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Going beyond the transaction

5 tips for getting customer feedback online

If you are running an online business and visitors are flocking to your site, congratulations, you’ve passed a significant hurdle. But who are your customers and most importantly, what do they think of your business? Getting feedback from your customers is an essential part of running a business. It will also give you insights on where you should be focusing your energies — whether it’s introducing a new product line or making improvements to your payment or delivery options.

Most importantly, getting feedback from your customers is the first rule of customer service — it shows you are listening and that you care.

Anyone who’s ever bought or sold on eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) can relate to that little kick you get when positive feedback is given or received on what is a relatively anonymous and exclusively online transaction. For the buyer, it shows the seller is listening, and for the seller, it’s an essential way to gain credibility.

What’s noteworthy about the eBay feedback format is that buyers and sellers rely on it — and the same should be true of any online business operation. Your relationship with your customer does not end at the checkout.

Here are some low-cost options for getting feedback from your online customers and nurturing your relationship beyond a transactional one.

*Online surveys

Online surveys are a very cost-effective way to get feedback from customers. Many companies such as Survey Monkey and Constant Contact offer low-cost options for small businesses that include easy-to-build templates that you can embed online or send via email. If you want to solicit feedback about your website, what it’s like doing business with you, and other transactional actions, consider embedding a survey on your order confirmation page, or include a link to it in your order confirmation email.

Don’t forget to put some planning into your surveying and don’t bombard your customers too often — once a quarter or twice a year should be sufficient. Don’t forget to use your Twitter and Facebook feeds to promote and link to your online survey.

Surveys can be used for all manner of feedback from market research, product feedback, and so on. To avoid wasting anyone’s time, be strategic about your goals and focused in your questions. Last but not least, test it out on a friend or employee to make sure you’ve covered all potential questions and angles.

SBA blogger and CEO of GrowBiz Media (growbizmedia.com), Rieva Lesonsky, offers some great tips for getting the most out of surveys here: http://www.sba.gov/community/blogs/guest-blogs/industry-word/improve-your-business-with-customer-surveys.

*Online polls

Not quite a survey, more of a “getting to know you” tool. Online polls are a nice little feature that invite engagement and show you are listening. They can also be updated frequently to keep your site fresh and visitors interested. Depending on your business, site polls can be used to help you understand your customers’ motivations and needs.

For example you might ask: “What bought you here today?” and the poll options might be: “Just browsing”… “Have run out of XYZ”… “Looking for a gift”… “I’m redeeming a coupon…” and so on! You can also tie them into marketing campaigns — if you are promoting a new seasonal range of products, ask your customers about their tastes and preferences as they relate to your campaign theme.

A good way to add polls to your customer’s online experience is to embed the code on your blog, in your e-newsletter, or use a social media widget such as Facebook’s new polling feature.

*Add a Facebook “comment” feature to your e-newsletters

Most commercial email marketing software lets you to add a “comment” feature to your e-newsletter templates that includes a Facebook mash-up. This basically means that to post a comment, the reader must click on the comment link in your email, from here they will be prompted to log-in to their Facebook account and leave feedback or a comment on your Facebook page. The great thing about this feature is that it allows them to share their sentiments, not just with you, but with other customers, creating a greater sense of community among your customer base.

*Keep an eye on your Google Places, Yelp.com and other online listings

More and more people are gravitating to online business listings to rate and review small businesses, and yours is probably no exception. Whether you have a brick and mortar presence or not, it’s essential to keep an eye on these listings for positive and negative feedback.

And remember, even if you haven’t created your own listing, there’s a good chance you are already listed and may already have feedback. Do a quick online search for your business name and this will let you know if your business is listed, then you can claim it and manage your listing and respond to reviews. Read all about this in: http://www.sba.gov/community/blogs/community-blogs/small-business-matters/managing-your-online-reputation-how-respond-c

*Create an online customer community or Facebook discussion page

Many larger brand name businesses are branching into more “social” websites that incorporate user communities and discussion boards — these are a great way to gain unsolicited feedback and gauge customer opinion. However, they do require some technical know-how to build and manage, not to mention day-to-day moderation to prevent SPAM, abuse, and so on.

A better alternative for small businesses is to build and grow your Facebook page to take advantage of Facebook’s “discussions tab” (you can easily add this tab from the “edit page” — “apps” option). This feature is a useful, low-cost tactic for engaging your already social customer base.

As an admin you can start a discussion on any topic, or just let fans start their own discussions. You also have the ability to moderate and remove any posts that are deemed offensive (it’s a good idea to develop a brief policy that outlines what is tolerated and what is not).

LinkedIn has long been using this discussion format, and if you are in the B2B market, it might be a better option to consider instead of Facebook. At the end of the day, it all depends where your customers are socially active online, this article can help you decide: http://www.sba.gov/community/blogs/community-blogs/small-business-matters/twitter-facebook-or-linkedin-finding-right-fi.

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