You realize that it will be a great benefit to your business if you start asking for feedback from your customers. But there is more to feedback than just asking for it: You have to do something about it! Improve your customers' experience by learning the four R's of feedback.

1. Recognize

You know you need to ask for feedback, but what specific information are you seeking? This step requires you to sit down and identify those "foggy" areas of your business or Web site where you don't regularly hear the voice of the customer. Perhaps you offer a certain product that normally sells well. All of a sudden, the product stops selling, and you have no idea why. Was there negative press about the product? Were the original buyers of the product unhappy? This is the perfect opportunity to call or e-mail your customers to find out. You can even post a survey on your Web site that's specifically aimed at people who have purchased that product.

You may also decide that you want general feedback. Perhaps you don't have any problem selling a particular product or service. Then maybe you should start asking for general comments about your Web site or your sales representatives. Leaving the questions wide open will give you many new reasons to improve your business. Be prepared to hear everything from "The font on your site is too small" to "Your receptionist is rude."

2. Request

OK, this is the easy part. Whether it's a form on your site, an e-mail link, or a postcard mailer, you have to explicitly request feedback from your customers. You can even use a free survey service, such as Zoomerang, that allows you to create a survey online, link to it from your Web site, and view real-time results with charts and graphs. If you want feedback specifically about your Web site, add forkinthehead.com's "Fork Me!" button to your site. Your visitors click the button and fill out a form that rates your site based on design, content, and navigation. Visitors don't have to include their name or e-mail address, which gives you a better chance of getting honest comments.

And don't forget that people love free stuff. You can entice your customers to send you feedback if you offer a giveaway or sweepstakes entry for each feedback message. The prize doesn't have to be a trip for two to Hawaii; a T-shirt or discount on your services will do just fine.

3. Respond

Thank your customers for their comments. Even if the feedback message is negative or the customer's request is completely off the topic, thank him or her anyway. This little gesture makes a huge impression on your customer. Unless you expect to receive hundreds of feedback messages, don't use autoreply e-mail responses. Most people think they are unfriendly. Wouldn't you rather get a brief message that says, "Thanks for your feedback about this season's color selection; I will definitely try to carry more sage green items in the fall"?

4. React

It's time to do something! Compile your findings in a database or spreadsheet. You should make it easy to track comments so that you can easily recognize when certain comments are made time and again (these are the first ones to act on). Determine the most feasible ideas to implement. If you can't incorporate your customers' ideas due to time or money constraints, make a plan to figure out when you can make it happen. It is your reaction to the customers' feedback that will make all the difference.

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