By Rieva Lesonsky

Do you want to improve your small business’s customer service? The number-one thing you can do is ask them what they think—and really listen to their answers. While this may seem obvious, consumers don’t think it is. In fact, in a recent survey by customer service company Empathica (reported in MediaPost), only about one-fourth of consumers believe businesses care about their opinions—even though 85 percent of consumers regularly tell companies what they think.

Really listening to consumers can be the key to better customer service–and greater small business success. In fact, 83 percent of people Empathica polled said if they knew a company took their comments seriously, they would be more loyal.

So how can you poll customers and make sure you act on their responses to improve your customer service?

Go online. Two-thirds of Empathica’s respondents prefer to give customer service feedback online. Face to face feedback, the next most popular method, was chosen by just 13 percent of people. You can use online survey tools (many are available for free), poll customers on your own website, or ask them questions via Facebook.

Pick up the phone. Phone feedback can work great for business-to-business companies. Have your salespeople contact customers on a regular basis to ask about complaints, problems and positive feedback. By digging deep into what customers like (and don’t like) about your business, you can discover ways to serve them better, or offer products or services that could help them.

Acknowledge it. Encourage feedback by responding to it, whether online or in person. Acknowledge what customers have to say, whether their comments are positive or negative. There’s nothing worse for a customer than complaining to a deaf ear.

Empower employees. Front-line staff such as retail clerks are often the ones who hear the most customer feedback. Make customers happier by empowering your team to make decisions without having to check with you every time. (Of course, you’ll want to set some parameters here.)

Act on it. If customers regularly bring an issue to your attention and you don’t make changes, they will feel ignored—and take their business elsewhere. If you can’t make the changes they suggest, explain why. Asking for feedback is only half the game. You’ve also got to do something about it.

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