Want a Successful Business? Ask Your Customers How to Do It by @EMakeItHappen


by Emily Worden | Featured Contributor

I used to sell at a lot of craft shows. I loved the cash, but I loved the product research more. I sell custom handbags, so I’d stand in my booth and get to know customers and understand their needs. I met busy moms needing lots of pockets and durable materials. I met casual shoppers who liked totes for day and clutches at night. I asked women what they’d want to see next and debut new prototypes for feedback … even if they didn’t buy anything, I’d at least try to know why. Every craft show meant valuable market research and I loved it.

I don’t have time for craft shows anymore and I miss the live interaction with customers. Now I recreate it the next best way – through social media and formal surveys.

Many businesses are scared about customer feedback because they don’t want to hear anything negative. I understand that, but I have to state the obvious here: you’re in business to serve your customers and if they’re unhappy, you’re out of business. Also, people are more likely to share negative experiences than positive ones, so don’t you want to stop negative talk before it starts? Truth is, negative feedback is great because it helps pinpoint exactly where your business can improve.

You must get regular feedback from customers. First, it makes them feel valuable and builds loyalty. Second, customer insight is vital – you learn what they love, what they hate and what they’d like to see next. For example, so many people asked for diaper bags that we’re now designing some. I don’t have first hand knowledge about diaper bags so I asked our facebook fans what they wanted. Wow, it was illuminating! I asked dozens of questions and got real time feedback. Not only am I designing products they specifically want, but I’m also building buzz about the bags every time I post a question.

Social media is a powerful tool for product research, but I think the absolute best tool for customer feedback is a simple survey. There are many types:

  1. Customer satisfaction: What did your customer expect and did you deliver on it? Send this survey just after they’ve received the product – you’ll get a fresh reaction.
  2. Customer dissatisfaction: You have lots of one-time customers who never returned. What did you do to let them down? This survey gives valuable feedback – you’ll win old customers back and prevent losing more in the future.
  3. New product design: You’re developing a prototype and need feedback on the design. Who better to ask than the people who buy your products? Send this survey during the development process and create a product your customers will love.
  4. Regular check in: I suggest sending this every 6 months to take a temperature on your business and get key market insight. Discover your customers – who they are, where they shop, how they found you … properly worded questions produce very insightful results.

It’s easy to send surveys. We use SurveyMonkey, but there are dozens of options out there. Create an account, write your first survey, and send it to your customers via social media and email. Here’s some tips for survey writing:

  1. Be direct and specific about the purpose of your survey. “The purpose of this survey is to understand your recent experience designing a bag on eThreads.com.”
  2. Keep your questions short and specific. Don’t be vague. “How long did it take for your bag to arrive?” is better than, “Did your bag arrive in a timely manner?”
  3. Keep the survey short and manageable. I like mine 12 questions or less. The longer the survey, the less feedback you’ll receive.
  4. Be objective and unbiased. Ask neutral questions. “Were you satisfied with your experience?” is better than “Tell us how satisfied you were with your experience.”
  5. Offer an incentive. You want a large pool of feedback, so offer an incentive like a coupon, free gift or entry into a drawing to boost survey participation.

Once your survey is sent, compile the data and analyze it. Develop a plan of action based on feedback. Use it to guide short and long term decision making. Your products will be more effective. Your ad campaigns will be more productive. You’ll discover new target markets. Your customers are telling you how to make money – listen to them!


Emily Worden – Entrepreneur, Small Business Strategist, Impossible Optimist – Cambridge, MA

headshot1sheownsitEmily Worden is a Boston-based entrepreneur and small business strategist. She started her custom handbag business eThreads.com in 2008 while pursuing her MBA and working 3 jobs. After a particularly awful shift at her weekend catering gig, Emily threw down the apron and said, “Screw it, I’m going to do something I love!” She graduated and quit her jobs to pursue eThreads full time. Emily believes business can be a powerful catalyst for change. She started eThreads to satisfy the Triple Bottom Line – people, planet and profits – and hopes to inspire other businesses to do the same. She started the cat lifestyle business Ferocious Friends in 2012 with her husband Case to satisfy the needs of their cats Lulu, Smoke and every feline around. Emily started emilyworden.com in 2013 to assist other small businesses with strategic vision and implementation with a focus on marketing, leadership and social media.

Emily is an avid DIYer and loves making things with her hands. Her happy place is the library where she walks once a week; she’s always excited to learn something new. Her extra happy place is a great view of sunset with music pumping in her ears. Emily is grateful everyday for following her dreams and hopes to inspire other people to do the same.

Web: www.emilyworden.com

Twitter: twitter.com/eMakeItHappen

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4 Replies to “Want a Successful Business? Ask Your Customers How to Do It by @EMakeItHappen”

  1. Cendrine Marrouat

    You make some excellent points, Emily! Asking customers for their feedback directly is one way to ensure success.

    And yes, a lot of businesses are scared of negative feedback!

    1. Emily Worden

      @Cendrine Marrouat, thanks for the comment! I’m glad you’re on board with talking with your customers. It seems so simple, but I find people are afraid to do it! Even I’m afraid of negative feedback, but I know it will make the business stronger. Keep up the good work!

  2. Jennifer Kennedy

    It’s SO SO important to get customer feedback! It shows that you truly care about their experience. The responses you’ll get will be eye opening.

    I’ve sent a few surveys made with Google Form. I like how it compiles everything in an easily searched spreadsheet.

    On top of products, I’ve used information from surveys in the copy of my promotional materials — using the words that my customers often say!


    1. Emily Worden

      @Jennifer Kennedy, thanks for the comment! I had not used Google Form before, the idea of an easily searched spreadsheet is intriguing … Love your idea about using testimonials in promotional materials too – another survey bonus!

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