10 Ways to Discover Customer Sentiment About Your Business

Random complaints or compliments are no substitute for systematically keeping tabs what your customers have to say.

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By John Rampton

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Do you know what your customers really think about your business? It's vital for your business and livelihood to know and manage customer sentiment but isn't easy. Unfortunately, people are quick to complain when hidden behind a computer screen, but hold back on compliments. In person they don't want to offend or start a confrontation, so they say the customer equivalent of "I'm fine", even when they're not.

Here are ten ways to know the genuine feelings of your customers:

1. Watch those review sites.

Review sites are the digital version of word of mouth and can make or break a business. In the words of The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper: "You keep in mind that my sharply-worded comments on Yelp.com recently took down a muffin store."

2.Set up Google alerts for your name or business.

Nobody has time to Google themselves incessantly. Get notified when you or your business name get mentioned via Alerts. You can also set up Alerts for your employees' names (to make sure they're not making bad impressions on customers, too).

Related: How to Best Utilize Your Positive Customer Feedback

3. Get a focus group.

You can set up a focus group yourself, but you'll get better results if you have a professional third-party do it for you. They'll work with you to handpick the demographics whose input you want, take care of the recruitment and handle the actual focus group, too. You can get great qualitative information, and the participants are much more likely to be honest.

4. Take a social media poll.

Take advantage of the relative safety net the Internet offers your customers, and offer a poll on Facebook, Twitter, or even your blog. Expect a few spammers, bots and trolls, but for the most part people will be more honest than normal. Just make sure you stay professional and act on their input.

5. Encourage feedback post-service.

Whether it's in-store or via email after someone has placed an order, getting immediate feedback is the best approach. The transaction is fresh in your customer's mind. Plus, remember that giving customers incentives, whether for feedback or reviews, is perfectly legitimate and a great lure.

6. Use your Big Data.

Hopefully, you have a system in place to both gather and analyze big data. However, it's useless if you don't actually use it and turn it into action. If you notice a large percentage of your customers don't come back, that's a red flag. Try to re-engage or ask how you can earn their business again.

Related: Seven Simple Tips to Get Honest Customer Feedback Online

7. Offer optional surveys.

This can be done in-person at a brick and mortar, or it can be an option after someone has purchased online. Just don't make it a requirement, because customers don't like being forced for more time and effort.

8. Start a blog.

A blog is a fantastic means of engaging with customers and putting a face to your brand. Foster the comments section, end blogs with open-ended questions, and always reply within 24 hours. This is where long-term relationships are formed.

9. Keep an eye on the BBB.

If someone complains about your business to the Better Business Bureau, they're really ticked off. This doesn't bode well for you, since the BBB is known as the authority for whether or not businesses are legit. You should be notified by the BBB, but only if your information with them is correct.

10. Keep up with industry news.

Sometimes people think they feel a certain way about your particular business, when they're really reacting to industry-wide news. For example, if one local florist in town is found to be using their shop as a front for drug trafficking, that stigma can attach itself to your floral shop, too. All businesses are in this together, and you might need to do some damage control by reaching out to a local paper for some positive coverage.

How your business is viewed by customers should be a priority. Do you know where you stand—and are you managing it?

Related: How Customer Feedback Can Stymie Innovation

John Rampton

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Entrepreneur and Connector

John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor and startup enthusiast. He is the founder of the calendar productivity tool Calendar.

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