What Is Informal Customer Feedback?

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Customer feedback helps you and your customers find common ground. They tell you what they want and need, and you evaluate your offerings in light of this information, making changes when feasible. Formal customer feedback can be expensive and artificial, but informal methods of collecting customer feedback may cost you nothing while providing heartfelt and relevant results.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Informal customer service feedback encompasses all the spontaneous ways your customers respond to your offerings, from facial expressions to impromptu conversations.

Informal Customer Feedback Tools

  • Observation. If you sell your products directly to customers, you can gather feedback information simply by watching them interact with your offerings while they shop. If they consistently walk past your display without stopping, then they're either not interested in your products themselves, or your display is not compelling.

  • Social media. The informal feedback you can glean from social media can be both quantitative and qualitative. You can make quantitative assessments by gauging the degree of engagement with different posts, and you can absorb qualitative information by reading comments. Because it is inexpensive and can be both a marketing platform and a market research tool, it's worth taking the time and making the effort to build your company's online presence.

  • Conversations. You can obtain invaluable information about what is working and what isn't simply by talking to your customers. You don't need to frame an exchange as an occasion for gathering information. Rather, you can simply start a conversation and listen carefully to the responses.

  • Sales. Your sales figures provide indispensable information about how your customers are responding to your products or services. Either they like them enough to buy, or something is standing in the way of their making the purchase. 

Formal Customer Feedback Tools

  • Surveys. A customer service survey is a formal list of questions about what your customers want, like and dislike. You can offer customers incentives such as free products for completing your survey, or you can rely on their interest in sharing their opinions because they care about your company or want their opinions to be heard. A survey based on data points makes it easier to aggregate responses, but a survey with open-ended questions may provide more interesting information.

  • Focus groups. These formal feedback events give you detailed responses from customers and potential customers who are devoting their full attention to your questions. People who participate in focus groups are usually paid for their time. Organizing a focus group can be expensive, but it is an opportunity to take a deep dive into customer preferences.

  • Reviews. Your customers can review your products on a range of sites. These reviews not only provide useful information for potential customers in deciding whether or not to support your business, but they can also tell you what you're doing well and where you're falling short. 

Advantages of Informal Feedback

Informal feedback is likely to be honest and unfiltered. It comes from the heart because there is no other reason for your customers to provide it other than a genuine desire to be heard. In addition to providing you with valuable information, informal customer feedback tools can increase customer engagement by showing your clientele that you care about their thoughts and opinions.

The informal customer feedback process also costs little or nothing to implement. There is no charge to strike up a conversation with someone shopping at your store, and even social media posts that aren't boosted provide engagements that give information about customer predilections.

Informal customer feedback also offers the advantage of being available all day, every day. If your customers aren't buying your products, they're sending you a marketing message. If they buy a product that's intended for a certain purpose and use it in a different way, they're providing you with feedback as well. Your ability to leverage informal feedback depends on your listening skills.

Disadvantages of Informal Feedback

Because informal marketing messages are so ubiquitous, it can be difficult to tune in and hear the information that your customers are trying to communicate. When a customer is dissatisfied, it's easy to grow defensive and angry rather than listening and trying to understand the source of that dissatisfaction, which may actually have little or nothing to do with your products.

Because of their informality, these marketing messages can also be difficult to track and assimilate. Unlike a formal survey which aggregates data according to specific metrics, informal feedback can be all over the map. If one customer expresses dissatisfaction with a specific feature of a specific product, it's difficult to tell whether that aspect is only problematic for that individual customer or whether you have a bigger problem on your hands.

Although informal customer feedback is potentially available on an ongoing basis, there is no way to know whether you will receive information you actually need in a timeframe when it is useful. The customer with the essential tidbit may not come into your store or may not be feeling especially chatty on a day when you have to make a decision about whether to keep or drop a particular product.

Advantages of Formal Feedback

You can design a formal customer feedback survey to gather answers to the specific questions you need addressed, such as whether your hours of operation are inconvenient enough to force customers to shop elsewhere. This capacity to ask a direct question and receive a direct answer makes formal feedback clear and expedient, qualities that are particularly useful when you don't have time to waste.

Formal customer feedback tools also allow you to design questions quantitatively so you can easily gather and analyze results. By asking customers to rate your customer service on a numerical scale, you can assess not only where your business falls on this spectrum but also whether there are extreme statistical divergences among the answers you receive or these responses mostly fall in a consistent range.

Formal feedback also provides you with formal information that you can use when approaching lenders and investors. Your financing application will have more clout if you can verify that 80 percent of your surveyed customers want your products available in smaller sizes than if you simply say that you've heard this from various people.

Disadvantages of Formal Feedback

A response to a formal survey is likely to elicit a less-honest response than a spontaneous comment expressed in the moment. If you offer customers an incentive to complete your survey, such as discounts or freebies, they may even answer your questions with the sole intention of reaping these benefits. You get different kinds of information when someone is reacting in real time than when someone is considering responses to questions presented in an artificial format.

Although quantitative responses to survey questions can provide clear data that is easy to analyze, this information may lack nuance. It can provide the illusion of clarity in situations where actual results are considerably more complex than survey results might indicate.

Formal feedback can also be expensive. Whether you're providing incentives to complete written surveys, paying hourly wages for participants in focus groups or hiring professionals to gather and evaluate data, it's best to have clear objectives when collecting formal feedback so you can make the most of the money you spend.

References

About the Author

Devra Gartenstein founded her first food business in 1987. In 2013 she transformed her most recent venture, a farmers market concession and catering company, into a worker-owned cooperative. She does one-on-one mentoring and consulting focused on entrepreneurship and practical business skills.