Start a conversation with your customer?

September 8, 2014

start a conversation with your customerStart a conversation with your customer?  I know, it’s crazy talk.  Why in the world would you want to talk to the very people who choose to do business with you?

I trust you can see my tongue poking through my cheek, but the truth is, most businesses give lip service to the idea of starting a conversation with their customers, but few actually do.

Let’s agree on a few points right up front:

  • It’s cheaper to keep a customer than get a new one
  • It’s cheaper to sell more to a current customer than make the first sale to a new customer
  • There’s no better marketing than word of mouth – which usually comes from your current customers

Those truths would suggest that our current clients are pretty important to our business’ long-term success. Despite that fact, most businesses:

  • Don’t invest enough of their marketing budget/efforts on their current customers
  • Don’t routinely thank (other than the pre-printed thank you at the bottom of your invoice) their current clients
  • Don’t listen enough to their current customers.

Why in the world do we, in essence, ignore our best bet at success?

In this post, I’m going to focus on the listening issue. No one knows what it’s like to buy products or services from us like the very people who buy our products and services. And yet, the vast majority of businesses never bother to ask for feedback. Or they ask for feedback in a way that makes it so off-putting or difficult to provide the feedback that the customer ops not to. In most cases, the first chance the customer has to provide real, honest feedback is when they walk away and give their money to your competitor.

I think there are a few reasons why organizations don’t seek customer feedback.

  • Fear: “I just don’t want to know because then I’m going to have to deal with it.”
  • Bad time management: “I know it’s important and I’ve been meaning to launch a survey but then things got crazy.”
  • Ignorance: “I don’t know how to make it happen and I think it has to be some big, elaborate thing.”

If you’re not actively and regularly seeking your clients’ input and insights, it’s one of the biggest marketing mistakes you can make. The only mistake worse than not asking for their input is actually asking for it and then not doing anything to fix the issues you uncover. Now you’ve asked for their opinion and then told them how little you care by ignoring their concerns.

Let’s assume you have found the courage and the time to listen. Are you ready to start a conversation with your customer?How do you go about it? Depending on your size and budget, you can make it as simple or regimented as you need.

Start a conversation: Take your client to lunch and ask “how are we doing and what could we do better?” Walk up to a customer in your store and say “we just re-arranged the shelves, did we make it easier for you to find what you need?” It can be that simple.

Observe: Sometimes the best way to listen is to just watch. How do people move through your store or website? What do they pick up or mouse over? What do they walk right by? Which Facebook posts do they share?

Ask on a schedule: Once a quarter or once a year – reach out to your customers with a survey that asks open-ended questions like “what’s your favorite thing about our service?” Or “what do you wish we’d stop doing?” Then (and this is vital) – report back to them what you learned and what you’re going to do about it.

Do true market research: If you’re big enough and have the budget, do more than antidotal research. Hire a pro and crunch the numbers. Build a benchmark that you can measure against, time and time again.

Just dip your toe into listening if you’re not ready to jump in head-first. But don’t wait too long – or your customers will be swimming in your competitor’s pool!



The hard truths

October 22, 2011

bigstock The Truth Just Ahead Green Ro 11944751
How do you get clients to tell you the tough truth?

One of the things I loved about playing chauffeur to my daughter when she was younger were the conversations we’d have in the car.  There’s something to be said about the implied “safety” of not looking the other person in the eyes when dealing with a difficult topic.

I think many couples will attest to how sometimes lying in bed in the dark can inspire one of them to raise an issue that for some reason felt more uncomfortable on the couch or over dinner.

The truth is… the truth is hard.  Even if you candy coat it, sometimes what you have to say is going to upset the other person.  And so you have to decide if you’re going to speak it anyway.

That’s not just true in our personal relationships.  It’s true in business as well. Our customers probably have some hard truths to tell us.  But unless they really love us — they’re not likely to muster up the courage to tell us to our face.

While that sounds great on the surface — after all who really wants to hear the bad stuff? But here’s the rub.

just like in our personal relationships — the longer something festers, the bigger a deal it becomes.  And sooner or later, it can poison a relationship.

So how do you create the “riding in the car” feel with a client?

Hire a confidante: Clients want you to know and they want to tell you.  But they don’t want to hurt your feelings and they don’t want to have an awkward conversation.  But, they will, especially if you ask them to, talk about you to someone else.

We do this sort of thing for clients all the time and never in my 25+ year career has it failed to result in some significant changes and insights.

Conduct an anonymous survey: If you allow them to vent without attaching their name to the document, they  may be more candid.  I think our clients want us to be successful and they want us to be the best

Brave it: Make a point of taking your best clients out to lunch/drinks/dinner a few times a year.  Point blank ask them — how could we be better?  You can ask it in a variety of ways — “if you could wave a magic wand and change something about us, what would you change?”

It’s our job to make it possible for our clients to tell us the hard truths.  It sure beats them telling us goodbye.


Photo courtesy of BigStock Photos


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Recognize yourself in this video?

May 19, 2011

If so, shame on you!  Whether you’re the client or the agency guy — you know better.

While this is obviously over the top, I think we all know that it hits a little close to home.  The work and the audience deserves better.  (Email subscribers – click here to view video.)