You may think you're pretty in touch with your customers, but when was the last time you asked them how they were doing?

Like any good relationship, tending to your customers requires checking in with them now and again. Perhaps the best way to make this a routine part of your marketing strategy is to include it in your customer journey.

But first, why collect customer feedback? Here are five reasons:

  1. You get to know your customers better. There's no better way to find out what your customers like and dislike than by asking them directly. This feedback can be especially valuable when testing new products or online tools. Your customers can help you identify or prioritize issues or opportunities you hadn't considered or pursued. Use their feedback to improve your products, your brand experience, and your customer service. It's all for them, after all.

  1. You give your customers a voice. Relationships are two-way streets. If customers don't feel that their desires are reflected in your products or experience, they'll turn elsewhere. Give them a voice, and they're more likely to feel valued and engaged with your brand. This builds brand loyalty over time. For example, in one study published in the Harvard Business Journal, researchers found that customers of a financial institution who were asked to participate in a customer feedback survey opened three times as many new accounts over the next year as the control group that wasn't asked to complete the survey.

  1. You get an outside scoop on your brand. Inside corporate walls, many of us wear rose-colored glasses. When you're immersed day to day in your brand, it can be hard to see it from another perspective. Feedback can help you think like a customer instead of a marketer.

  1. You get a pulse on the market. Find out what features customers are looking for and what needs they have that aren't currently being filled. Sure, you could try to guess at these, but it's easier to simply ask. You can also find out how you compare with competitors and see why a potential buyer might prefer another product or service over yours (and vice versa).

  1. You get to supplement quantitative data with qualitative information. Analytics are vital for understanding the big picture of how people interact with your brand over time, but analytics don't always tell you why. Combining hard data with customers' answers to open-ended questions can help you glean a real understanding of what your customers are thinking when they do the things they do.

Now that you know why it's so important to get customer feedback, the question is, what are the best ways to collect that feedback?

How to include customer feedback in your customer journey

Send email surveys. This is the go-to method for collecting quality customer feedback for most companies. That's because they are relatively simple to create and send. But be wary of seeming pushy or overwhelming. If you send out a survey to all your customers on a weekly basis, you're not going to get much useful information back. Be intentional with your timing. If you want to know how customers feel about your checkout process, ask for feedback when you send a purchase confirmation.

Keep emails brief, focused, and consistent. Be respectful of your customers' time, and keep formatting simple. If you're using a rating system for multiple questions, make sure you're using the same sort of scale for each. For example, don't switch from a 1-10 to a 1-8 scale midway through your survey. You could see low participation because instructions were confusing or end up collecting inaccurate information.

"Did you enjoy this?" buttons and comment boxes. Both of these allow the customer to provide quick feedback. Put them at the end of emails, on your website, on new pages you're testing, or anywhere your customers interact with your content. Whether your customers are experiencing a problem or enjoying something, they can quickly and easily let you know then and there. They don't have to seek out a contact page, look for a customer service phone number, or wait for the next email survey to hit their inbox. If you have a long, clunky, or unclear process for giving feedback, you'll lose out on many opportunities to hear from your customers.

Always respond. Gathering customer feedback is about building a dialogue between your brand and your customers. Responding to customers who willingly volunteer their time and energy is more than just a good practice - it's the right thing to do. Even replying with a simple "thank you" to customers who fill out an email survey or comment box will show your customers you value them and encourage them to feel more engaged with your brand.

At this point, you have collected plenty of feedback from your customers, but it's not enough just to have it. You have to do something with it.

Now that you have feedback, what do you do with it?

Look for trends. Acting on every customer request or insight would almost certainly be time and cost prohibitive. But items that come up recurringly for multiple customers are ones you want to look into.

Compare what you find with a map of your customer journey. Do they line up? Are there disruptions or inconsistencies you hadn't considered? Customer feedback is gold when it comes to identifying points along the customer journey where people get tripped up and drop off, or sail through like sunshine.

Share it. If you gain insights and make changes based on something you've learned from customer feedback, tell your customers. When customers feel like your brand is invested in them, they're more likely to invest in your brand.

Including customer feedback as a natural and routine part of your customer journey can help you build a better, more seamless experience for your audience.