While there are many ways to get good information about what customers want and how they feel, you should always start by assessing what information you actually need. I’d suggest that there are at least five things that you need
- What they like and don’t like about your products, i.e. what do they buy?
- What they like and don’t like about your service and delivery, i.e. how do they get it?
- What they like and don’t like about your brand and image as a company?
- What they like and don’t like about the skills and attitude of your people?
- What makes it easier or more difficult for them to do business with your company?
A formal survey is not the only way to gather good info and, more importantly, innovative ideas for improvement. Here area few other ways:
How do your customers respond to your business? What do they struggle with? What confuses them? What causes them to abandon a purchase? What happens after they buy from you? There are probably dozens of questions that can be answered without hassling your customers.
Take a closer look at yourself
You can also look internally for things that cause customer misery and customer delight. For example, when do you experience bottlenecks and delays that frustrate customers? What surprising and positive responses did you get when you tried something different? You can also look at some of your numbers like new versus existing customers, debtor days, repeat business rates, and so on.
Talk to your employees
People who work for you and their families and friends also buy from companies, and maybe even yours. But more importantly, your staff deal with customers every day, sometimes hundreds of times a day, and if you only just asked them they would be able to share valuable information and insights.
Use mystery shoppers
You don’t have to hire someone to do this. Train your associates and friends to conduct these properly, or even better, go and buy stuff from your business to see what it’s like.
Analyse all comments and complaints
Before you get back to customers, make sure you have done your homework and understood exactly what, why and how this all came about. Look out for patterns. Record all events. And make sure that every single one of them is followed up internally with a view to improvement.
If after doing all this you still want to talk to your customers, make a big thing about it. Thank them profusely for giving up their time, and perhaps even consider some kind of reward or recognition that they will value. Tell them what will happen with their thoughts, perceptions and ideas, and don’t forget to give them feedback afterwards. Whatever method(s) you use – including live or telephonic surveys, questionnaires, informal discussions over a cup of coffee, or more formal and structured customer focus groups – make sure that you record their thoughts and ideas properly.
*Aki Kalliatakis is managing partner of The Leadership Launchpad, a consultancy dedicated to sustainable improvements in customer service. Visit: www.leadershiplaunchpad.co.za or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.