‘The customer is always right.’ Anyone who’s ever worked in retail may well flinch at that line. As individuals, some customers can be loud, rude and downright annoying, but as a group they’re hard to argue with.
When the aim is to sell, your customers can’t be wrong, but you can be. If something isn’t selling, it’s because something’s wrong with the product. Conversely, if something’s flying off the shelves, then it’s because it’s the right thing at the right price at the right time. When selling anything – whatever the product or service – you need to put time and effort into understanding your customers. As managers and team leaders, you should create a culture of listening to your customers and developing what they genuinely want and need, and we’re going to show you how to do it.
Give your customers the opportunity to be heard
This sounds obvious, but it absolutely needs saying. The only way you can listen to your customers is if you give them the chance to speak and be listened to. For any company, if you’re creating any sort of strategy without listening to your customers, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.
When listening to your customers, you should always ensure the products or services you offer are what people actually want, along with being the right price and availability. You should also be aware of how trends and habits change, such as whether people are buying particular things in person or online, and how it changes over time. This will let you offer the right products and services, and invest in the best delivery methods.
You also need to be aware of the customer experience throughout the journey with you. This can be anything from looking up services online, finding your website, reading the site to find the necessary information, getting in contact, dealing with your team, paying, receiving the service from you and their satisfaction afterwards. You want every part of this journey to be easy and pleasant. If it’s not, you want to know in order to fix it as quickly as possible.
Make sure you’re looking at the good and the bad. Hearing negative experiences will let you improve, but being aware of where you’re getting it right means you won’t make unnecessary changes and risk making it worse.
Speak to the right people
Think about your ‘average’ customer. Who are they and what makes them your target market? And who are you specifically not aiming for?
It’s important to have a clear vision and definition for the type of people you’re targeting for feedback. A data set from the wrong people will give you nothing to work with, and in the worst-case scenario, push you in the wrong direction. Depending on what your company does, you may need to target a wide group of people or focus on a small number of key clients.
Creating personas can help take out a lot of the guesswork. Spend some time thinking about your ideal customer – or customers. Who they are, what they do, their age, demographics, what attracts them to you and what they’re hoping to get out of the experience. This lets you identify the right people to approach and hear from.
Ask the right questions
Once you’ve got a clear plan for identifying the right customers, you need to know what to ask. As with our previous points, if you’re asking the wrong questions, you’ll get the wrong answers. If you want to find out how clients feel about their experience trying to contact your team, you’ll probably want to ask about different communication channels and whether they had to wait a long time for someone to reply to an email, rather than asking whether they enjoyed the conversation – although this may be something to look at another time.
Once you’ve decided what you want to find out, you should select the best way to find the answers. There are many different data collection methods, but the two main types of questions are split up into quantitative or qualitative data.
Quantitative data is numerical and tends to have set choices, such as “How many minutes did you wait on hold?” or “Which of these websites have you looked at?” This approach helps to get a clear set of statistics and metrics. These tends to come from feedback forms and analytics.
Qualitative data is more about opinions and open questions without set options such as “How did the experience make you feel?” or “What do you like about this service?” These tend to come from surveys and interviews.
There is also an important difference between being proactive and reactive, which is whether you’re the one asking the questions or whether you’re listening in to what’s already being said. When you find online discussions about your company, you’re effectively eavesdropping on a conversation. You didn’t set it up, but you can definitely learn and react to what’s being said.
In most cases, you’ll want to use a combination of methods to give you an all-encompassing and holistic view of your customers’ experience.
Pick the right time
The final piece of the puzzle is knowing the best times to speak to your customers. Of course, when it comes to the more reactive approach outlined above, customers may be inclined to leave feedback at any point during their journey with you. For the proactive approach, you should be more deliberate.
The timing of your questions will directly affect the sort of answers you receive. There’s no point asking a client if they’ve been satisfied with the service they’ve received during an initial conversation, when you haven’t done anything for them yet. If you ask them after they’ve actually received the service from you, you’ll know whether you fulfilled their needs and if they’re likely to come back.
If possible, you should aim to track the customer experience through all the main touchpoints and interactions with your company and teams. This lets you analyse the entire process and ensure you fix any weak point or difficulties as quickly as possible.
You should also analyse your own results to see whether you’re getting many responses. It may be that you’re asking at a time that isn’t conducive for feedback. If you ask for feedback when the customer is actively involved in something else, you should expect to generate fewer responses than at the end of a call or emailing a survey link they can fill out in their own time.
Act on the results
All of this feedback and data is worthless if it doesn’t lead to anything. As a manager or team leader, you should aim to create a culture where everyone is happy to act upon customer feedback, and to do so quickly.
You should never leave a customer unhappy. If you get negative feedback, you may or may not be able to do anything about it straight away – most people will understand that some changes take tie – but you should respond to them and tell them what you are able to do. Even just passing their feedback up the chain shows they aren’t being ignored.
Smaller teams can be agile and adaptable. Salespeople and customer-facing staff should feel confident and empowered to help customers who have had less than stellar experiences with your company, as well as in reporting the feedback. In larger companies, it’s not always as easy to make quick changes, but issues should still be reported to the appropriate department so they can begin looking into solutions.
If you see analytics that potential customers are getting lost around your website and aren’t finding the information they’re looking for, then the right people in your organisation should take action to streamline the site. If customers are unsatisfied because they expected something more from your service, highlight this to begin conversations on how to add this to your offerings. Equally, if the feedback shows that they’re very happy with a certain part of your process, you should pass this on so they know not to change it.
You can also use the data to find ways to challenge your customers’ existing habits and show them new ideas they hadn’t thought of before. This takes the approach from just giving them what they’re asking for to showing them what they didn’t even realise they needed.
Business relies on keeping your customers happy and giving them what they need. From customer service to the entire organisational strategy, you should be listening to your customers. Never guess what they want, look at the data and listen to their feedback. By learning to do this well, you’ll guarantee you’re always heading down the right path.
For more tips for improving sales and business development, take a look at our Learning Solutions.