Do you know what your customers think of your business?
Is your marketplace fully aware of what you do?
I’m sure you have a clear view of how you want your business to be perceived by people but what do they actually think? Good business is about strong relationships and asking your customers for their opinion is a great way to show you care. Getting feedback from your customers is also a great way to confirm how well you are doing, and maybe find ways you can do things even better.
Relationships are key
Most of our work is B2B (business to business) where our clients tend to have ongoing relationships with their customers – which can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, ongoing relationships suggest you are getting things right most of the time, but on the other it can be difficult to break out of the day-to day trading cycle. I talk a lot about the benefit of having a marketing communications plan, and building some research into that plan can really pay dividends.As a rule people don’t really tell you what they’re thinking unless you specifically ask them for their opinion, or they have a complaint!.
Research can deliver real benefit
- Do your customers appreciate the full range of your products & services or do they only know about the bit they use now?
- You might be dealing with one part of a business but are there other departments/divisions you aren’t aware of?
- Your customer might me satisfied with your service but are you missing an opportunity to make them love it?
It is important to appreciate that research – particularly for B2B SMEs – isn’t all about statistics. Asking customers to give you ‘marks out of 10‘ can be useful as a benchmarking exercise but the real value is talking to your contacts outside of the normal customer/supplier relationship and give them the opportunity to tell you what they think.
Approaches to research
Essentially there are 2 different approaches to research:
- Web-based/Social Media
- Focus Group/Group Discussion
- Individual Face to Face
I have listed each group in increasing order of cost. There is some evidence that the higher cost methods can deliver better data though, in my experience, the additional benefit typically doesn’t adequately cover the extra cost. Although we find ourselves discussing a whole range of research options with clients, in practice the projects we run are typically either Web based (normally a Survey on a website) or Telephone based – the most cost effective options for each approach.
Which approach is best for my business?
There isn’t an easy answer to this question but here are some pointers that might give you something to think about…
If you have a lot of customers, personal research can get costly. Using a web-based or email approach here can work well and the cost-benefits of this approach really mount up when the numbers get larger. If you have a smaller customer base, it is likely your day-to-day relationship with each of them is closer so a personal research approach may be more appropriate. If you are in a niche market with a modest number of customers, the cost of a personal approach won’t spiral out of control either!
Research is a bit of a waste of time if you don’t do something with the results! It is useful to have quantitative data in a spreadsheet or similar format where it is easy to compare different results and look for trends. It is also easier to compare one year to the next Systematic research normally makes it easier to record and analyse data. Many on-line systems – even standard web forms – include functionality to record feedback directly into a downloadable spreadsheet. This can save time and money. It also eliminates data-entry errors. Personal research will normally require that feedback is recorded manually though as you will probably be working with lower quantities, this normally isn’t a problem. On the upside, the process of data-entry allows important comments that may be made by a particular individual to be more readily picked-up Even with a systematic approach, you should always give people the opportunity to comment.
There is no question that a systematic approach, although lower cost, is likely to deliver a significantly lower response rate. You are likely to need to ask your target audience to take part several times and even then, our experience suggests that you probably won’t see higher than 20-25% response. The personal approach should yield significantly higher response – as much as 60-70% in some cases, but preparation is vital: Pick your researcher(s) carefully. You really need to use an experienced professional, not just someone who reads a script – when you may as well just use an email approach! Although you don’t want a script-reader, it is a good idea to have a ‘Questionnaire’ to structure and guide each conversation. If nothing else it helps make sure that key points aren’t overlooked. Even with a personal approach, consider introductory email or letter. This can make a considerable difference to response rates.
It never ceases to amaze me how few businesses do any form of research yet if well planned, research need not cost a great deal and can deliver real benefit in understanding how your customers think, what they want, and how you can best position your business to deliver. Think about it….