Growth Hacking With Customer Feedback Seven tips for using surveys to unlock startup growth and innovation.

By Leela Srinivasan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Whether your company is a global brand with millions of fans or a tiny startup with a handful of customers, one thing remains true: Great marketing starts with understanding and empathizing with your customer. It's the best way to build trust. Gain their trust first, then you'll earn the opportunity to explain how your product or service solves problems for them.

From our research we know that 63 percent of consumers think marketers are selling them things they don't need. That tells me that we, as marketers, are breaking this cardinal rule of marketing. We aren't listening.

I recently spoke at the 2019 SaaStr Annual conference about how we need to lean into customer feedback more than we ever have before -- and how using surveys to listen to your customers can create rabid fans for your brand. I've translated some of that talk below to show how easy and effective it can be to use customer feedback to accelerate startup growth.

Tip #1: Use feedback to inform your biggest messaging decisions

Let's face it -- we spend a lot of time making stuff up in the early days of startup marketing. But there's no need to guess how customers will react to your message. You can ask them.

SurveyMonkey isn't a startup (we're celebrating our 20th anniversary this year) but we are working hard on a perception shift as SurveyMonkey has evolved into a powerful enterprise-grade platform from a consumer-friendly survey tool. So at the end of last year we ran a survey of 2,000 people using SurveyMonkey Audience that gave us a baseline understanding of our brand awareness among enterprise customers across multiple geographies. By testing the core differentiators and benefits that matter most to our target market, we were able to hone the enterprise messaging that will define this next phase of our journey.

Related: How to Really Hear and Use Customer Feedback

Tip #2: Think of customer feedback as the ultimate in data enrichment

What if you could actually know what your customer was thinking? The team at Box used to have customer data trapped in silos across the organization, where it wasn't easily accessed or transformed into action. Last year, they mapped their entire customer journey and inserted "listening post" surveys at the moments of biggest risk -- after a customer support interaction, for instance, or when they were about to renegotiate a deal. The Box team pushed this valuable customer feedback directly into Salesforce via our standard integration, enabling their customer-facing teams to deliver an exceptional experience at the optimal moment.

By enriching usage data with real-time customer feedback, Box gained a holistic view of the customer journey and insight into what a customer is really thinking.

Related: 5 Cool Things You Can Do With Customer Feedback

Tip #3: Leverage customer feedback for surprise and delight

People want to be heard and acknowledged. Show them you are listening to their feedback, both positive and constructive.

When you do, you introduce opportunities to achieve the highest, most elusive goal in customer experience: surprise and delight. One of our customers sent out a Net Promoter survey that asked, "Is there anything else we can do to improve your experience?" Their customer responded, "You could send over some ice cream."

So they did. The result: the grateful ice cream recipient telegraphed their delight on Twitter for the world to see, and our customer created lifelong fans.

Tip #4: Turn feedback into attention-getting, lead-generating content

Broadly speaking, your customers care about two things: what their peers think, and what their customers think. With regards to their peers, they want to know: Am I any good at this? Am I worrying about the right things?

Once you understand who your customers want to hear from, you can zero in on the content they care the most about. Consider generating press interest in your startup with a market analysis survey that helps your customers benchmark their performance against others in the industry. Create a webinar that provides a platform for industry leaders to share best practices around an emergent topic. And if you're not sure what content your customers are most interested in, it doesn't hurt to ask.

Tip #5: Inform pricing and packaging decisions with real feedback

Wondering what your customers are truly willing to pay for your product or service? It's a good question -- and another area where direct customer feedback can be invaluable.

You can ask customers or a subset of your target market for feedback on pricing softly with a question like, "Overall, what's your impression of this feature? Did we get a base hit, double, triple, home run -- or did we strike out?" For specific feedback, use a more advanced model like the Van Westendorp Price Sensitivity Meter, which asks questions like, "At what price would you consider the product to be so expensive that you would not consider buying it?" and, "At what price would you consider the product to be priced so low that you would feel the quality couldn't be very good?"

Related: 3 Lessons About Setting Your Price Learned From a Vegas Prostitute

Tip #6: Use feedback to create a virtuous customer acquisition cycle

When you regularly collect feedback from customers, you'll often identify some super fans -- folks who have had such a positive experience that they evangelize your product or service to others. These evangelists can be powerful: More than 80% of consumers find a customer testimonial to be more trustworthy than what the company says.

Having seen the benefits of customer advisory councils across multiple businesses now, I would strongly recommend that you consider creating your own. It's a great way to recognize, reward, and deepen the relationship with the folks who consistently provide you with valuable feedback and whose profile matches future customers you want to attract. After all, making it easy for customer evangelists to tell your story starts with listening to what they have to say.

Tip #7: Use customer feedback to create devoted internal fans, too

A relentless focus on customer happiness can also impact employee experience. Our research shows that 83 percent of employees who perceive that their company has high customer satisfaction think they'll be at their job in two years. But when employees think their company has low customer satisfaction, that number drops to just 56 percent.

Given the cost of replacing an employee is estimated to be at least one-third of their annual salary, the very real impact of bringing your employees closer to your customers is undeniable. We do this in multiple ways -- including encouraging the Troop, as we call our workforce, to submit customer interaction reports detailing what they learned from talking to a particular customer. Those customer interaction reports (CIRs, or "cheers") are piped into Slack via an integration so the entire team can see them, and we showcase the best stories regularly at our company all-hands meetings.

We truly win when we listen, engage, and walk a mile in our customers' shoes. What will you hear when you start listening?

Wavy Line
Leela Srinivasan

Chief Marketing Officer at SurveyMonkey

Leela Srinivasan is chief marketing officer at SurveyMonkey, a global leader in survey software that enables organizations and individuals to transform feedback into business intelligence that drives growth and innovation.

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