Your customers’ needs should drive your business. One way to identify how to better match customer preferences is a survey or questionnaire. Ask some basic questions about their experiences and opinions, and use that data to fine-tune your company's performance and to make necessary organizational improvements.
Customer surveys can reveal trends and common attitudes about your services. Positive feedback, for example, documents success within your customer base. For example, if a company learns that one of its products earns extraordinary praise from customers, it can use that knowledge to improve its business model. Promoting that product more heavily might increase sales, develop good word-of-mouth advertising and improve overall customer satisfaction -- all at once.
Negative feedback, although unpleasant, provides a healthy tool to spark internal improvements. Dissatisfied customers who don't complain and don't return leave you ignorant about their motivations, so you have little hope of winning them back. A survey allows these unhappy customers to vent, and shows you what they find lacking. For example, suppose a survey reveals that customers like your products but find it hard to communicate with your customer service representatives, who work for a call center in a distant region. That insight might motivate you to find a higher-quality call center or to hire local representatives, thus improving your customers' experiences. Such a change might increase customer retention and win back customers who left without saying why.
Customer surveys also present an opportunity to test consumer reactions to proposed changes and improvements. For example, suppose a company plans to create a new product line but has concerns about how the new offerings will fare with its customer base. Instead of springing the new product line on its customers, the company can use a survey to determine their likely response. If the reaction is overwhelmingly bad, the company might decide to offer the product line under a separate brand name, thus preserving its reputation with its current customers.
Tracking Long-Term Trends
If you implement customer surveys often, you can use the data to track long-term progress. A company might want to measure how consumer attitudes have changed over a certain period of time, for example. Having data on hand to analyze long-term trends can provide insight into consumer behavior that your competitors can’t access, improving your competitive advantage. For instance, your surveys might reveal that shifts in consumer sentiment have decreased interest in your current product line, meaning you either need to develop new products for your current customers or to identify a new target market for your current product line.
Not all surveys are created equal. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can get the wrong impression of what your customers want. For example, if your survey has a low response rate -- meaning relatively few customers participate -- the results won’t be representative of your entire customer base. The most effective approach is to hire a qualified market research firm to create and implement your surveys and provide expert statistical analyses.
Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.