In the business world, the most valued words your customers, as well as employees, can share with you are the ones you wish you would never hear. The harshest bits of objective, reason-based criticism, as well as detailed descriptions of your company’s weakest links actually have the greatest potential to help your business soar. By encouraging this level of transparency, and by delving deep into the negative comments, you’ll discover all the areas that yearn for improvement – and every business has them.

As ironic as it may seem, in order to get more happy faces in comments from your customers and thumbs up from your employees, you first need to dig up the worst of them all, and comb through the middle ground until you reach the praises and support. They are the perfect place to start and improve those impressions one change at a time. However, remember that quality feedback doesn’t always necessarily mean negative feedback, but useful insights can come from a wide range of comments!

Analyze your social footprint

Although the most straight-forward feedback is sometimes the simplest to access and track, how your customers and the general public react to your brand are equally valuable bits of data for your research. For example, the ability to “react” on Facebook, and not just like a post, now gives a deeper meaning to those emotional responses to your brand.

This approach may take more time than simply asking questions, but sometimes these little nuggets of attention, positive, negative, or neutral, are a fertile ground for engagement and improvement.

Refine your questions

As for the most traditional way of gaining feedback, which is through asking your customers and your employees for it, your perspective might get in the way of asking the right questions. Some of them may be phrased differently in order to gain deeper insight into their opinions, which will then lead to more actionable steps rather than the vague comments.

Short and simple is the best way to ensure understanding, but open as opposed to multiple choices gives them a chance to express themselves fully. Yes and no questions won’t give you much to work with, while “wh” questions lead to far more usable information. Think: what would you like us to change in our service? How can we improve our product?

Incentivize the process

Some customers are in a hurry, while others simply don’t feel that emotionally attached to invest any effort into giving you feedback. That is, until you offer them something valuable in return which will make it worth their while. For instance, customers who get paid to take surveys online and at their own pace are much more likely to share valuable information with you regarding their view of your brand.

This is not just simpler and more convenient for them, but also much easier to process for your company. Just make sure that everyone gets the same chance, whether they do it on their computers, tablets, or mobile phones.

Ask before they tell

Just like with any other disease, a festering problem within your company can lead to far more complications than if you invest some effort into prevention. There’s no need to wait for your customers or employees to come to you with a complaint, or even if they are exceptionally satisfied with your brand. These are the two extremes of the spectrum which often inspire people to get in touch, but it’s far from enough to help you adjust your business.

Make it a part of your employee training both to ask for feedback and share it with you. Whether it’s via email, upon a purchase, through online chatting, or on the phone, your customer service representatives should use every chance they get to ask a few quick questions. They’ll appreciate the fact that their opinion matters.

Follow up on your feedback

Finally, if they have been kind enough to share their feedback, they should also know that it mattered enough for you to do something about it. Complaints are not there merely for a company to apologize, but to make their processes more effective to keep their clients and employees happy – and when you do make changes based on the given information, you can contact your clients and employees to let them know.

This is not merely a gesture to show that you are willing to change, but that in the future, they are welcome to share their concerns and ideas, and that they will be greeted by an open-minded company that is eager to grow.

Author Bio: Emma is a digital marketer and blogger from Sydney. After getting a marketing degree she started working with Australian startups on business and marketing development. Emma writes for many relevant, industry related online publications and does a job of an Executive Editor at Bizzmark blog and a guest lecturer at Melbourne University. Interested in marketing, startups and latest business trends.