Do You Have a Suggestion Box?
by Adele Sommers
If you use a suggestion box for your business, how sincerely do you consider the recommendations or complaints you receive from your clients or customers, partners, and suppliers? If you haven’t yet installed this valuable tool, I strongly encourage you to create an idea collection repository and actively seek to fill it.
Wondering how to go about it? This article offers several tips for seeking input and using the ideas you receive to greatly strengthen your business’s reputation, boost the rapport with your audience, and ultimately generate more revenue.
Raising the Bar for Suggestion-Gathering
Several years ago, Starbucks implemented an online suggestion box to find ways to revive its struggling U.S. beverage business. Despite its astronomical growth and success worldwide, this giant recognized the importance of seriously soliciting its customers’ concerns and desires in order to remain viable in the marketplace it dominates.
Here’s how it works: Once a suggestion is submitted, the site resembles an online social network that lets visitors share, vote, discuss, and watch the actions Starbucks is taking to implement the ideas.
Is there a more powerful way to show your customers or constituents that you’re really listening than by disclosing exactly what you’re considering?
Just a few of the suggestions Starbucks received and seriously evaluated in the early days of the site include:
- Providing educational coffee classes
- Giving customers a *free* cup of birthday coffee
- Offering discounts when patrons bring their own mugs
- Offering high-protein breakfasts and gluten-free baked goods
- Letting customers swipe their cards as they arrive to bypass long lines
- Creating a punch-card system for a *free* drink after so many purchases
- Creating a media-based community to foster conversations about events
As you can see from just this short list, ideas for new offerings, as well as possible remedies for concerns (such as waiting in line, foods that don’t satisfy everyone, or a perceived lack of sensitivity to the environment) have surfaced in the process.
The Risks of Ignoring Your Audience
In contrast, if you yourself have ever tried to offer constructive ideas to business owners or customer service reps — only to learn that they had no way to collect them — how did it make you feel?
The last three out of five times I’ve tried giving my suggestions, I’ve slammed into a dead end. Since I’m always bubbling over with ideas about how companies can improve customer service, I’m chronically disappointed when I find they’re not waiting with open arms and ears to receive them, even if the issue has caused me considerable angst as a customer.
Those very same sentiments can cause people to quietly stop patronizing your enterprise and take their business elsewhere, often without ever telling you why!
Ideas for Mining Your Data
That’s why your audience members deserve no less than the very best of experiences with every facet of your business. Revealing and remedying all annoying hassles can stem the exodus of any cranky customers and help you build a base of “raving fans.” Also, as Starbucks has demonstrated, requesting and carefully listening to creative ideas can spark a new romance with your customer base.
So, once you have a suggestion system, which could include technical support logs that collect consumer feedback, you can comb through them all to identify suggestions of every type.
What’s really been bugging your visitors or buyers? Is anything stopping them from using your products or services to get things done? Are they recommending improvements in any area? See which kinds of trends you can spot.
For example, are buyers having difficulty with purchasing, using, or installing something, or wrestling with simply getting started? Are they reporting bugs or service problems? Are there complaints that instructions are incomplete or confusing? Are people asking for features that you don’t yet support? Look closely for:
- Immediate but basic problems that you can remedy right away.
- Complaints of major malfunctions that must be analyzed and fixed ASAP.
- Gaps in the internal hand-offs for converting prospects into customers.
- Customers or prospects wanting something that you don’t offer, which could ignite ideas for new offerings, accessories, and promotional campaigns. They might be telling you exactly what you need to know to spin off your next product release!
More Ways to Work with Customer Feedback
Below are additional ideas for revealing your customers’ aggravations and creative suggestions, and then addressing them.
1. Poll customers during support calls, or via Web, mail, or e-mail surveys.
You might ask what your customers love and don’t love about your products and services, and how they would suggest improving them.
For example, consider expanding your routine customer support calls by asking customers: “Is there anything you can think of that could enable our products or services to better assist you?”
They may find it very refreshing to finally reveal their pet peeves or recommendations. Imagine how thrilled they will be to be heard and taken seriously!
2. Observe your customers while they are using your products at their own facilities.
It may be a real eye-opener to watch your customers try to install, set up, learn, and troubleshoot your product without having someone guide them through every step. If you had intended your products to be self-explanatory and simple to use, this kind of field trip could reveal several aspects in which they are not.
3. Examine and prioritize your findings using the 80:20 rule.
Try to identify which 20% of the hassles (the “vital few”) seem to be giving your buyers 80% of the grief. These are problems that may be sending customers running for the door.
In addition, comb through their suggestions for improvement to identify any that could generate fresh sources of revenue after they are implemented.
Continue working through the top-most issues until you have addressed everything down to the noise level. It’s easier said than done, but in the long run, your audience will truly appreciate it!
In conclusion, your suggestion box, customer support database, and/or on-site observations may represent an under-exploited source of new income. The insights you glean can help you remove customer headaches and boost customer loyalty, as well as lead to new or better offerings and precisely targeted marketing campaigns. Therefore, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking charge of this data and mining its treasure!
Copyright 2018 Adele Sommers