Techniques to understand customersA prior  blog post called Customer Satisfaction Tip: Understand Your Customer reviewed why it was important to understand your customer and what it really meant to understand. Three company examples were included, IBM, Cisco and Apple. This post covers seven techniques and best practices to understand your customers, theirs needs, wants, wishes, complaints, and concerns.


How to Understand Your Customer

1. Focus Groups

A very traditional way of discovering customer perspectives on a topic is to run a focus group. Using a research company’s facilities, prospects or existing customers are invited to attend a session for an hour or more, to discuss a topic related to the product or service. A professional focus group leader is the facilitator using questions and topics provided by the company seeking the customer’s feedback.

Representatives of the sponsoring organization watch the proceedings through a one way mirror, observing the responses of the customers and listening to the language used, the requirements and the objections and complaints concerning that topic, service, or product.

This is very effective as customers often will say things to a facilitator they would not say to an organization directly.

Some focus groups are blind (ie the customer does not know who is sponsoring the focus group) and some provide the name of the sponsor.

2. Feedback from Customer Service

The customer service organization talks to customers on a regular basis. They listen to their problems encountered, often related with a story about how the issue  affects them. One of the easiest and least costly ways of obtaining the ‘view of the customer’ is speak to the customer service representatives.

This technique can be used to identify new product requirements as well. If a customer calls in asking how to do something, the product or service does not do, capturing this information can be invaluable for product development as a new feature, service,  or future enhancement.

3. Feedback from the Sales Organization or Business Partners

Management should also check with the organizations that sell the products to consumers, either directly or through business partners. The front line sales people listen to customer wants, needs and stories about how the products would be used.

Meet regularly with the front line sales teams to also understand what customers are looking for, what they are willing to pay for and what is not of importance to them.

4. Conduct a survey

One of the techniques that can get feedback from customers is to run a satisfaction survey or research study. Contact customers or prospects and seek out their satisfaction with your products or competitive products. Ask for comments during the survey, not just rating questions. Allow the customer to provide feedback in their own words.

Another technique often used, is to ask the customer what it would take to improve their satisfaction rating and allow them to comment.

One technique that gets interesting answers is to ask an open ended question asking what it would take to ‘delight’ the customer.

 5. Round Tables / Executive Councils

Another valuable technique, used in large organizations, is to ask the most important customers, those that provide the most revenue or who might be very influential in the industry, to meet with executives of the sponsoring organization on a regular basis (quarterly or semi-annually) to provide feedback on planned offerings, new services, promotions and industry trends.

While this won’t provide detail product specifications, it does provide those who are invited with an invitation to network with your executives, makes them feel very special and provides executive level feedback, not available using other techniques.

 6. User Groups /Industry Groups

Some industries have formed user groups  or industry groups of like minded professionals. The sponsor could be a single organization or it could be a grouping of organizations in an industry or around a single topic.  As a general rule, these groups are at a lower level than the round table or executive councils, mentioned above but provide similar feedback, at a more detailed level.

Sometimes industry user groups can provide very valuable feedback about future product or service requirements.

7. Social Media, Complaint Sites  and Blogs

Customers and prospects often discuss  their experiences with a brand, product or service on social media, complaint sites, review sites and blogs. Listening to social media feedback is also an excellent technique to understand customers. There is a very large variety of tools from simple and free to fee based and complex available for this important task.

 Summary

Not all these techniques will apply to every organization but there is a variety of ways to listen and be more aware of customer issues, concerns, terminology, and wishes.  Pick the best ones for your organization.

If you have other methods  that you use to gather customer intelligence, write them in the comments section below.

 

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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

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