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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

13 ways business leaders get the most out of customer relations

Implement the following strategies to form better alliances for your products and services.

13 ways business leaders get the most out of customer relations
Members of Fast Company Executive Board share their expert insights. [Image: Courtesy of the individual members.]

When you’re running a business, the only way your company will be able to elevate itself in the marketplace for the better is by being extremely open to constructive criticism and new ideas.

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Encourage a company culture that is transparent with leaders who practice active listening skills if you plan to connect on a more meaningful level with stakeholders who will advocate behind what your business stands for as you lean in to help meet their ongoing needs as well.

For further ideas on how to get honest feedback from current and potential clients, Fast Company Executive Board members share some proven methods that continue to serve their company well.

1. TREAT YOUR CUSTOMERS AS TRUE PARTNERS.

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Put them at the center of all that you do, all of the time. The only way to get to know your customers is to communicate with them. True business partnerships are a two-way street and engaging with them, listening, and learning is the key. Asking them what they need and then facilitating a solution is key. Their business is your business, their success, your success. – Eric Schurke, Moneypenny

2. BE AN ACTIVE LISTENER.

Build a culture where all employees value listening to customers and make a routine out of listening, sending feedback into internal loops for action; follow up with them so they know you are listening and their effort providing feedback was valued by you. – Amy Radin, Pragmatic Innovation Partners LLC

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3. MEET CUSTOMERS WHERE THEY ARE AT.

Customers are always willing to provide feedback to brands on their experience with the organization and employees. It is critical to understand their (customer) journey and engage with the customer in their channel of choice during the moment of truth. – Zack Hamilton, Stingray Group, Inc.

4. CONTRIBUTE TO A CULTURE OF IMPROVEMENT.

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There may not be one right technique and you can leverage multiple platforms to get customer feedback depending on the development stage or budget, contributing to a culture of continuous improvement. When working on new products, direct engagement using beta launches and informational interviews can provide actionable customer insights, enabling further optimization and next product development. – Gayatri Keskar, Material ConneXion

5. DON’T FORCE IT. 

The best feedback a business can receive often presents itself randomly. Be certain that your business has a presence on Google, Yelp and, in the case that your business is brick and mortar, TripAdvisor and other travel sites. Monitor these sites on a regular basis and be certain that you are following up on any reviews that you can follow up on. – Brandon Pena, BrandON Media Group

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6. MAKE IMPROVEMENT A PART OF YOUR DNA.

Set the expectation that honest feedback is welcome at the start of the relationship. Build feedback sessions into formal customer engagements like monthly and quarterly reviews. Build executive relationships that open the door for honest one-on-one discussions at the highest levels. Make continuous improvement a part of the company DNA at all levels so seeking feedback is a positive behavior. – Paola Doebel, Ensono

7. INVEST IN THE RIGHT TOOLS TO ENGAGE IN REAL-TIME.

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Always encourage any feedback. Use multiple platforms to interact with your customers. Send out surveys, create impactful emails, and institute interactive customer service tactics such as chat. You should also invest in social media monitoring tools so that you can respond to comments, send direct messages, and engage with your audience in real-time. – Kelley Higney, Bug Bite Thing

8. INCORPORATE A FEEDBACK LOOP AT EVERY STAGE.

It’s industry-specific, but if you’re offering services, especially on a long-term basis, it is important to build an integrated system. I strive to incorporate a feedback loop into every stage of my work with clients. Put simply, while a one-and-done approach may work if you’re selling a product, on the service side, the best way to solicit honest feedback is to make it central to all your work. – Camille Preston, AIM Leadership, LLC

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9. ESTABLISH A COLLABORATIVE AND AUTHENTIC RELATIONSHIP.

The first step is to establish a collaborative and authentic relationship with your client. Once that is in place, you ask the direct questions of “Would you recommend us?” and “What can we do better to help you achieve your goals?” Truly candid feedback will come once customers have experience and comfort working with you. Listen intently and incorporate their feedback. – Matt Domo, FifthVantage

10. LEARN HOW TO GAIN THEIR TRUST.

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To get honest feedback you have to gain their trust and spend the time speaking with them.  Relationships matter. So, spend the time to build them. – Eric Brown, Imperio Consulting

11. DON’T BE MANIPULATIVE.

Be specific and ask for honest feedback. People know when they’re being manipulated into sharing a good review and while they might do it, they’ll resent your business and you lose out because you won’t know the truth about your work. Make sure that you explicitly state that you’re open to criticism as well as ideas. You’ll be far more likely to hear something that helps you grow. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

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12. BRING IN A NEUTRAL MEDIATOR.

We have had success in asking a single question: Would you refer our organization to your peers?  Why or why not? Also, we built in relationship checks designed to sense if there is friction in culture, communication style, technology-shared or decision-making lags. A partner outside of the project encourages directness. Often, we learn so much to inform how to grow the relationship. – Michelle Hayward, Bluedog

13. GET YOUR SENIOR EXECUTIVES INVOLVED.

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Have someone from your C-Suite talk to the senior-most contact customer. Senior executives are usually willing to share constructive feedback not only to improve the services or products that you provide but also as a professional courtesy. The customer will also appreciate the top-level attention. – Chris Grosso, Intersection

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