaken by this admission. But it’s not the first time I’ve heard this.

Negative feedback can be a tough pill to swallow, but it can result in great things for a business. Businesses need this critical input to determine whether customer expectations are being met and how satisfied customers are feeling. In fact, not collecting feedback is one of the biggest mistakes your business can make if you want it to be the best it can be. And if you don’t want to be the best, well, you probably shouldn’t be working in business.

Opinions aside, here are three substantial reasons why feedback is vital to continued growth and success.

1. Reduces customer churn. Customer retention is about a business keeping existing customers over a period of time. There is no better way to increase retention and decrease the churn than proactively identifying hiccups before they become issues.

There are several causes of customers discontinuing to use a business. They include customers feeling like they aren’t being treated well and being dissatisfied with a product or service.

Feedback will help you understand why something isn’t working out for the customer, so provide a place for proactive critique. Keep in mind these buckets of discontent are both incredibly broad and as such can indicate a number of different issues that need to be taken into consideration. For example:
What are the underlying factors about how customers perceive they’re being treated? Do they think they’re waiting too long for support? Do they walk away with the vibe that customer service representatives are rude? Do they feel like they aren’t being valued with rewards and incentives?; and
Why are your customers feeling dissatisfied with your product? Are they experiencing technical issues? Is something missing during their interactions? Are there new features they wish you offered or tweaks that would improve their experiences?

2. Improves customer engagement. Customer engagement is often contingent upon feeling like being a part of something. That may include making it known that the customer has opinions that are valued and their contributions to the brand are taken seriously. Every business should embrace engagement because it:
Develops customer loyalty;
Finds brand advocates;
Increases purchases;
Creates hype around the products;
Decreases churn and increases retention; and
Connects with your customers in a personal way.

Now that we know why customer engagement is important, we have to ask ourselves, “How do they want to engage?”. This may sound oversimplified, but it’s pretty simple: Ask. There is no better authority to tell you what they want, and how their experience can improve, than your customers.

Some businesses may be old school and think that the best and the most standard way to gather the facts is to distribute a survey. The truth is probably only 2% of customers will actually take part1 and 80%2 will abandon the survey before it is completed. That’s not a good sample to make sound decisions. To gain a truly representative picture of the customer, a high response rate is imperative.

Consider this: more than 85% of Fortune 500 companies turn to an online community for clear insights into customer needs3. Give customers a platform to speak and be heard. Customers are going to be more engaged when they feel like the brand is listening.

3. Improves products and services. If you aren’t always striving for improvement, what is the future for your business? Change is inevitable. Customer feedback not only helps your business improve existing products and services it can also help with the development road map.

Online communities are arguably the best environment to collect feedback for analysis and business decisions. In addition, they provide two of the top customer expectations:
90%4 expect organizations to have online self-service support options; and
73%5 want to solve product or service issues on their own.

Today’s customers demand self-service options to find answers to questions and provide feedback on their terms. An online community is a multi-faceted solution to both meeting the demand for service 24/7 and providing a platform to share feedback whenever the customer sees fit.

At the end of the day, businesses shouldn’t fear feedback, especially negative feedback. It helps shape your product and services to suit the people who actually use them. Accept the challenges that negative feedback presents and take action to improve.

Luc Vezina is the CEO of Vanilla Forums (https://vanillaforums.com) the cloud community software helping hundreds of top brands provide a great community experience to millions of people around the globe

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. Luc is a B2B software-as-a-service (SaaS) veteran and is responsible for Vanilla’s vision and strategy.

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