Recognizing that you need to listen to your customers is good, but it’s not good enough. In a simple world, communication occurs when a sender transmits information and a receiver decodes the information. In the complex real world, people are constantly bombarded with competing messages. The global marketplace presents additional challenges. In today’s global economy, listening to your customers requires opening lines of communication, creating trust, asking the right questions, making accurate assessments of the situation and responding intelligently.
Open Lines of Communication with the Right People
In business, you need to weigh the opinions of each customer. However, the views of some customers and potential customers are more useful and important than those of others because they represent greater profitability or have a potential for being more profitable. As a result, asking the right questions to the wrong customers may yield useless data that could produce disastrous interpretations.
In international markets, you need to be prepared to ask questions in the native language. This may require an experienced language translation service that can provide quick and reliable service.
Once you ask a question, be prepared to ask follow-up questions that will help you understand the customer’s unmet needs.
Generating useful information from your customers requires that they view you as honest and credible. Customers need to feel that the result of the time and effort they make to provide feedback will bring some sort of beneficial change. If customers think their feedback will be ignored, they won’t listen to you or respond with valuable feedback. Further, if customers think their input may have negative consequences, they won’t provide feedback. Customers are willing to listen and communicate only when they believe their communication will be acted on to bring about positive change.
Capturing Customer Feedback
A number of strategies can capture customer feedback. Many companies that use the direct approach employ customer councils and consumer advisory boards to screen new product ideas, marketing campaigns and other strategic decisions to ensure buy-in at the market level. Because the direct approach, requiring potentially costly meetings, planning and coordination, doesn’t provide regular feedback, many businesses today are taking advantage of social media and digital communities to listen passively to customers.
Companies use social media in many ways. Forward-thinking companies like Microsoft actively involve users of their software applications in a range of contests that generate valuable ideas. For example, the company recently invited customers to submit ideas for new features that would add value to Microsoft Office. Participants with the best ideas were eligible to win prizes that included cash and merchandise.
Companies also see value in following discussions in relevant online communities. For example, manufacturers of furnaces and air conditioning products follow the discussions of technicians and HVAC business forum owners on sites ranging from hvaclounge.com to Service Roundtable. By passively listening to conversations, manufacturers can gain insights into product trends, opportunities and threats. The data gathered through passive listening can generate a wealth of insights, including new product, service and marketing ideas.
Asking Smart Questions
Frequently companies create surveys and customer satisfaction forms that avoid critical issues, making the mistake of focusing on questions that customers see as trivial. Another common mistake is asking customers about the need for new features without asking how much more they would be willing to pay for those features, why these new features would be important and how the additional price and inclusion of these features would influence the quantity and regularity of their purchases.
Even when you think you are asking the right questions, variations in how you ask a question can yield drastically different results. Remember, it’s better to ask no questions than asking the wrong questions.
Making the Right Assessment
Understanding the choices that customers make and the experiences they have with your products and services isn’t always transparent. Customers have different sets of motives and may use your products in non-traditional ways. Consequently, generalizing and stereotyping the needs customers and wants of customers may not be your best option. Sometimes knowing the right questions to ask involves climbing inside your customers’ minds and seeing the world from their perspective.
Once you have collected enough of the right type of data, making the right assessment comes down to identifying the important facts and sifting out the irrelevant information that customers frequently inject into their responses. To understand each issue that emerges, you need to filter out opinions, assertions, inaccuracies and other irrelevant details that provide no important relevant information.
Taking the Correct Action
All customer feedback deserves a high level of respect. If a customer responds by email, create a custom message that shows interest and gratitude for the input. Avoid using templates that can seem insincere and inconsequential. Demonstrate that you are listening by paraphrasing the most important details. Since you’ve decided to listen to customers, make sure you act on the information that you collect.
In conclusion, to generate useful customer feedback, you need to ask the right customers or potential customers the right questions and then listen and show that you care. Once you have the necessary information, be prepared to act on it. Often businesses avoid making needed changes by insisting that the customer is doing something wrong. To avoid this pitfall, whether or not the customer is right or wrong, the customer must be satisfied or someone else will service the customer.