Receiving feedback from customers, clients and partners is absolutely vital to the life of a any business. Businesses who don’t listen will meet needs that don’t exist and businesses who do that don’t last very long.
Unfortunately businesses often attempt to limit the feedback mechanisms made available to their community. While I understand the temptation, I strongly caution against this approach. All communities are diverse and allowing only one communication platform, or tool, will greatly diminish your ability to receive feedback. In today’s online business world, you must be able to receive feedback from many communications equipped platforms. (Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Get Satisfaction, etc.)
While these sorts of platforms are necessary only one provides you with the controls required to tie all of them together and provide virtually unlimited functionality: your blog. You have no other asset like it in scope and scalability.
Your blog acts not only as a publishing platform, but as a repository for your organization’s feedback and communication tools. While you can link to your various communication tools from your primary website you likely want to keep those pages as clean, and as sales focused as possible. Your blog, unlike your sales focused pages, is the perfect place for showcasing feedback and communication tools whether those tools exist outside, or within, your blog.
To understand further how your organization’s blog can become the primary portal for feedback let’s look at the following ways your blog can help you garner more feedback.
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Polls can provide you with far more feedback than almost any other feedback mechanism. This is owed to the fact that people can’t seem to help but vote. It’s such a simple way to have one’s voice heard, and it’s difficult to shake the inquisitive impulse to vote just see how others have voted.
In most cases you shouldn’t require users to register in order to vote. Making your users jump through any hoops will greatly decrease the number of submissions you receive. You shouldn’t have to worry about users voting more than once if you use a plugin that filters out multiple votes from the same IP.
There are a myriad of third party services with plugins for WordPress, Blogger, Joomla, and Drupal. Make sure you’re protecting your user’s data by using a service that doesn’t send data to third parties. You should also be aware of the fact that there are plenty of free form tools that provide survey functionality. The downside to these free tools is limited analytics support. However, you can always enter the data into a spreadsheet yourself. Whether you choose a free tool, or a paid service should depend on the number of responses you expect to receive.
Another tactic to take with polls is to add them within blog posts. Writing a blog post regarding some uses of your product? Provide a poll asking your readers what other uses they’ve found for your product. Writing another blog post about a new feature you’ve added? Insert a poll asking your customers what feature’s they would like to see added next. Most plugins allow you to create polls and insert them anywhere using shortcodes. It’s so easy to add polls that there’s no excuse not to. The results from these polls will provide you with constant feedback for as long as you make that poll available. I recently wrote a review and comparison of Disqus and LiveFyre, and I added the poll in the image to the left. It was no surprise to me that I received much more feedback via the poll than I did in through comments.
Surveys are similar to polls in many respects except that users typically don’t participate in polls due to their length. However, there are methods for increasing participation. The best method is to ask for participation via a pop-up. Some organizations use email surveys, but there has been growth in the popularity of on-site, short, surveys.
When your page loads deliver a pop-up that asks your users if they would like to participate in a 3-5 question poll before they leave your blog. It’s important to keep it short and clear. A vague invitation to participate in a survey will confuse users and few will take advantage of the opportunity. Remember that this pop-up will likely display to all visitors, so ask appropriate questions for users you may know very little about. For example, ask whether they’ve used your products or services and what their impression is of your product. The image to the left represents a pop-up survey invitation provided by FluidSurveys. The same sort of functionality is provided by SurveyMonkey, NoviSystems and others.
For logged-in users of your blog you may want to consider a longer survey. Consider placing an invitation in your blog’s sidebar that loads only when users are logged in. You invitation should direct them directly to the survey, or activate an email containing the survey.
Adding live chat to your blog is fairly easy, but keeping up with it is more difficult. While studies show that live chat increases sales, and enhances support I’m surprised that more organizations don’t use this functionality. A common objection to providing live chat functionality is that an organization will have to provide coverage for live chat during business hours. Because of the costs involved some organizations outsource live chat to third parties in India or the Philippines. Whether the benefits outweigh the costs will have to be determined by each organization individually. However, I firmly believe that more organizations should consider this option. Particularly since many live chat tools now offer a wide range of features that make using live chat much easier, and less costly. The slick looking image was provided by LiveChat Inc., who is one provider of live chat tools.
Your organization should already have a feedback form on its website. I’m suggesting you add a feedback form to your blog as well. In fact, I highly suggest you add a feedback form on every page. Place it somewhere in your site’s template. There are plugins available for some blogging platforms that allow you to add feedback forms that slide out from the edges of the page. Here’s an example from one of my websites using a free plugin called Slick Contact Forms.
Make your forms ubiquitous, and simple.
Put Feedback Forms Into Your Posts. If you’re serious about feedback some feedback form plugins will allow you to place simple forms in the middle, or at the end of blog posts. Follow up an appeal for feedback with a form so that your users don’t have to go searching around to leave you feedback. Allowing for comments on your blog is an option, but depending on the sort of feedback you’re requesting comments may not be appropriate. In many cases an organization won’t allow comments. In these cases feedback forms provide an excellent alternative to comments.
Why doesn’t your blog receive more engagement? The answer maybe that you haven’t asked. Provoke engagement by asking questions. In the middle of your blog posts, in the middle of paragraphs, ask your readers for input. (Does this make sense, or am I off my rocker?) Ask for feedback on your products, or services. Ask questions you don’t know the answer to at the time. Make sure to provide some mechanism for feedback following your question. If you allow comments people will answer your questions there. Asking questions invites communication and can result in some feedback that may prove very helpful for your organization. Failing to ask questions on your blog is no different from failing to ask questions anywhere else and results in limiting your organizations knowledge of its customers, clients, and partners. The included image shows how I’ve used the Twitter @Anywhere Plus in my WordPress blog to make it easy for users to follow and respond to my questions via twitter. I simply use @adamsaverian anywhere in my blog and my username provides a pretty looking pop-up.
Asking questions in your post is great, but it’s not nearly as effective as a question post. A question post is designed to encourage feedback by providing your readers with a specific question they must answer. Every once in a while you should write a question post about your products, service, market, etc. Question posts are more effective at provoking feedback than asking questions in your posts since the entire post is an appeal for feedback. Providing a feedback mechanism within your post is a necessity when asking for direct and specific feedback in a question post. Whatever feedback tools you prefer make sure to insert them directly into the post so as to make them immediately available and, again, increase the likelihood of responses.
Using a plugin like Twitter @Anywhere Plus (for WordPress) you can easily add Twitter forms anywhere on your WordPress blog, including in posts. This makes it dead simple for your users to send a Tweet from within your blog. You can follow up a question, or appeal for feedback with a Twitter form and thereby increase the likelihood that readers will respond with feedback. Twitter forms are a great alternative to comments, and the character limit forces users to write succinct comments or questions.
If you’re having trouble provoking feedback, or you require a larger sample size, then you may want to incentivize your community by hosting a feedback contest. If you promote your blog contest well you can get a lot of valuable feedback. Ask your customers to provide some sort of feedback in exchange for entry into a random drawing for a giveaway. You can ask your customers any number of questions for which your organization requires data, or you could ask them to send in a picture, or video, of them using your products. Get creative and make your prize worth the time and effort it will take to enter the contest. If your organization doesn’t have experience hosting contests you can refer to a recent series of blog posts, and podcasts I published on the subject of blog contests. While there’s a lot to be said about hosting a blog contest the most important pieces of advice I could give you are to make your rules clear, track your entrant’s emails diligently, and ship your prize immediately following the contest.
Earlier I mentioned that many organizations will not allow comments for various reasons. Sometimes those reasons are good, and other times they’re not. Every organization needs to ask itself whether its current decision regarding comments is helping or hurting them. One of the benefits of allowing comments is the valuable feedback that an organization can receive via comments. Comments, done right, can provide a safe, interactive, public space for conversations to take place. Open conversations in comments can often spark great ideas that wouldn’t have been produced in a private conversations via email, or messaging. Comments bring together the simplicity of forms and the public nature of forums. While it would be irresponsible to suggest that all organizations should allow comments, it would be equally irresponsible not to remind you that comments do provide a unique, convenient mechanism for gathering important feedback from your community.
Receiving Feedback via Email, and Social Networks
While these tools exist outside of your blog, and any of them may replace your blog as a primary feedback tool it’s important to remember that most of your customers, clients, and partners will find your email or social network profiles through your website or blog. As a result you should think of your blog as a portal for these important communication tools.
Email is a great way to receive feedback from your customers, clients, and partners. Make sure that appropriate email addresses are made available on your website in locations where your users would expect them to be found. Support pages, feedback pages, contact pages, etc. Make sure your email address is in the sidebar of your blog – at the top, and at the bottom, depending on your design. Add your email address to your blog posts wherever applicable. If your organization prefers email, then follow up your appeals for feedback with a link to your email address. Don’t expect your users to search your site for you email address. No matter how easy you think it is to find your email address, it’s not.
Do not make the mistake of hiding your email addresses in a dark corner of your website. Some organizations, it seems, purposefully make it difficult to leave feedback. Like burying your head in the sand, you’ll avoid the distractions often associated with email, but you will lose out on a host of information vital to the life of your business.
Social networks get all of the popular press these days. Make connecting on social networks as easy as possible for your community. Make it convenient for your blog’s readers to Like, or +1, your organization’s Facebook Pages, and Google+ Pages, and to follow your organization on twitter. In fact, I’ll go further than that. Make it difficult for them not to. Don’t be rude, intrusive, and annoying, but put your social buttons everywhere. Keep these options right in front of your users the entire time they’re on your blog. The likelihood that users will be willing to search through your page just to Like, +1, or Follow your organization is not good. When it comes to Like’s, +1′s, and Follows, out of site is out of mind. (To the left is an example of the Social Media Widget plugin for WordPress in use on my Online Business Hour podcast website.)
Social networks make it easy to engage, but they’re not specifically designed for receiving feedback. While you will find that your customers, clients, and partners will leave feedback through social networks you may decide to corral feedback into locations better suited for such a purpose. However, don’t make the mistake of neglecting feedback you receive through social networks. This can be a catastrophic.
Many organizations will settle on two or three tools, or platforms, for gathering feedback on their blog. Generally speaking polls, surveys, and LiveChat are the most effective. Polls and surveys allow you to collect very specific data, and live chat allows you to connect directly with customers, leads, and partners in a unique and effective manor. At a minimum your business blog should implement these feedback tools, but don’t neglect these other useful methods for gathering feedback. You may find that your community prefers a feedback mechanism you wouldn’t expect. I suggest implementing and testing them all. In aggregate you will find the data you collect will increase your knowledge of the market, and the needs of your community.