Change is a vital part of any business’ success and growth. Regardless of how many ideas you generate in-house, however, you can target ideas more precisely when you introduce the customer voice into the mix.
To improve your current products or services, or if you’re ready to branch out into new areas, consider the following ideas to avail yourself of knowledge gleaned from real-life customer experiences.
Here are our 6 ways can learn how to use customer feedback:
1. Support issues often identify customer wants and needs
Your support team probably talks to customers more frequently than any other group in the company and customers often express wishes when they seek support for specific issues. The minute that they say, “I wish that the product did this,” or “If only your company provided this service,” mental alarms should go off.
Support team members should immediately share customer wish-lists with the people who develop new products or services. These ideas can improve your offerings, while helping to forecast potential winners.
2. Customers don’t always reach out voluntarily
Customers are seldom shy with complaints. They are less generous with ideas, though, so you have to coax them using any of a number of tools.
After completing a consulting project, for example, a simple email feedback request becomes more valuable if you ask pointed questions about any nice-to-have needs that are not being met.
Also, don’t forget about the power of social media. While a simple thumbs-up rating reveals very little about customer needs, survey responses can be very enlightening. To get a good response rate, keep it brief. Discounts and other participation incentives can make a notable difference, as well.
3. Customers that communicate with each other become team members
Without a paycheck, customers typically lack a team connection to your business. A good way to bring them into the fold is through moderated user forums.
Software businesses have long known that user forums have great value. Participants answer each other’s’ questions, often gaining titles like Gold Star Member in recognition of their involvement. But, they also form close-knit groups. It’s common for them to express new design ideas or their desires for new products or services within the safety of the customer team, as long as moderators maintain a gentle touch.
Software is not the only example of powerful online communities. LEGO® gets product ideas through a program called LEGO® Ideas. Product fans submit their ideas and vote. Winners get to see their products on the shelves, while earning a percentage of product sales — a nice reward that also retains customer loyalty through engagement.
4. Not every customer opinion is an edict
Most businesses have a vocal minority of customers who express seemingly unhelpful opinions. You don’t have to make promises, but you should always listen with both an open mind and an analytic one. Make sure that the opinions are reflective of a broad group of customers, not just a small but loud subset.
Even if vocal majority opinions are sometimes a bit acidic in tone, they still can pay off. Any comment shared with your team might spark unexpected insight that leads to the changes that your business needs.
5. Customers add value before full-throttle implementation
Some customers would welcome the chance to get directly involved in developing your new offerings, and you don’t have to wait until your products or services are ready for market. Their participation in focus groups or testing panels at any point of the development process gains you invaluable resources that lead to well-designed, error free offerings.
Software companies typically release Alpha and Beta tests that result in better user interfaces, while eliminating bugs that often only appear when the products are used in the real world. In fact, just about any product or service can benefit from this type of customer intervention.
6. Customers don’t always know what they want
One word of warning about customer involvement: they don’t always recognize that they need new or different products and services until someone offers them. The infomercial industry earns about a $250 billion market share by creating customer needs (aka: solving problems that nobody knew they had!).
Apple is a mainstream business that proves this point well. Their customers are not so forward-thinking that they would have suggested turning a phone into a MP3 player. That one iPhone change basically tanked the MP3 player market, while forcing other providers to add music player technology to their smart phones.
Don’t assume, however, that customer opinions play no role in Apple’s product decisions. Highly alert to feedback, they quickly made changes when customers reacted to the recent iPhone slowdown.
The customer voice helps build stronger relationships
These six points all have two things in common: they encourage customers to express their needs and they help you determine if you can realistically meet those needs. But, there’s another benefit, as well. Customer involvement creates a partnership with your business. This is a relationship that customers recognize, value and tell prospective customers about.
Carol Roth is a radio host on WGN, a CNBC TV contributor, a ‘recovering’ investment banker & a bestselling author of The Entrepreneur Equation. You can find her on Twitter @CarolJSRoth or at www.CarolRoth.com. She also has an action figure made in her likeness.