3 Ways to Listen to Your Customers: Part 3

Ideas image - man in front of chalk boardIn Part 1 and Part 2, we looked at the importance of listening to your customers and how to get started by following a simple method, called LAW (listen, ask and watch). Today, we will dig deeper into  the “ask” part of LAW.

Asking your customers for their ideas, comments and suggestions is one of the most powerful and easy things you can be doing to improve your business. To be successful, you need to consider a couple things:

  1. Who are you going to ask?
  2. How will you ask them?
  3. How should you follow up with them and demonstrate that you are taking your customers’ suggestions seriously.

Who to ask?

Start by asking yourself who your target audience is. In marketing, one of the biggest mistakes that is made by businesses is trying to be something for everyone. This just isn’t possible. So as you start trying to listen to your customers, you will also want to target specific consumers, specifically those you are targeting, as well as those you would consider to be your biggest fans.

Listening to your target consumers will help you better understand what you could be doing to get more of them into your store. Also, they can tell you about the things you are doing well and should continue. Don’t forget this latter part. Celebrate your successes and let you team know about those things so they can take pride in the positives.

Listening to your fans is also important. If you have fans great! If not, you’d better be out getting some. These are the people who seek you out eagerly tell you what they think. Don’t shun them; embrace them. And when they come to you with problems, don’t be afraid to ask them for their potential solutions.

How to ask?

There are a ton of fun, low-cost, no-cost ways to get in front of your customers and ask them about your business. Below are a few examples of tools you can use both in your retail store as well as online to accomplish this:

  1. Don’t be shy – if you have questions to ask, find a few of your fans or target audience, pull them aside, start up a conversation and ask away. Everyone has an opinion and if you catch the right people at the right time, they will gladly share. It is important to be consistent. Make sure you write down your questions ahead of time and note the responses you get immediately afterward. I’d recommend talking with individuals or small groups rather than holding large, formal focus groups. You will find that in less formal and smaller groups, you will get more open and honest responses while avoiding the traps that focus groups can lead to.
  2. Involve your team – If you have team members who are running checkouts, have them ask one to two key questions that you might be focusing on at the moment. Keep this short and sweet. Provide your team member with a simple checkoff list that they can record answers on (simple yes no answers are best; but don’t be afraid to probe for more info where necessary). And train your team to keep this very casual – you don’t want to annoy your customers. If you train your team right, you can actually get them to help target their questions to specific consumers.
  3. Thanks Mrs. Brown – I had a teacher back in middle school that encouraged idea sharing by setting up a black board and designating it as the “idea board.” This isn’t terribly creative; however, it got the job done. Mrs. Brown’s idea could easily be replicated in a store setting. Invest in a blackboard or whiteboard. Hold a contest with your customers. Make it fun!
  4. The power of a tweet – I am a fan of Twitter and you might be surprised to hear that many large companies are using the tool to improve customer service. Set up your store’s free Twitter account and let your customers know that you are using as a feedback and ideas tool. Create a sign with your twitter handle (ex. @storename) and let them know that you want their feedback. Here a few things to note about using Twitter.First, Twitter is open. If you are out there and someone posts something negative, you can’t remove it (this might be happening anyway). The amazing thing about this tool is that it allows you to address concerns, ideas and comments in an incredibly open and results-oriented way.Second, Twitter is real time and you will have to devote time to it if you choose to use this tool. There’s nothing worse than asking a customer for feedback and then never acknowledging them.
  5. Unleash the monkey – surveys can be a powerful tool; however, don’t get trapped into paying for expensive survey tools and services. If you are interested in using surveys, head on over to surveymonkey.com. Setting up an account is not that difficult (or you can check with someone you might know). Once you have an account set up, start creating a few surveys.Oh, and by the way, you can set up a free account with SurveyMonkey and create as many surveys as you want. The downside to the free account is you are limited to the number of respondents for each survey (100 total). The question you have to ask yourself is “Do I need more than 100 people to answer my survey before I have a good idea of what to do?”

    If you really want to have some fun with surveys, sign up for the $200 annual unlimited account. This opens up a ton of additional features that can give you surveys an amazingly tailored look and feel, as well as a ton of other analysis tools.

    What do you do with the surveys after you’ve set them up? Put the survey address on your receipts. Hand out a flyer or business card with the address on it and ask customers to share their ideas with you. Add the survey to your website. Send it out on Twitter. Talk about it on facebook. If you’re really excited about this option, set up a kiosk in your store and allow your customers to take the survey right then and there.

Let Them Know You are Listening and Taking Action

You want customers to know you are doing something with their ideas. Why? Because if they are nice enough to share with you, you need to show them that you actually listened. Here are several ways to do this:

  1. Send her an email or call – This is a tempting option. At the very least, you will want to call or email the person who offered their great idea. Let her know you appreciate the suggestion. Then let her know if you can or are going to do it. If not, be honest and appreciative. If you are moving forward with the idea, let her know what your process will be and how long it might be before she sees the idea in operation. But don’t stop there.
  2. Send a thank you card – no one does this any more so it is an easy way to stand out. Take the time to hand write a thank you card and show her you really appreciated her input.
  3. Feature the idea in your store, printed ad, and/or website – If you want to keep the ideas flowing into your business, people need to know that you are interested. There’s no better way to do this than to show the ideas that you are acting on, share the story behind it, and publicly thank the contributor for the idea. If possible, make it even more personal by featuring a snapshot of the person in your store (with the idea in hand).
  4. Tell the world – If your company has built a Web presence, take advantage of this and set up an customer innovations blog for your company. For a great example of this, check out Starbuck’s My Starbucks idea site and blog.

In my opinion, asking your customers for their feedback is one of the funnest and most advantageous ways to improve your business. I’ve only listed a few tools that you could use to accomplish this from a low cost, no cost perspective. Get creative or find a friend that can help you. Regardless, always remember that there are a variety of ways to gather great ideas from your customers that are effective and affordable.

Tomorrow, we will take a close look at the last component in LAW – watch. Until then, have a wonderful day and start asking your customers for their ideas.

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