Getting to know your customer day!

Today is “Get to Know Your Customer Day”, a timely reminder that all companies, no matter how long you’ve been in business,  should regularly take time out to understand the evolving needs and opinions of its customers.  In a competitive marketplace, the knowledge obtained from listening to your customers will ultimately help you offer the right products to the right people at the right time, building brand loyalty and helping to create a platform for success.

So how can you most effectively listen to your customers? Firstly it’s important to stress the need for proactivity.  Many businesses have made the mistake of only listening to customers when a major problem occurs, or when they are responding to customer complaints. However all entrepreneurs know not to leave it until then to start customer engagement since it’s often too late and that feared PR disaster is only a matter of time.  The most successful  businesses see customer engagement and feedback as a continual improvement process.

To find out what your customers think, all business must find quick and simple ways to obtain feedback. Here are four cost effective ideas.

  1. Surveys – A simple survey will help you ask basic questions about the overall customer experience and this insight can help you determine what the business is doing well and what can be improved. It is a proven  method of gathering information from individuals and it involves asking people for information in a structured format so that every participant is asked the same questions. The resulting analysis can provide both quantitative and qualitative analysis. There are free online tools like Survey Monkey to get you started.
  2. Focus Groups – When you need more in-depth information than a survey can reveal, think about running a focus group comprising people who represent your target audience. Gathering customers together to discuss your business, products and services can give you honest feedback and group discussions can be really insightful, especially during the research phase of bringing a new product or service to market.  Focus groups can be held in person or via online gathering tools and would usually comprise 8-15 individuals. Focus groups aim to discuss rather than ask formal questions, producing qualitative data.
  3.  Social Media – Sites such as Facebook and Twitter allow customers to tell businesses and other customers what they think in real time.  Importantly, because people trust their peers, it is essential for businesses to be proactive, monitoring and interacting with customers at all times over social media channels so that you can respond to any complaints in a timely manner and feedback constructively.
  4.  Online Product Reviews – Provide encouragement for customers to share their experiences via online product reviews. Due to their anonymity, a business will get honest accounts of customer experiences which should act to prompt performance improvement.  However, remember too that online reviews can also help to improve the businesses search engine rankings in the process.

Whichever route you go down – and most businesses will use a mix of a variety of tools – the result should be the same: a well informed business that is better able to make strategic decisions and take the company to the next level.