Companies expend enormous effort every day trying to read their customers’ minds.
Whether it’s what customers need, what customers want, what they think about your brand, or what they’re going to buy next – this is all highly valuable intel that most companies would kill to get their hands on.
The fact is, the only way to know what customers really think is to ask them … and then listen hard for the answers.
Sound a bit tricky? Never fear. In this step-by-step article, we give you the actionable information you need to gain deep insight into what your customers really think.
Know Your Objectives
Ready to face your customers? You’re going to need to be well prepared.
Any study, be it market research, academic or otherwise, needs to clarify what it is the researcher/s are trying to achieve right from the get-go.
This is the “why” of the study.
If you are going to take up customers’ family time, work time or worse – couch time – to complete an online survey, answer a phone call or come and sit in on a focus group – you’d better have a pretty good idea of why you are doing it.
As an example, are you wanting to increase the loyalty and satisfaction of existing customers so that they buy from you again?
Do you want to understand what factors would lead your clients to recommend your business to their friends?
Do you want to know what the key issues are with a particular product or service, or what steps you could take to improve your customer service rating?
There may also be secondary ‘whys’ or motivations resting behind the more obvious ones. For example, perhaps you want to write up the results of your study for a trade publication or magazine, present at a conference or use the results to influence the key decision maker within your company.
These are your whys, no-one else’s. Hence, why you need to be very clear on them before you begin, otherwise you will be wasting everyone’s time … including your own.
Design Your Study
Whether they be primary or secondary, your ‘whys’ help you shape some key decision points for your study:
- Who are you going to talk to?
- How many people are you going to talk to?
- How are they going to be selected?
- What are you going to ask?
- How in depth is it going to be?
- Are going to deliver your questions to customers?
- How and where can you use those results?
While some advice recommends keeping your surveys short and simple, there are also advantages in engaging in a more detailed, sophisticated analysis such as would be offered by a customer focus group.
Again, it all comes down to your “why”. If you just want to ‘take the pulse’ of your customers, a really short three-question survey attached to every transaction might do it.
However, if you are trying to develop new product lines to support your company’s five-year plan, you will no doubt be looking to gain more insightful information. This can generally only be achieved through direct, face to face conversation with your customers.
So knowing what you want out of the exercise here will be key. Much of the rest will naturally follow on from this point.
Make it Worth Their While
Time is a commodity that is in precious short supply.
So don’t waste the time of your customers by asking them to contribute to your survey without offering something valuable back in return.
In doing so, make the reward appropriate to the level of inconvenience they will have to experience to respond.
So for customers answering a quick survey in-store or via social media, this could be as simple as the opportunity to go into a draw for a product or service pack.
In contrast, expecting customers to travel so that that they can participate in a focus group or have a one-on-one discussion more likely justifies direct compensation for their time and effort through an offer of gift vouchers or cash incentives.
It’s mostly a case of figuring out what the information you will glean is worth to your company and making sure that the reward fits this bill.
Ensure the Critical Questions Are Up Front
A lot of market researchers learn this one the hard way… with a pile of incomplete and useless data.
You see, many respondents will lose interest partway through. Perhaps they saw something shiny, probably their favorite TV show came on, whatever.
They may answer the first couple of questions … and then drop out.
So it’s an excellent idea to start with the really critical questions … you know, the ones you are burning to have answered, as long as it makes sense to do so. Then move on to your “nice to haves” from there.
One example that shows well what we’re talking about here is in the case where you are trying to collect in-depth information about your target market … you know, likes and dislikes, consumer preferences, demographic information, etc.
In this case, it’s important to put the demographic information (age, sex, zip code, etc.), and any other key questions right up front.
This way, if customers drop out before completing all of the questions relating to your products and services, preferences, feedback, etc., you can at least still analyze some of the results of the survey based on the key characteristics of your audience.
Otherwise, if you structure it the other way and leave defining characteristics last, the customer might go through and answer all your questions brilliantly … and then quit before they leave any clues about who they are. This will virtually guarantee you will not be able to use this data in any really useful manner, and certainly not in a way that will allow you to find more of the same type of customer. Disappointing to say the least.
Make the Conversation a Two Way Street
Have you ever filled out a customer survey, only to have it go nowhere?
What if you could see the results of your contribution – whether it is something that irks you that truly needs fixing, a dramatically improved product or service, or an innovation based on your suggestion – in living color out on the showroom floor?
Many organizations nowadays are pursuing co-creation with great success. The innovators of today … IKEA, Heineken, Lego … are working together with customers to create the next big thing.
And the best part? True leaders of the field are always finding ways to surface back to customers the results of their feedback.
Take for example Starbucks, with the mystarbucksidea.com website.
Customers are encouraged to submit their top ideas for improvement.
Ideas are voted on by the crowd, and if successful enough, become new products or innovations in stores everywhere. Some prime examples of ideas originating from customers include the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, the launch of Starbucks playlists on Spotify and the Starbucks Rewards system.
Have you been going crazy trying to figure out what your clients are thinking?
Stop the madness and do the only sensible thing … ask them.
There’s a lot you can learn from having a conversation with your customers about your business. You may be astonished what you learn in the process.