Getting Feedback and Influencing the Conversation

Businesses and brands want feedback from their clients. They prefer that the feedback is private when it’s not so good, and that it’s very public when it’s a glowing review. How can you make that possible?

You may think this sounds impossible. While it absolutely represents a challenge, you can certainly help guide the conversation. The first key is to be proactive in your approach. Be the one to start the conversation. By doing this, you can control the tone and direction better than if you’re reacting. Most importantly, give your audience the soap box, but define what audience they’ll have.

This is a very strategy intense decision. Here are a few examples of where soap boxes can be given with much smaller audiences, if any at all. A survey requesting consumer input on a purchase or service creates a one on one dialogue – no public conversations involved. At the very least, some individuals will take this soap box, speak from the heart and it may be enough for an unhappy client who may have otherwise ‘gone public’.

What you do next with the information is extremely important as well. Negative feedback should immediately prompt a response from the company or brand. Again, staying one on one the conversation is controlled, and the individual’s need to be heard publicly is lessened. Positive feedback can be equally used for public relations or marketing efforts, if nothing else, welcome the person into your social network and ask them to share their thoughts.

That was an easy example of starting the dialogue and controlling where it is seen or heard. Beyond the first point of contact when someone has just purchased a product or service your challenge to start a conversation becomes more difficult. Think about the life-cycle of your product or service. If typical users will have a 3 month adoption or perhaps take 6 months to evaluate the friendliness, usefulness, benefits, etc. then this may be the appropriate time to engage with them.

Once again, starting the conversation sets the tone and direction. Requesting someone’s opinion makes them feel good in the first place, even someone who is dissatisfied. We all want to be heard. When you start a conversation, you may focus on the known product benefits – “We’d like to know how much you enjoyed the easy use of blank?” Next comes the honesty test. Ask a question about a known issue or area of improvement, but positioning that sentence is extremely important. “In our next release of blank we are considering releasing more models at different price points. Can you share any thoughts and perhaps what features you tend to use?” This could be in response to a concern about pricing being high.

You will receive negative feedback. Treat this information and the source as an invaluable resource and you may realize a more loyal client rather than a disparaging online blogger. Be true to your words though. Ensure that the information you find, and what you believe to be true is something that you communicate and then use to influence your product or service offerings.

Conversations are not single exchanges, but ongoing. Be sure to continue to remind users of the benefits of what they bought, better ways to use it, improvements of new models, accomplishments, etc. Also, be sure to alert them to the improvements you’ve made to the product or service, especially when it’s relative to their concerns. Then offer them something to upgrade and remain loyal to a company who cares about its customers.

There are ways to deal with negative online feedback as well. First, acknowledge the feedback and provide an outlet for the person to contact the company, and more importantly, an individual within the company easily and directly. If you perform this task correctly, you’ll effectively take the conversation offline.

One example of a bank that has done an excellent job of using new media to accept negative feedback and show incredible support is Bank of America. Utilizing a Twitter page the bank is able to directly connect with consumers who have complaints or challenges with the bank. The immediacy of the responses shows anyone viewing this page of complaints that the bank truly cares about their consumers and is willing and able to take quick action to resolve problems. Instead of walking away with the negative impression of how many complaints the bank has, they’ve successfully shown their ability to be accessible and provide great customer service.

Having a public conversation that focuses on the good is also very possible. Remember, no one is perfect and the public knows this. As long as the positive exchanges far out weight the negative, you’ll look good to the masses. That said, go chat about what’s great, and ask for feedback that will agree with the statement. Be real by asking for feedback on things that are negative, but again, control the direction, tone and quantity.

Let’s say your product happens to perform poorly in durability tests. You may start a conversation by saying, “We’ve been testing several different materials to improve the durability of ‘x’. We’d love to hear how you use your ‘x’ and in what environments. We know that many users are in the comfort of their lazy boys, but other power users are on trains, planes and automobiles. Tell us how you use your ‘x’ so that we can consider creating another model suited to your active lifestyle.”

While this post would receive some negative feedback, the tone of the post definitely will entice the casual user to state what they like, what they have, and how it works for them. The active user may state the challenges they have, but many will actually be excited and positive to see your company acknowledge an issue and give hope that there may be improvements in the future. Ironically, this also builds pre-sales excitement and speculation about new product releases.

There’s an old saying in the public affairs world – “Get ahead of the story.” This can’t be any truer than in the online world.  Today, you can modify that to be – “Get ahead of the story and influence the conversation.”

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