Feedback is a brilliant way to understand how customers feel about our business. It can be a springboard for improvement and innovation. It can comfort us (all the hard work has been worth it) but when negative, it can crush us and rile us.

What is customer feedback?

Feedback is ‘advice, criticism or information about how good or useful something or somebody’s work is’. In big companies, feedback is often woven into the customer experience. Feedback requests are automated and pop up when you’re browsing. You get emails after a purchase. In shops, screens ask for emoji feedback. On the phone to a company? You’re asked to take part in a feedback survey before you can get anywhere near a human.

As with surveys, customer feedback fatigue is real. It’s not so much the request for feedback that’s grating consumers these days but more the fact that companies are doing nothing with it. 67% of customers said brands need to get better at listening to feedback.  For customers, listening is caring. For smaller businesses, asking for feedback tends to be more ad hoc. We either apologise for asking (very British trait), ask when we know it’ll be good (nothing wrong with that), or we word (subconsciously no doubt) our requests in such a way our customers think twice about telling us what they really think. Other times, we ask, but do nothing with the feedback and then, well, some of us don’t ask at all.

67% of customers believe brands need to get better at listening to feedback.

But feedback is important. We learn from it and hear customers in their own words. We find patterns and make changes for the better. We need to get used to it however uncomfortable it may feel. Let’s normalise asking for and receiving feedback, and where relevant, choosing to do something with it. Let feedback fatigue be an opportunity for smaller businesses to do what bigger brands aren’t visibly doing enough of: listening, showing they care, responding (with grace) and where appropriate, taking action.

Feedback formats

Feedback comes in many guises and can be directly solicited (e.g. feedback surveys, ratings, reviews, and testimonials) but also unsolicited. These days any disgruntled customer can make their opinion known. There’s very little you can do about it. For smaller businesses, one bad review can sting and hurt your business.

Making it clear that you are open to feedback at every stage of the customer journey avoids unsolicited scathing reviews. Gripes can be nipped in the bud before they hit the public realm. At the heart of feedback is the idea we don’t have all the answers; that there’s space for improvement; that we’re confident enough to listen to other people’s opinions and astute enough to know what feedback to keep and what to discard.

New York Times bestselling author and speaker Diana Kander told me: “You know you’re not being curious enough when it comes to customer feedback, the more comfortable you feel. If you’re getting 90% of thumbs up when you ask for feedback, or even worse, you assume that no news is good news, you might be missing something.

“If you believe that when something isn’t working your customers will tell you about it… you’re wrong. We’re all nice people and we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. We’ll just quietly take our business elsewhere.”

How and how not to ask for it

Anyone can ask for feedback but asking for useful feedback requires bravery. It can be exposing, and our egos don’t like it. As a result, we rarely get to the customer truth. People sense whether you can handle hearing what they really think and adjust their feedback accordingly.

In a Tweet, author and organisational psychologist Adam Grant says: “When people don’t hesitate to give you feedback, it’s a sign of trust. They have faith that you’ll take it as an opportunity to grow and not as a threat to your ego.”

I like my gym. It’s cheap, local and well equipped. But the way they ask for feedback is all wrong. Everywhere you look there are five-star feedback requests (no doubt linked to staff perks). Not a simple ‘give us feedback’ or a ‘tell us what you think’ but ‘give us FIVE-star feedback’. Asking systematically for five stars won’t get you far. How can we improve if we only ever ask for the good stuff?

Asking systematically for five stars won’t get you far. How can we improve if we only ever ask for the good stuff?

In some spaces, such as the podcast world, anything but a five-star review just doesn’t cut the mustard (judging by the number of times podcast hosts say it). The system seems to be set up to reward perfection from the get-go, with only five-star podcasts suggested to listeners. I disagree with this approach. If you operate in one of those only-five-stars-will-do digital spaces, make sure to seek out honest views by other means.

So how do we ask? How do we make our customers feel safe enough to tell us what they really think?

It’s especially important in smaller-sized businesses, as the relationship between you and your customer is often more intimate. Try the following tips for size. Subtle changes in the way we ask for feedback can help our customers feel comfortable telling us what they really think. That’s what we want, isn’t it?

• Ask for advice, not for feedback: ‘Thanks so much for attending my workshop, I’d love to get your advice on how I could improve the next one’ – this request gives space to hear all your customers’ thoughts.

• Put them in your shoes: ‘I’m thinking of making a few changes to my online shop. I know you are a loyal customer. If this was your online shop, what would you change?’

• Be specific: there is nothing like constraints to focus the mind. ‘What three things would you change if this was your product? What are the three things you enjoyed/ struggled with the most?’

• Reward honesty: if you want to continue to get honest feedback, show the giver what you did with it. Thank them. It will encourage them to be honest again next time.

These suggestions work in real-life situations and online. But do yourself a huge favour, when seeking out more honest feedback, only ask (read or look) when you’re ready to receive

For more advice on how to take feedback, and how to use it to improve your business, grab a copy of ‘Do Penguins Eat Peaches? and other unexpected ways to discover what your customers want’ by Katie Tucker.

About Katie Tucker

Katie Tucker is an inspirational product leader with over 12 years of experience leading teams and delivering stand-out products and services.  In 2020 she founded Product Jungle, helping hundreds of businesses understand customers better. She is also a mentor, a speaker and the pen behind the popular newsletter, Jungle Juice. Find out more:


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