Are You Listening, Or Just Talking?

The police in my town have begun using portable speed monitoring machines, as a means of encouraging drivers to slow down.

If you haven’t seen one of these, it’s a big radar-equipped electronic sign that sits by the side of the road and shows you — in real time — how fast you’re driving as you come down the street. By comparing this output with the posted speed limit that’s mounted directly above it, you’re given immediate feedback regarding the appropriateness of your behavior.

It’s a great idea, and has led to immediate and positive results in my community, not the least of which is the birth of a new sport among my son Evan and his 9 year old buddies, who take turns running as fast as they can at the sign on their way to school each morning (Current third grade record: 9 miles per hour).

What the police have discovered, is the value of using immediate feedback to modify behavior. It’s both cheaper and more effective to set up a system like this, than it is to post ticket-writing officers on every corner.

Likewise, your electronic newsletter is an extremely valuable tool for cheaply gathering real time, uncensored feedback from your clients and prospects.

While a lot’s been written regarding the obvious benefits of electronic Vs. print communications — they’re cheaper, more scaleable, easily forwarded and easily archived — we often forget to talk about one of the biggest advantages of all –electronic communications are inherently interactive.

And when it comes to your E-Newsletter, if you’re not working at generating input from your readers, you’re missing out on half the equation.

Here’s why E-Newsletter feedback is a good thing:

• Your Business Isn’t Perfect. No matter how finely tuned the machine, there are pieces of your business that your clients don’t like and that you’re not aware of. Hopefully most of these things are minor (if they weren’t, you’d already know about them), but they are still negatives.

Your packaging is hard to open; your voicemail is a pain to use; your web site is slow as a dog; whatever. There are aspects to doing business with you that people would like to see changed, and which they would tell you about if they had a cheap, easy, non confrontational channel for doing it. The “reply” button on your E-Newsletter is that channel.

• The Interaction Itself Is Valuable. For service businesses in particular, it takes a leap of faith for a prospective client to hire us. They can’t touch or feel or test drive our service before they buy it the way they can a physical product (“Can you just give me half a root canal, so that I can see what kind of dentist you are before I commit?”). Consequently, trust and comfort become critical in the client’s decision making process.

The interaction that potential clients have with you through your newsletter allows them to get a feel for doing business with you. How responsive you are; how friendly you are; how knowledgeable you are. It reduces their perceived risk, making it easier for them to buy from you.

Here’s how you get feedback:

• Ask for it. I see many newsletters (and web sites for that matter) that never ask for feedback. Many people need permission and encouragement before they’ll offer an opinion, and your job as newsletter publisher is to draw these people out.

• Applaud it. When you do get feedback, thank the sender and cycle it back into future newsletters. Not only does this make the feedbacker feel special, but it further demonstrates to your readers that this kind of behavior is encouraged.

• Act on it. If you have the opportunity to actually improve something about your business based on feedback, make that person a hero to your E-Newsletter community. This too will spark more of the same.

Bottom Line: If you’re simply “broadcasting a newsletter” rather than “interacting with a group of interested readers,” you’re leaving a hell of a lot of value on the table. Go out of your way to pull in reader insights and you’ll be amazed at the benefits to your business.

Now if you’ll excuse me, Evan’s about to leave for school, and I’m thinking that if I can get up a good head of steam, I just might be able to break 10 miles per hour.

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