One of the biggest mistakes I see business owners make is assuming they know what their customers want. Sure, the business may be making sales and perhaps nobody’s complaining but…how do you know you couldn’t be making more sales or that you’re just not hearing the complaints? Many businesses continue to market, sell, deliver and operate the way they always have. For a few businesses, this might work. For many, it’s a recipe for eventual failure.
It’s always surprising to me that a business doesn’t want to make sure they’re doing it right – before it’s too late and they find out they missed the boat.
I recently spoke with the owner of a startup whose business success required that he get both college recruiters and high school students to use his website. The problem? No high school students were signing up. Without students signing up, the colleges weren’t interested. Even with a ton of content marketing, SEO and plenty of social media outreach, it wasn’t happening. What’s the problem? One (or more) of three things: a) this wasn’t a service that high school students found to be of value, b) students weren’t making the effort to fill out a required online profile, c) the target audience wasn’t correct – should this business owner be targeting, instead of the students, the parents or grandparents who might be paying for the education and who understand the educational and networking value of a college education?
So how do you find out if your business does, in fact, fill the bill? Two ways: ask your customers and see what’s working (or not working). Whether out of fear, laziness, or indifference, many business owners would rather assume that what they’re doing is correct and not actually make the effort to step out of their comfort zone and evaluate the viability of their business.
Two phrases for you:
“Ignorance is bliss” and “Assumptions are the mother of all f*%# ups”
Here are ways to find out for sure if you’re doing it right or have room for improvement:
- Interview existing and former customers (preferably in-person or via phone as this allows you to delve deeper. Email questions if you can’t have a conversation). Let interviewees know beforehand you’d like a few minutes of their time to ask them a few questions and that it’ll only take about 10 minutes. Have 5-6 questions prepared (click here for sample Customer Survey Questions you could use).
Bonus marketing tip: Positive customer feedback could be used as testimonials (with permission)
- Check Out the Competition: what products or services do they offer that you don’t? How’s the function, design and content of their website? How does their customer service compare? What’s their reputation in your industry?
- Hire an outside consultant to interview your customers (while they may ask similar questions to those you would ask, customers may feel “freer” discussing their compliments or voicing concerns with a third party).
- Search your business online: what reviews has your business may have garnered on sites like Yelp, Yahoo!, TripAdvisor and Google, among others.
- Track your Social Media presence: be sure to monitor and reply to comments.
- Ask trusted advisers: while direct customers may be your best source of information, other colleagues in your network could be asked to review your products or services, online presence, marketing efforts, etc.
- Provide feedback opportunities for customers: a “Suggestion Box” on your website, a short follow-up call or email once a sale is made or a project completed, a mail-in postcard delivered with a product. Using a voice of customer option can be vital for tracking these too.
- Interview those within your company as to what they are hearing from customers and listen to suggestions they may have.
- Measure how your marketing and advertising are doing: how many “Likes” are you getting on social media posts? How many visitors are coming to your website (what pages are they visiting and how long are they staying)?, What outreach methods are working – and how well (like Google Adwords and sponsored posts)? Perhaps your current outreach methods aren’t reaching customers and you might want to learn about a business phone line as a way to contact customers.
Making these efforts part of an ongoing practice in your business (think of this a business-improvement campaign that you execute 2 to 4 times per year) will yield results that could help your business adapt and innovate. Once you stop assuming and start asserting, you’ll see opportunities to improve your business. You can also utilize interactive software for your customers to speak to you one on one and answer any questions they may have regarding your business. If your company is based in Australia, you could use the company Chat Bot Australia to help you converse with your customers to help your company thrive.
Are you asking the right questions? Contact Martha. Martha Spelman is a Los Angeles-based branding and marketing expert. She works with startups and small- to mid-size businesses and is the author of The Cure for Blogophobia: How to Easily Create, Publish & Promote Your Business Blog.