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Use customer feedback to improve your business

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Gerry O’Brion is the founder of What Big Brands Know, where he strategizes the growth and expansion of businesses. Most recently vice president of marketing for Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, he is a professional marketing speaker and an author with a diverse clientele. O’Brion will be presenting “What Big Brands Know — Grow Any Business Like A Billion-Dollar Brand” at the NRA Show 2011 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. May 23 in Room S402B.

I started my marketing career at Procter & Gamble, the world leader in consumer marketing. Early on at P&G, you learn that much of its tremendous success has been based on a simple idea: Understand needs and wants of consumers, then provide products that delight them. If you can understand customers’ needs better than anyone else, you’re positioned to delight them better than anyone else, and your business will expand.

A big benefit of the restaurant industry is that it gets up-close and personal with customers every day. This makes the work of getting feedback easier than in many other industries. One major thing that differentiates billion-dollar restaurant companies from little guys is how they listen to customers and what they do with what they learn.

There are five things you can quickly, easily and cheaply accomplish through customer feedback.

  1. Know how you’re doing. A satisfied customer will come back repeatedly, as well as bring friends. An unsatisfied customer won’t come back. If you track customer satisfaction over time, you will immediately know whether there are problems. Also, it will give you a benchmark to beat as well as a way for your employees to know how they’re doing.
  2. Fix things that are wrong. The first step to fixing a service issue is knowing it exists. It’s always better to hear the bad news because you can do something about it. Many times a bad experience can become a great experience when you go above and beyond fixing a customer’s problem.
  3. Get ideas. Your customers can be your best source of ideas. Is there an offering you could create, a promotion or a building improvement? Good ideas can come from anywhere.
  4. Evaluate your ideas. If you have ideas you’re considering, it’s important to bounce them off customers before you launch. Is your idea a winner or a dud? Get feedback, and it doesn’t take long to know the answer. Also, customers might improve on your idea.
  5. Build a better relationship. Customers want to feel important. Asking for feedback is a great way for them to feel more connected to your business. The more connected they feel, the more they will come back, and the more friends they’ll bring.

But how? Isn’t this difficult, expensive and time-consuming? It doesn’t have to be. There are many ways to get started, for free or for cheap.

  1. Ask your customers. Really. Just have a conversation.
  2. Satisfaction forms. Print them out. Or you can use a fancier, online system.
  3. Surveys. Create a customer e-mail database and send periodic surveys.
  4. Social media. Facebook makes it really easy to get feedback.
  5. Focus group. Get a few customers together, give them some food and ask them questions.

You’ll be amazed how quickly you can improve your business by being purposeful about customer feedback.