Taking a Closer Look: Our Guidelines for Better Customer Research

March 21st, 2016
Customer Research

In order to effectively serve your customer base, it’s important to understand what they’re looking for, their expectations and their needs. Understanding your customers’ expectations and then evaluating where you stack up against those expectations is key in improving your customer service and in turn your customers’ loyalty and retention.

One of the best ways to get your finger on the pulse of your customers is to do regular customer research. This can take a lot of forms:

  • Systematic phone interviews
  • Online surveys from your website
  • Email marketing questionnaires
  • In-person communication after service calls, etc.

Customer research should target a cross section of each of your major customer groups, that way you get a good baseline idea of what each type of customer is looking for and can track their experiences over time. When conducting research, we normally recommend checking in with the following three groups of people:

1.) Your Current Sales Team: It’s hugely important to have a good understanding of what your team thinks about themselves before you hear from your customers. That way, if it matches up, you can move forward confidently. If it doesn’t, you can be sure to adjust your plans to address your customers’ concerns. Some questions you might ask your sales team are:

  • What do you think we’re best at?
  • What do you think we can do to improve our business to better serve our customers?
  • What do you want to be known for?
  • What are your team’s goals for the upcoming year?

2.) Current Customers: Second, you’re going to want to hear from a random group of your customers. It’s great to hear positive feedback in customer interviews, so it’s okay to interview some of your most prominent/favorite customers, but in our experience you’ll actually learn MORE from customers who are new to your business, or those who may have experienced a customer service issue. A few questions you might pose to customers:

  • At the beginning of our relationship, what made you choose us?
  • Who were some competitors that you considered in lieu of us?
  • If we didn’t exist, what would you do?
  • What do we do best?
  • What can we do to better serve you?
  • What do you value most about our product/service?

3.) Lapsed Customers: Finally, one of the most impactful groups of people you can interview are your lapsed customers. Finding out why you lost a customer, and making adjustments where you can, is a good way to retain more of your existing customers. For lapsed customers, consider asking the following:

  • Why did you leave?
  • Is there any chance we could retain your business?
  • What can you do to improve?
  • Was cost/value an issue?
  • If you left for a competitor, what did they offer you that we did not?

When doing customer research, remember that you need to gather information in as few questions as possible. The shorter the survey, the more likely respondents will be to participate. They’re your customers, and you want to thank them for their loyalty to you, express that this exercise is done to better serve them, and let them get back to their day as quickly as possible.

We often recommend that a third-party perform customer research. This is for a couple of reasons. First off, you need to be objective. If your sales team is the sole outlet for customer research, it will appear as though you have an agenda to sell. Also, you may not get the most honest answers from your customers if they feel they’re being heard by someone whose feelings could be hurt or whose job may depend on their response. A third party will be able to objectively follow-up, really listen, and probe for more detail in the answers.

Finally, there’s no point in doing customer research if you don’t plan to actively follow-up and improve your procedures based on what you hear. What are you going to do differently now that you have this information? If customers said they’d like to see better follow-up on service calls, think of ways to improve this process. If they’re thinking of leaving for a competitor who provides better value, try and figure out how that company is keeping their costs low. And if you can’t compete on price alone, what can you do to provide value in other ways? Research should be done frequently to maintain a good understanding of the expectations and experiences of your customers, and follow-up is key.

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