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You’re Not Your Customer – So Ask

19 Jul

A few articles ago I wrote of “relevancy” being a required building block of any career destined for financial security. But, again it’s one thing to be relevant and it’s another for those around you to know it and frame it in their own belief system as something useful and valuable.Offering a product or service to to the marketplace is no different. Just as your value to your employer diminishes as others are perceived to offer similar expertise, knowledge, or skill sets your value to your customer diminishes as other distributors offer similar products and services. We all just become commodities as does everything in our catalogues. Revenue and margins start falling and funny enough, the first thing that usually happens then is a reduction in relationship investments – available sales staff, literature, samples, and one-on-one contact.

Don’t kid yourself – no one wants to hang around losers. It’s in our nature, as humans, to want to associate with winners. So do your customers. They want to be proud of their associations and their business partners. They want the confidence that not only are they getting the best deal but that their best interests are being looked after. And, when they realize one of their suppliers is in scavenger mode, they know it’s about self-preservation and not customer service. Once you’ve been pegged as a threat, that message travels like a virus throughout your entire revenue supply chain (usually with the help of your competitors) and it could take more resources then you have to reposition yourself.

The solution to this is simple – survey your customers on a regular schedule to evaluate your perceived threat level. Don’t interpret your customers having a back-up supplier as a low opinion of your abilities – that’s just good business practice on their part. But, you should know what percentage of what ever they’re buying comes from your warehouse. Don’t ask for specifics because they won’t tell you. Segment your questions: 0-25%, 25-50%, 50-75%, 75%+.

Deep personal relationships with customers aren’t always useful here. They don’t want to hurt your feelings any more than you want to let them down. So, anonymous surveys are probably the better solution. SurveyMonkey.com offers a very useful service – you go in, create your survey, email out a request to your survey pool, and when it’s all over the results are summarized.

Word of advice – invest in a professional communications company to develop your surveys. There’s an art to this if you truly want insight into customer attitudes. Surveys don’t have to be long, nor do they have to be complex. Some companies spend so much time developing the questions they never get to asking them. JUST GET STARTED – five to ten questions offered to a 100 customers. You’re going to make mistakes – everything is a test. JUST DO IT!

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3 Comments

Posted by on July 19, 2007 in Career, The Business

 

3 responses to “You’re Not Your Customer – So Ask

  1. Erik

    July 20, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    Hi,

    I don’t know if I would say SurveyMonkey.com is the best solution. While easy, it is on the low-end side. If you want inexpensive survey technology, I would go with InstantSurvey, or if you want stronger customer feedback, there are plenty of enterprise feedback solutions and software tools, including VantagePoint and Vovici. InstantSurvey is your best bet to get started quickly, though.

     
  2. plasticguy

    July 20, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    Valid point, but I had to start somewhere… if you would consider offering an expanded point of view then I’ll gladly backtrack to it… or even post it if you don’t have your blog

     
  3. Erik

    July 25, 2007 at 11:23 am

    Hi Plasticguy,

    I think in concept you have it down pretty well: survey your customers often. Depending on the product/service, I would even go as far as surveying them at every point of contact. For instance, if the customer contacts customer service, survey them afterwards on how much they liked customer service (this isn’t anonymous, but you can still get pretty good feedback). Every time they buy something from you, you should survey them.
    And, of course, do monthly or quarterly anonymous surveys to your whole customer base (especially people who used to be customers but aren’t “active” anymore).
    In terms of what software solution to take, there are plenty, but you want to go with the one with the most analytical capabilities – most of these software solutions are pretty easy to learn and do similar things, but you want a tool where you can drill into the data most effective.
    I recommended InstantSurvey because I am more knowledgeable on the product than other solutions. I find it pretty easy to use, but its analytics, I hear, are a lot better than SurveyMonkey’s and some other competitors (though I can’t comment specifically). You can click on segments to keep drilling down into the data: i.e. click on the “Female” answer, click on the “18-25”, click on “Product 1” and suddenly you have the results of data from only females age 18-25 who purchased Product 1.
    When people or companies first get into the survey space they look at all of these competitors and first look at price, but once they begin to realize the value of said services, you have to take the next step and look for a product that delivers the results you want.

     

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