How to get honest feedback from your customers

Focus on building healthy relationships

There’s no big secret to it – the better the relationship you have with your customers, the more likely they are to stay loyal to you, and to continue to tell others about you. One of the most effective ways of building and maintaining good relationships is to obtain useful, honest feedback from your customers.

What you’re looking to do is begin a series of small actions that create a connection with each of your customers and help build relationships over time. This is key to getting truthful feedback when you need it. The feedback may not always be what you want to hear, but it needs to be an ongoing part of your business if you want it to improve and grow.

Your customers deserve the personal touch when it comes to communication. They expect your business to make an effort replying to their requests or questions. Doing so will improve your chances of gaining useful, authentic feedback.

Put yourself in their shoes

The first step is to make yourself view your business as you would if you were one of its customers. In the end, all business owners are customers of other businesses themselves, and if you think about some of those businesses and the experience you have with them, you’ll be able to view your own business objectively.

So be your own customer. Go through the steps your customer would to visit your store or website, select an item, and navigate through the purchase process. If you get frustrated at a certain point, your customers probably will too.

It’s a good idea to get your employees to go through the process as well. Not only do they have the best interests of your business at heart, but it’s a good opportunity for them to make suggestions to you – they may have ideas of their own for improvement that are worth listening to.

Asking the right questions

There are any number of ways you can elicit feedback from your customers. You might conduct in-store or online questionnaires, use email surveys, place suggestion boxes in your store or on your website, or make use of your social media platforms. Whatever methods you use, the key to getting honest, useful feedback lies in the questions you ask and how you ask them.

Ask intelligent questions

Your aim is to ask smart, relevant and open-ended questions. After all, you want their opinions rather than pigeonholed responses. Seek feedback about one or two critical issues without asking for an hour or more of their time. It’s important to keep the following in mind:

  • Be clear and precise. For example, “how often do you buy our product?” is vague and will result in worthless information because customers will interpret ‘often’ in different ways. A better way to ask this question would be “in a typical month, how often would you buy from our company?”
  • Use clear, normal language. Nothing puts people off a survey faster than having to untangle long, complicated questions. So phrase your questions as if you were actually talking to your customers face to face.
  • Avoid words that indicate bias. So rather than asking “what did you dislike about the service you received?”, you’re better to phrase it “please comment on the service you received.” That way you’re avoiding the word ‘dislike’ as this will automatically make the customer think there’s something wrong.
  • Give them a chance to make suggestions. Your questions should encourage customers to suggest ways you can improve your service.

Keep the questionnaire as brief as possible: one page if you can manage it. People will be more co-operative if the form is brief and relevant. There is no point in getting information that you won’t use.

Collecting feedback

Try out different methods of collecting feedback to see what works best for your business. Once you’ve got the number of responses you need, it’s time to review them and then take action. Even if the feedback’s more negative than you’d hoped, you still have to take them at face value and act on them. If the responses are negative, try to see the whole exercise as an opportunity to make positive improvements to your customer experience.

It’s also vital to report the findings to your customers. If you have a retail outlet, then pin up a copy of the results of the survey and what action you will take.

An alternative is to mail a copy of the results to all clients (a good excuse to contact them). The important point is that you are harnessing a powerful force if your customers think they can.


The main thing you’re looking to avoid is assuming that you already know what your customers think. It’s always possible that plenty of the feedback you’re receiving from people in person isn’t that honest. Whether your customers are busy, distracted or simply embarrassed to say what they really think, you’re probably not getting the answers you really need.

So it’s important that you make your customers feel that their feedback is valued, important, and will be acted upon.

Next steps

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