The “Voice of the Customer” series is supported by Toyota.
Photo: ky_olsen via Flickr
You built your business for your customers.Shouldn’t you find out what they think about you?
Customer research, and the process of listening to the “voice of your customer,” can help you improve your marketing, product development, and sales in general.
And with online tools, the process is easier than ever.
We spoke to a few customer research experts to find out how listening to the voice of your customer can affect your business, and why it’s so important.
'The company that is most successful is one that listens to customers, what their needs are, and what your brand means to them,' says Abraham Aoyama, President and General Manager of FlowMonitor Customer Insights & Dialogue.
'You should think about business as satisfying a need or a desire,' he says. 'In surveys, we find that only 'highly satisfied' customers are ones who can be counted on to come back again.'
In order to truly satisfy your customers, you have to know what they want and need from you, what they're saying about you, and how they feel about your brand.
'Listening to the voice of the customer can help you improve the customer experience, retention, satisfaction, loyalty,' Dave Frankland, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, says.
In-depth 'voice of the customer' research gives you a much more clearer picture of your exact customer than generalized market research does.
Claude Guay, CEO of iPerceptions, offers the example of a customer who goes into a store, walks around for a bit, then leaves with three items. If you're only looking at the situation on the surface, from a numbers standpoint, the transaction appears to be a success.
But listening to the customer's voice tells you a lot more. What if that person originally came in looking for a new 3-D TV, Guay asks. If you talked to him about his experience, you'd find out that he came in to buy one major item but couldn't find it, so he bought a few other, smaller things -- then went across the street to get the thing you couldn't give him.
By those terms, the transaction is a failure.
''Voice of the Customer' gets you closer to the actual experience of what's going on,' with your exact customer, rather than the less-specific feedback that comes from general market research, Duff Anderson, iPerception's VP of Research, says.
Our experts tell us that the pace and ease of customer research has dramatically increased in recent years due to the wide-spread adoption of online research tools.
'Historically, companies used to do three or four surveys a year,' Frankland explains. Now, he says, a customer-centric company like FreshDirect will do over 100 formal surveys during one year.
'Everyone used to believe you couldn't do research online,' says Anderson. 'But it's actually more cost-effective and more actionable,' and it gives you much better access to individual insights, he says.
As a result, companies can be more reactive, he adds.
There are certain times during a business' life cycle where customer research is particularly crucial.
'Ongoing customer research is best -- it's like getting a checkup,' Aoyama adds. 'But if a company has to be selective, it's best to do it when they feel like they can do better, if they've hit a slump or plateau, and they need to make a jump -- or if their competitive landscape is growing and they need to figure out how to respond.'
Nick Wassenberg, Research Analyst for E.G. Insight, Inc., suggests several other factors that could present ideal times to measure what your customers are thinking.
For internal factors, such as making the decision to expand into new markets, you would need to perform customer research to understand what those new customers want. And then there are external factors, such as the recession, which might inspire you to find out how it's affecting your customers' buying decisions and needs.
'Early-on is also crucial, once you have a product and a small customer base,' he adds. 'It's important to talk to them... and find out where they find value in product, so you can hone your marketing message, and refine your product.'
As Eric Engwall, a managing partner for E.G. Insight, puts it, 'Reality never works out like your business plan.' So it's crucial to get out there, find out what your customers are thinking, and adjust.
- More effective product development
- Better customer service and satisfaction
- More targeted marketing efforts
- Increased knowledge about your competitors' products and how customers are using them
All of which, ultimately, should lead to improved sales and better conversion rates.
Listening is great, but you should never do it if you don't plan on responding to any of the information you find.
'I would say, the one time a company should not engage in 'Voice of the Customer' is if they're not going to do anything about it,' Guay says adamantly.
'From the customer's standpoint, listening, and then not implementing a response is worse than not asking them at all,' Frankland says.
That means considering 'how your company is structured to do something about it,' he adds. You have to be prepared to commit to major systemic changes in response to what your customers say, if the need arises.
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