When I talk to small business owners and ask them what their customers think of them, they are always quick to say, “Customers love us!” However, when I follow up with the question, “How do you know customers love you,” they become less confident in their responses. “Uhh..because they keep coming back?”

Many small businesses listen to customers only when they have something bad to say. I’m sure you have all spent hours on Yelp reading through not-so-nice reviews about your business online. This is obviously a good practice–you should be aware of all the things being said about you and your business.

However, going beyond Yelp reviews will allow you to get a more full-picture view of your business. It’s important to have regular channels for you to get feedback from your customers. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can learn more from your audience.


Send a short survey. You can either does this online or in person. If you have a store, keep a survey or suggestion box near the cash register. Train your employees to casually mention the survey while customers are paying. It also helps to incentive customers with a small raffle prize.

If you choose to do the survey online, make it short. The fewer number of clicks, the better. We recommend using a free tool like Typeform to give your survey a professional look.

Focus Groups

If you having willing customers, you can bring them in for a focus group. Focus groups give you more in-depth insights than surveys because they help you figure out why and how something is happening, not just what.

They might sound expensive, and that’s why small businesses have likely avoided them in the past, but now digital tools allow you to hold focus groups online. You can use a simple web conference service like Webex, or even a free one such as Google Hangout or Uberconference.


Don’t underestimate the power of observation. By just hanging around your own store, you’ll get to see the customer experience first-hand. You’ll see their challenges and frustrations, as well as their positive experiences.

Especially if you have a physical store, you can use the data from your observations to pinpoint and improve areas where your customer is having a negative experience. This is called customer journey mapping, and it’s a really powerful tool!

Customer Service

When in doubt, ask your team what customers are saying. Your customer service representatives interact daily with your customers, so they understand what makes them frustrated, and what motivates them to keep doing business with you. Try holding monthly or even quarterly reflection sessions with your customer service team–ask them to surface any trends or patterns they are seeing.

Online Forums

And finally, make sure you listening and interacting with customers online. Social media is a good first stop, but also check popular forum threads, such as Reddit or Quora. If you haven’t already, make sure you set up a Google alert to notify you when any online material is published regarding you or your business.

Bonus: How do I prepare for negative feedback online?

It’s inevitable. You are going to make a mistake, and someone is going to get really angry about it. The key to surviving a negative review or comment is to be prepared with a game plan. Here’s what we recommend:

  • Monitor your online footprint: You can’t resolve online issues if you don’t know about them–so make sure you are constantly monitoring what people are saying about your business. The good news is that there are easy tools that can do all of the work for you. Hootsuite can track all of your social media “mentions” in one place, and you can set up Google alerts to catch the rest.
  • Have a process for managing your online reputation: Develop a thorough script that trains all employees on how to handle negative comments online (Note: our friends at Hootsuite have a great step-by-step here). And in the case of emergencies, don’t forget to set up a process for employees to escalate issues to a senior member of the team. Lastly, you should commit to a standard response time. While we recommend a 24 hour window, you should create a timeline based on your available resources. If it’ll take you 48 hours to respond, just message that to your customer, and commit to it.

Don’t forget to reward other fans by engaging them with other aspects of your business. You might recruit them to give feedback on a new product line, or invite them to attend a local event that you are hosting.

It’s important to keep. It’s important not to fear feedback–even if it is constructive. Understanding what your business is doing well and what it can improve is all part of the process.