Starting the Customer Conversation – Again

No business should be in the dark about how they are viewed by customers. Because of this fact, I wrote a post a few months back called “Start the Customer Conversation”. The post held a simple message about the importance of opening a communication channel with your customers and listening closely. When I speak to businesses, establishing this channel is on the top of my “things to do” list if they really intend on growing.

Researching customer opinions

As a follow-up post, the best option is to touch upon some specific research techniques to help gather customer feedback. I began my career in research, and I have always felt that feedback was a key ingredient to a successful organization.  Information is power – and that power can fuel growth. I won’t bog you down with details, as you can explore the topics further on your own. The important message is to start somewhere.

Some of these techniques would be described as quantitative in nature, others qualitative. Choose one that seems appropriate for your business and move forward. Of course, you can always consult a research professional if you feel uncomfortable starting the process independently.

A few ideas to start

  • Develop a customer “think tank”. This is a great option for small businesses. It works well because as you have questions that might impact products or services, you can pose the question to the panel. Pick a group of customers, (5 -10 or so), and ask them if they would like to serve as a resource to help foster product improvement. Make sure that the customers represent a cross-section of your customer base. Pose questions to them 3 or 4 times a year and formulate ideas for improvement.
  • Harness the knowledge of a “tribe”. As discussed in this HBR post, there are always groups of people passionate about a product or service. In today’s transparent world, you can find them on various channels (such as Twitter and Youtube), speaking openly and honestly about their concerns. You might get ideas about how to improve what you do, from sources you never thought existed.
  • Use an online survey site.  For a very small fee you can draft a customer survey on sites like SurveyGizmo and SurveyMonkey and have an on-line mechanism to collect customer opinions. These sites even provide tabulations for you – and you can even run updated stats every day if needed.
  • Pose questions directly on Twitter or Facebook. Of course, this will limit you to only those customers who utilize social media. However,  the information is still useful – especially if you are at an early phase of changing a product or service package. Put your idea out there and ask for input – track the responses and you may be surprised at what you learn. Be sure the questions are close-ended by offering response categories (such as yes/no or agree/disagree).
  • Hire a research vendor. If you are not inclined to launch a project on your own (or if your customer base is larger) there are many great research houses to help you out. Not only will they collect and analyze data – they will provide guidance concerning the questions to be posed.

One final note

If you are asking for feedback, try to report back to your contributors. You can do so through social media channels you have established like Facebook or a company blog. Let your customers know that not only that you took the time to listen – but that you are making changes because they took the time to converse with you.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. You can find her on Twitter and Linkedin.


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