Stop guessing what your customers are thinking

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… Want to tap into your customers’ minds?

We spend way too much time in “I think I know” land especially when it comes to customers. We make huge decisions based on “my best guess is” or “it seems like…”

There’s absolutely no reason for you to not know what your customers are thinking. Here are a few ways (short of the brain probes in the photo) to ferret out exactly what’s going on in there.

Secret Shopping with a Twist: Invite your customers to sign up to be secret shoppers.  Let them sign up on your website and pick a good blend of them.  Then, after every experience (or in a given time interval) give them a little form to fill out, rating performance,, quality, or whatever else you want to know.  Every time they send in their form (or submit it, if you put it online) they get some reward.

Bonus: Even those you don’t select will now know you want their feedback.   So they’ll speak up more often.

Create a customer survey: Just ask them already!  Afraid of what they’ll say?  Steve Olenski’s tells us in a recent post that we shouldn’t worry about that. In fact, according to the study he cites — most customers who participate in surveys (even if they have a tough message to deliver) care about the company and want it to be successful.  That’s why they invest the time in answering your questions.   We do these for clients all the time and it’s remarkable what we learn and how tiny tweaks (that you learned about in the survey) can change the customer experience.

Bonus:  They feel important and valued because you asked.

Create a customer board of advisors: If you are going to be making some big decisions, why not create an elite group of your best customers (the ones you’d like many more of) and bring them together monthly or quarterly for a couple hours. This requires you being willing to bare it all — they can’t give you good advice if they don’t know the whole picture.   But their insights, questions and counsel will amaze you.

Bonus: They shift from customers to full on evangelists for your organization.

There are, of course, more ways to check in with your customers.  Some may be better suited for your industry than others.  But… guessing is never the best choice.

What say you?  How do you stay in touch with your consumers?

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22 comments on “Stop guessing what your customers are thinking

  1. Excellent ideas. I was wondering I could have permission to repost this on my blog with credit and a direct link going back to you blog. I subscribed to your blog and RSS feed. I will be back shortly to read some more articles. I always spend too much time social netowrking and only send a once a month newsletter out to my previous customers. I do need to be more aware they were a customer of mine for a reason.

    1. Tim,

      Sure…go ahead and link to this post. And you’re right — those former customers are a gold mine, waiting for some attention!

      Drew

  2. Drew,

    Excellent! I’d only add, “And then communicate what you learn to the entire organization!” I was just reflecting on a leadership simulation I participated in where I, when playing the customer, shared my requirements with one member of the team and that person never properly communicated with the rest of the team.

    Once you have those golden nuggets they must be distributed widely so that everyone on the team can do their jobs better.

    All the best, Drew!
    @LisaPetrilli

    1. Lisa,

      Such an important addition — thank you! Yes…by all means and methods — share the insights with every team member.

      In fact, it may be the most important step of all.

      Drew

  3. Tobey Deys says:

    I love this, Drew: “Just ask them already!” Many business owners would be pleasantly surprised at how eager their customers are to share with them. You’re right, fear of criticism may stop them from asking but criticism is often a gift that drives improvement and innovation.

    Great post – thanks, Drew 🙂
    Tobey – @placesfirst

    1. Wow, excellent way of describing criticism!

    2. Tobey,

      It’s amazing how insightful the answers are… and how easy the fixes usually are.

      Even if you can’t fix whatever is problematic for your customer — just explaining why it can’t be changed is often enough.

      People are not unreasonable. They just want to be heard.

      Drew

  4. If you ask..then you will receive..that’s what it comes down to..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  5. Paul L'Acosta says:

    We are always interested in knowing what our customers are thinking, so that’s why instead of a sales pitch inside our newsletters, social updates, or any other tools of the trade we use, we include a survey or a quick question. Yes, we admit it: we are nosy. But that has helped us more in the long run than a “Signup before Friday!” pitch. Thanks Drew and see you soon. ~Paul

    1. Paul,

      Nosy = caring in this case. Which sends a loud and clear signal to your customers!

      Drew

  6. Dan says:

    Drew – I like the “customer board” idea, as I think its great to bring that “campfire” of your closest customers in to the decision-making process. But how far do you go with it? How do you educate them enough on upcoming product launches, sales strategy ideas, new services, etc. -without giving away your complete and personal financial picture? How formal do you make it? How do you walk the tightrope of allowing some in as “board members” without alienating others who feel they are “board worthy”?

  7. Sandee Overstreet says:

    Great eye-opener! I’ve been trying to figure out why our email newsletter open rate has started to decline. ” Just ask them already!”

    Thanks!

  8. Joe Cascio says:

    I must say that as a customer, I detest surveys. They never have the subject I want to ask or comment about. And they ask me to rate my experience on some stupid enumerated scale (eg. never, sometimes, frequently, always).

    Bah.

    If I have a comment it’s going to be very pointed and specific. You have to let the customer say what they want to say how they want to say it. It’s not about what you want to know, it’s about what the customer wants you to know.

    The best way to find out what customers think is to answer their questions and complaints when and how *they* ask them. Customer service is a gold mine of information, new ideas and “how are we doing” measures. But you have to actually listen and DO SOMETHING about problems and suggestions, not just pretend to listen to mollify their complaints.

    Listen on Twitter and Facebook. Go to a conference, and without telling people who you are ask them if they’ve ever used a product like yours, though you yourself were looking for a solution.

  9. Well, Drew, I check in by phone (or in person) periodically. Then, in the words of former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, I take a big, deep breath and ask, “How am I doing?”

    What I’ve learned: If you ask the question, you’ll discover things that clients value about you that you never thought of.

    Do it.

    1. Steve,

      Why do you think most business leaders are afraid to ask?

      Drew

  10. Hey Drew,

    Thanks for the props in your article…

    I love the Secret Shopper idea and Board of Advisors!

    It’s amazing how many people forget.. if you want to know an answer, ask a question!

    All the best my friend,
    Steve O

    1. Steve,

      And yet — most businesses don’t. Fear of the unknown? Don’t want to open that can of worms? Too lazy? Don’t really care?

      Why do you think?

      Drew

  11. Great points you have here. Thanks for sharing this, it’s very useful.

  12. Great article. For all of my customers I always conduct a customer survey first. I have not heard of a customer advisory board though. I am going to have to look into that. It sounds like a cool idea.

    1. Chris,

      Let us know if you try it and how it’s working!

      Drew

  13. Tracy Geier says:

    Drew, I had not heard the “twist” on the secret shopper idea before. Very clever.

    If you go with a customer survey, I believe it needs to be very short in length. As a consumer the longer the survey the less likely I am to complete it.

    Just asking is simple and great but only if you listen to that feedback. Too many companies ask for the feedback and then either ignore it because they do not like what they hear or just have their own ideas on where their product or service should go.

    1. Tracy,

      If you don’t bother getting back to the customer about the survey results and what you plan to do about them — you might as well not bother! I agree with you completely.

      Drew

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