We’ve talked before about the power of asking for feedback.

As we’ve discovered, if you ask the right way, people are willing to be generous with their answers.

You can (and should) ask your customers for reviews, then use them as valuable product feedback, powerful user-generated content (UGC) and peer-to-peer advocacy.

But you should ask your customers for other stuff too.

To put it simply:

Reviews are really great, but they come with a certain structure. Your customers have opinions, stories and media that don’t get drawn out in the regular review process.

Without adding any further surveys, you can get content that’s better than just factual or helpful – we’re getting into inspiring and transformative territory here.

You can then use it to serve, educate and entertain your customers better.

Because what’s the point of talking to your customers if you don’t do anything with it?

The big questions

Consumers are asking some pretty big questions of companies at the moment.

Digital innovation and advancing technology are causing huge disruptions, and a brand’s ethics and morals are increasingly under the microscope.

To future-proof your business, it’s important to gather qualitative data as well as quantitative. That means asking your customers how they feel and think about things.

If you could ask your customers one question, what would it be?

Here are some questions to ask customers in a few different industries that might get you thinking.

1. Automotive

Unfortunately for car makers and dealerships, the automotive industry is being attacked from all sides.

Fully electric vehicles and self-driving cars are on the horizon. The rise of app-enabled car sharing and e-hailing is affecting consumer attitudes toward car ownership. Will people need or want their own cars in 10 years’ time? Should carmakers be designing vehicles with mobility services or membership schemes in mind rather than private ownership?

The challenge for brands is to tap into car driver’s pride in their vehicles. Cars have uses beyond the typical A-B – one vehicle might be perfect for a road trip, the other a fishing trip or the morning commute. Gathering content from different types of drivers, then showing it publicly, can help people teetering on the edge of a car purchase imagine how their lives would be better with a new addition in the garage.

We’d ask: How versatile is your car? Send us some photos!

We asked Mazda drivers to send us some interesting stories about their road trips, and this is what we got back.

2. Manufacturing

Smart products are filling our homes and workplaces. Some of it’s been happening for a while – think of Xerox machines that order more ink when they’ve run out. The issue now is for households to accept this mindset. Your washing machine could call someone to come and fix it when it’s broken, or an Amazon Fresh subscription could be linked to your fridge.

Similarly, domestic chores can be increasingly automated – eg. robot vacuum cleaners, lawnmowers… A shower that cleans itself?

The challenge for brands is to work out when this kind of behaviour is exciting, and when it’s intrusive or unnecessary.

We’d ask: What would you like this product to do by itself?

3. Financial services

App-based FinTech startups are disrupting legacy financial institutions. The big players need to shape up, simplify their offering and become far more responsive to what their customers want.

The challenge for brands is to ‘make do’ with their legacy software and use their size to their advantage. While their systems may be a little unwieldy, big banks still have a few advantages over the smaller, nimbler banks – name recognition, bricks-and-mortar and huge liquid assets, to name a few.

For the startup banks, it’s all about getting the initial foothold and incorporating customer feedback into product development.

We’d ask: How do we help make your life easier? What should we do next?

4. Retail

The big trend in retail recently has been towards personalisation — tailoring offers towards individuals online, on mobile and in-store. But customers are sensitive about privacy and some in-store techniques can feel like an intrusion, eg. facial recognition and personalised billboards. It’s a fine line which retailers will have to navigate skilfully if they are to drive sales without losing customer trust.

Retail’s other revolution is AI. Customer service chatbots will soon be so ubiquitous we won’t know whether we are talking to a real person or not. That matters, especially in an industry where shop assistants are such a huge part of the experience.

The challenge for brands is to put a human face on AI and personalisation. Using past customers is a great way to do this. It’s as hands-off as AI, but with an extra helping of trust and social proof. And if you let people self-segment into groups like ‘amateur photographer’ or ‘sneaker freak’ you add an element of personalisation that allows for a little serendipity.

We’d ask: Would you be interested in answering questions from people like you about the product you bought?

5. Travel

Virtual reality is the next big step in the travel industry. Imagine being able to transport your customers virtually to destinations to help them make up their mind and book that holiday. In order to build authentic VR experiences, you’re gonna need a lot of content from real-life places.

Customer service is changing too, with most browsing and booking being done online or mobile. Travel companies and airlines need to develop apps that meet that need. Customers expect a 24/7 digital relationship with providers à la Airbnb. How is this best achieved?

The challenge for brands is to crowdsource as much customer service and VR-ready content as they can. And with 360° cameras becoming more and more common, that might not be so difficult to do.

We’d ask: Could you send us a 360° photo from your favourite spot on your next holiday?

Getting great content from your customers is like outsourcing inspiration.

Want to know more about how you can use UGC in your content marketing? Read this:

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The 5 best questions to ask customers