“Quality in a product or service is not what you put into it. It is what the customer gets out of it.”
These are the words of Peter Drucker, the infamous American management consultant and author who has, through his writings and work, laid the foundations of modern business corporations as we know them today. This is why, he is also known as “the founder of modern management”.
What Peter Drucker is effectively saying is that it is the customer who has the say on what is valuable and good or otherwise. In other words, you could be doing your best and genuinely believe that you provide your clients with the finest product or outstanding service but ultimately this is only true if your clients perceive your offering as such too.
Thus, to make sure your opinion and your customers’ perception are indeed the same, the question becomes how do you know what your customers’ perceptions are so you can meet their expectations.
As a management consultant and business mentor, I often need to help my clients truly understand the importance of customer feedback. It is through collecting and acting on customer feedback indeed that helps you keep a pulse on your business. This is how you make sure you don’t only meet but exceed customer expectations which in turn keeps you at the top of your game.
When I talk to my clients about boosting business growth and increasing revenues, often times the very first step we take is to try and understand their clients, as their perception is the reality we are working with.
Whether a retailer, a service provider or a manufacturer, there is always a way to get good, constructive customer feedback that will help you improve on your offering. Depending on your size and type of business you are in, some approaches will be more suitable than others but generally these are the ways you can go:
Market Research Companies
Market Research companies are more often used by large businesses where the amount of information, due to the geographical scope or number of products / services offered, makes it hard for an organisation to handle the research on its own. Market researchers can conduct interviews or online surveys, collect and analyse the data for you. The advantage of availing of market research companies is that as outsiders they are objective when it comes to analysing the results. That is to say, data won’t be distorted as is sometimes the case with employees defending the status quo. On the other hand, market researchers could be expensive for small businesses or simply not worth it for firms such as service providers for example where there are fewer clients, and thus information is easier to collect by the organisation itself.
Small to mid-sized businesses might be better off conducting interviews on their own instead of using a market research company. Whether a small scale retailer or a professional service firm, it is easy enough to assign a single person to handle client interviews either on the phone or in person. With the right attitude and questions carefully thought through, an interview would take no longer than 5 – 10 min and you will find that people are open enough to sharing their experiences. The information collected could be invaluable if the analysis is handled objectively. With that in mind, oftentimes small businesses organise the interviews internally and then have a market research company handle just the analysis. What is crucial here however is how you formulate the questions. Make sure they are clear and concise and most importantly, the answer they invite for is the answer to what you want to know.
There’s a number of survey platforms out there that are very straightforward to set up and use and are thus a good option for both large and small organisations. Many of these platforms offer a free version which is particularly good if your respondents pool is small enough. Otherwise there’s a fee but compared to what you’d pay a market research company, it is nothing. Some of the most popular platforms are for example:
Qualtricks – A lot of professional research companies use Qualtricks as it offers a wide range of tools. It is only free of charge for up to 250 responses however which makes it good for small to mid-sized organisations if expense is a factor for you.
Survey Monkey – This platform is probably the most popular one among data scientists and it offers a wide enough spectrum of tools. Here too, there’s a limit on the respondents per survey for the free version but you can’t export the data which could be frustrating.
Survey Gizmo – Another great platform that could also be used for free. Its free version offers unlimited number of surveys, fancy templates and data exported into a spread sheet. It is good for small service providers for example as it has a limit of 50 respondents on its free version.
Google Forms – This might be the best option cost wise. Apart from being absolutely free, there’s no limit on the number of respondents, it offers loads of themes, an option on embedding photos and videos and the data is automatically added into Google Spreadsheets which is great.
The advantage of using online surveys is that they are easy to set up and less time consuming compared to interviews. If you are to go with an online survey however please keep in mind that the longer it is, the less responses you will get. The survey should be no longer than 5 minutes and make sure the respondent knows that at the very start.
Another way to find out how your business is performing is through the employees at the front end who communicate with your customers on a daily basis. This is particularly suitable for retailers who have customers come into the store every day. You could collect information by making it a part of your employees’ job to ask customers for feedback at the store and make a note. This is not to be a constant part of your operations but rather a campaign that you run every once in a while. What is good about this approach is that feedback about the experience of your customers is asked on the spot, while they are making a purchase, and they might be more open and honest in sharing their thoughts. The downside is that employees might be reluctant to report negative feedback which is essentially what is the most valuable for you. You could overcome this by offering some sort of incentive to those employees who share the negative feedback or make the reporting anonymous so no one gets personally blamed. Alternatively, you could have your employees hand out short (3 to 4 questions) surveys for customers to fill out on the spot and then drop in a sealed box.
Whatever approach you take to collecting customer feedback it is most certainly better than not listening to your customers at all. Your customers’ perception of your organisation is practically what drives you forward or holds you back. By asking them what they like and more importantly dislike, you could not only fix issues with your products or services but actually come up with creative solutions that often turn into a competitive advantage. Customer feedback could be indeed a great source of innovation when put into use smartly.
If you would like to know more about how to most effectively keep a pulse on your business and translate that into business growth, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. As a marketing expert and management consultant, I have years of experience in helping companies from various industries thrive and grow. You can get in touch with me, Paul Davis, here.