I have just returned from two days of facilitating a strategic planning retreat for the board of directors and staff of the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA). This is a great organization that has been around for years and years, with absolutely fantastic people in the tree care industry. As part of the planning process I did a survey to more than 1,000 of their association members to ask a few questions about where they saw the industry heading and what they were looking for from their association. I cannot express to you how valuable the feedback we got from the membership base was, and how important of a role it played in setting the strategy for the next few years of the association. My point? Even though this is a highly successful organization that interacts a good deal with their membership they realized they were not doing nearly a good enough job of actually… listening to their customer.
Let me make this as simple as I possibly can: Your customers pay ALL of your bills. They pay your mortgage, they pay your car payment, they pay to send your kids to school, they pay to put food on your table… they pay for everything. The more you know about the people who pay your bills – the better. It’s one of my favorite mantras, and I’ll say it yet again: Whoever owns the Voice Of the Customer – owns the marketplace.
So the goal must be to understand your customer as deeply as possible. What do they love about your business? Why specifically do they buy from YOU? What would make them give you more business? What would cause them to take their business elsewhere? What frustrates them about your business? What other products and/or services would they like to buy from you? What would make them a raving fan of your business who would tell all of their friends and associates about how great your company is?
If you can answer these questions (and many more) in great detail – based on real customer feedback and real customer data – you are absolutely putting yourself in a position for much greater success in your business. The challenge is to make listening to the customer – owning the voice of the customer – a key strategy in your company.
So, how well are you listening to your customers right now?
Here is a list of just a few things you could be doing to own the voice of the customer. How many are you currently implementing effectively?
- Multiple types of customer satisfaction surveys on a regular basis (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly)
- Focus groups to listen directly to customers and potential customers.
- Focus groups or surveys to new users/new customers.
- Exit interviews for customers that leave you.
- An “Advisory Panel” of your top customers to give you direct feedback.
- Taking key customers to lunch or dinner – weekly or monthly.
- Phone calls to key customers quarterly to survey them in person and ask for feedback.
- Multiple ways through social media for customers to give candid and confidential feedback.
- Customer comment cards.
- Contests and giveaways for customers that fill out surveys/comment cards.
- Mystery shopping to rate your business.
- Google search for comments about your business.
I could add another 40 to this list, but you get the idea. You have to be superb at gathering information, asking questions, listening, watching, surveying, and observing your customers in order to get the real-life data you need to make core strategic decisions about how to meet and exceed your customer’s expectations elegantly and profitably. I hope that after reading that list and this blog you will go back and redouble your efforts to listen intently to your customers and use their feedback to guide your business towards greater success.
I look forward to your feedback and ideas. Thanks so much – take good care – John Spence