Stop Guessing and Simply Ask Customers What They Want

Sounds like a no-brainer right? Yet step back and ask yourself – are you giving customers what THEY want or are you giving them what you THINK they want? I would bet strongly that you are giving them what you THINK they want because after all it’s your product and service and you know best…yes?

According to Kristin Zhivago in her new book, Roadmap to Revenue, too many businesses base their marketing pitches on guesswork and speculation instead of on how customers actually think and feel.

I hear business people making general statements all the time. “Too many words on the landing page” complains Mrs. Business Woman. Our typical customer won’t read a long landing page because she’s really busy, when in fact, because of the complexity of your product or service, and the high importance of the buying decision your customer actually would like you to publish MORE information and not less. The truth is that once the information is pertinent, people will be perfectly happy scrolling through your information to find out what is essential to them.

During a recent group coaching session employees in the delivery department of this small business, shared some challenges they were facing when attempting to deliver the goods to the customers. Mainly that some customers were saying that they didn’t order the product outright or the order configuration was different to what they were expecting – in some cases more, some cases less and some cases right product, wrong flavour (vanilla and not chocolate).

Ever the optimist, I found this situation a fantastic opportunity to bring the sales and delivery departments together to sort through this challenge that had a direct effect on their customer service. My wish was for great ideas to surface regarding how the service to the customer could be improved.

Instead what ensued was a defensive battle between departments as to who was right and who was wrong and perhaps this was just a situation of an incident between one sales person, one customer and that particular delivery crew. The general feeling was that the meeting was a waste of time.

Hindsight is always 20-20 and I learned a couple of things. The first being that I should have been clearer in communicating my vision for the meeting (as sales personnel were told that the delivery department had some issues and wanted a meeting. Sales came prepared to defend their turf.) The other thing I learned, which I was reminded of as I began a reread of How to Win Friends and Influence People was that, whenever anyone is confronted, and criticized they will never say that they are in the wrong or claim that they are responsible.

Which brings me to the point of Mr. and Mrs. Customer – while we are busy discussing them in strategy meetings and training sessions do we really know what is it that customers want from us?

The best way to find this out, based on extensive testing, and to obtain reliable customer input is by telephone – not by email or social media, in person or by a check-off-the-numbers online survey.  “People talk most freely when they are on the phone, in their comfort zone, sitting in their home, car or office,” says Kristin.

She goes on to recommend that we solicit input after they’ve purchased, and get the customer talking in depth about the steps in  their buying process, their concerns before buying, how they  found your item, a fair price for it, their thoughts about  the competition, and more.

You won’t need to conduct many such interviews.  “After the fifth interview, you will start to see definite trends.  By the tenth interview, the main themes will be firmly established.  By the fifteenth interview, there will be no doubt in your mind about the big issues” – and inklings about how to do better.

I think we’ve done the same thing with customers as we are known to do in our relationships generally. Have a problem with your boss? Go talk to your co-workers about it or your spouse! Have problems at home? Why on earth should you speak to your husband or wife? Go talk to a friend. Do you see how ridiculous we’ve all been in ignoring the customer?

Only a handful of companies are doing it right, and you’ve definitely heard of them already. “I always find that at several points in the customer’s process, every company is doing something that sends buyers elsewhere,” says Zhivago. “Ouch!” I say. Go talk to your customers!

2 responses to “Stop Guessing and Simply Ask Customers What They Want”

  1. Thanks, Giselle! Excellent summation and great points. You are so right. Love the comment about our spouses!

  2. You’re welcome Kristin! This was published in my column in our local Business Newsday here in Trinidad and Tobago. Doing my part to spread your good work!

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