As a small business, you will find that you have a distinct advantage over larger brands to be able to get closer to the customer.  Receiving feedback is an added benefit of close contact with your customers but not all small businesses routinely log and interpret their customer feedback in the same way that larger businesses do.

In a survey, consumers said that they favour small businesses because of their customer focus, so why not harness your unique closeness to your clientele and try to gather as much customer sentiment as possible? This will not only help you to provide an even better level of customer service but it will also grow your business because you will be able to action their feedback.

Here are six ways you can capture sentiment felt towards your business to facilitate growth and help to improve your offering:

1. Face to face feedback

Management and employees in smaller businesses tend to have more face to face contact with customers than those working for larger brands and this can be incredibly valuable for gaining   immediate feedback.

For example, within a restaurant environment, asking a diner how their dinner was during and after their meal will be valuable for gauging the quality of your offering and the diner's experience.

If you're a retailer, talking to customers at the till point or during their shopping experience will let you know if they found everything they came in for or whether if you're lacking on stock offerings.

Ensuring that you log this feedback is very important as there isn't an immediate paper trail with this type of interaction. Setting up a spreadsheet on the computer, or within a notebook, will help to keep a record.

2. Feedback book

Not every business has a till point or the opportunity to speak directly with customers which can make collecting face to face feedback difficult. Furthermore, some customers might find face to face feedback quite intrusive and won't necessarily tell you what they really think. To tackle this barrier, why not add a customer feedback book on your premises. Many hotels and B&Bs already provide guest books, but these can also work exceptionally well in salons, retail stores and many other types of businesses where there is an area for customers to write down their thoughts without being prompted.

3. Social media sentiment analysis

Whilst some people will go out of their way to leave feedback on channels that you monitor, it's not always possible to see what everyone has said about your business, especially if they have mentioned you on social media without tagging or mentioning your business in a post. But there are some clever tools out there like Hootsuite, TwitterCounter and Sendible that can analyse almost all mentions of your business on social media and provide a sentiment analysis score.

These tools make it easy to analyse what influencers and customers are saying about your business through crawling the social feeds for mention alerts that you have set up. These posts will all be collated in one place for you to read and make a decision over whether to respond to them. You might find that the same areas of your business are either causing frustration, putting people off or making people smile.

Whilst social media monitoring tools and setting up consumer feedback systems are all very desirable elements for running a business, they can be costly. An initial outlay with a loan for small businesses will help with cash flow to get the project off the ground; identifying areas for improvement within your business will mean that the venture will pay off in the long term.

5. Surveys

Surveys are an ingenious way to get feedback to the questions you want answers to. You can devise a survey and print it out with the intention of getting feedback in person, or you could email or mail out a link to an online survey for your customers to visit. Either way you'll need to offer some form of incentive to maximise response rates. Offering to place the respondents into a prize draw is one ideal way to get feedback on the customers' terms, so it will more than likely be honest.

When constructing your survey think about your end goal. For example, do you want to find out:

  • How well your business provides customer service?
  • The quality of your product or service offering
  • Pricing perception- do customers feel they're getting value for money or are you too expensive?
  • Would they recommend you to a friend?
  • How a recent event went?

If you're going to create an online survey, you can use a tool like SurveyMonkey which offers various pricing brackets based upon the number of responses you would like to collect. Hower, if budget is an issue, use Google Forms to create a free survey or questionnaire; but bear in mind that you'll just have to crunch more of the numbers yourself.

4. Allow customers to leave feedback on social media

Branded social media accounts are an excellent way of engaging with your customer base online. Not only can you update people about your products, services, events, achievements and day to day life; there's also the functionality for customers to leave feedback. For example, Facebook lets customers leave star ratings on business pages, as well as comments about their experience.

As you can see in the above image, some happy customers have reviewed their recent trip to a salon, citing how impressed they are with the staff and how happy they are with their hair. Not only are peer reviews a fantastic way to secure more business, but this type of feedback tends to be honest and provides crucial insight into customer perceptions of your business, whether it's doing well or if faults have been found.

If you find that your business is struggling to receive reviews on your Facebook page, try offering an incentive, like 10% off the customer's next visit or purchase in exchange for leaving a review online, or to place all reviewers into a prize draw. This should boost the amount of feedback left on social media.

Whilst great feedback is welcome and always lovely to receive, be aware that having a public page can also leave your business open to negative reviews. But don't let this deter you from accepting reviews on your page because even where businesses are treating their customers very well, a negative is sometimes just part and parcel of running a business.

However, should you receive a poor review like the one below, it's usually better to deal with them publicly so that people can see that you care about rectifying problems and customer experiences:

6. Sign up to customer feedback platforms

When a consumer is making a decision and weighing up a potential purchase, sites like Trust Pilot, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Foursquare and others can be crucial in getting someone to make up their mind to make a purchase. These sites can also be crucial in gaining an insight into what people really think about your business as they're third party sites and are in no way affiliated to your business.

It's simple to sign up as a company to a review site: all you need to do is a fill out a few simple details - such as your company name, website address, email and telephone number- to claim your free account. Once you have access to your account you need to populate the page with information about your business and employ a few tricks to make your page more appealing such as an engaging profile photo and a clear and inviting description about what services or products you provide.

Once you have set up your profile it's time to start promoting these pages elsewhere so your customers know that they can leave a review. You can add links and logos from these pages on your own website or even include links within any email correspondence.  Social media can also be a valuable way to let people know that your business is listed on third party sites.

Be sure to check alerts for new reviews on these pages regularly and to analyse all feedback. For example, if you have a guest accommodation, people may provide feedback on something that needs urgent attention and could drastically improve your offering. For example, this consumer left a review about a poor WiFi signal which is a necessity for many travellers today:

Rob Straathof Liberis CEO

Rob brings a wealth of experience from across the financial sector. This includes time at in the corporate development team focused on acquisitions, and six years at J.P Morgan in the technology investment banking team. As well as Liberis, Rob has been a director at other SME focused lending businesses including Everline. He is also the founder of one of Rotterdam's first online B2B lunch caterers. At Liberis, Rob understands that technology can take the hassle out of finance, but that you should never underestimate the power of a voice on the end of a phone. Originally from the Netherlands, Rob holds a Master of Science in Economics from Erasmus University.