You ask. You win.

Customers interacting with surveys and research objects

You and I could hypothesize until the cows come home about how your brand or your marketing could be better. We’d come up with plenty of potentially great ideas, but without knowing what’s in the heart and mind of your customer, we’d be building a plan grounded on hunches more than hard facts.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me nervous.

You know you want something more from your marketing effort, but you’re not quite sure how to change what it is you’re putting out there. Some of your tactics are undoubtedly working, and some are undoubtedly not. The difference between achieving greater success versus “more of the same” is knowing what needs to change.

ask the experts—your customers.

These days, it’s easy to generate baseline data to inform the changes you want to make—whether for a rebranding effort, a website redesign, or new messaging platform. Electronic surveying tools make it fairly simple and inexpensive to poll your customers, and when surveys are well constructed, they can be very effective. Follow that with a small group of targeted phone interviews and you’ll gather even more insights to guide your decision making.

you win. your customers win (and you win again).

I have a client who is undertaking a major effort to revamp their customer intranet. In order to help inform changes to the functionality of the site, we conducted one-on-one interviews with several of their customers using screen sharing technology. After only the first few sessions, we collected valuable insights about planned (and unplanned) changes. We win!

But the customers win, too. These sessions gave them an opportunity to demonstrate their experiences and share their ideas for improvement. This not only makes them feel helpful, but also fosters some ownership of the intranet improvement effort (important when you’re making changes that will impact their workflow). They win!

And that’s not all. We actually win again. Customers thanked us for reaching out and asking how we could improve. We strengthened relationships and goodwill while diving for data. One participant went so far as to say, “This is the first time in years I’ve felt someone really understands the problem I’m having.” That, my friends, is gold.

how to make outreach work for you, and your customers.

Here are a few tips on getting the information you need to make better-informed decisions about your marketing.

  • Clearly identify what it is you need to know and stay focused on those items as you draft your questions. It’s not a bad idea to write a brief that literally lists what you want to learn from your customers, how that knowledge will inform changes to your business, and how you plan to apply what you learn. This prevents “random curiosity” questions that eat up your precious interview time and ultimately lead you nowhere.
  • Get help drafting your questions. There are right and wrong ways to draft surveys and interviews. If you’re not experienced in this area, it’s worth your time and money to get help from someone who is (you can reach me at 503.680.1279 or [email protected]).
  • Be considerate of your customer’s time. Shorter surveys are more likely to be completed, especially if no incentive or compensation is offered to the participant. The same goes for interviews. I usually don’t ask for more than 5-7 minutes of someone’s time for a typical electronic survey, and no more than 20-30 minutes for a phone interview. And in either case, I state the estimate up-front. To ask for anything more may require consideration of some type of an incentive.
  • Take advantage of conversational opportunities. Electronic surveys are great—I LOVE them, and they have their place. The beauty of conducting phone interviews is the opportunity to actually interact with the customer. Unlike electronic or written surveys, interviews provide the ability to clarify questions, to probe for additional detail, and to discover tangential yet valuable insights that may not have been on your radar. It’s also a great opportunity to practice reflective listening, which helps ensure you get your facts straight, and lets customers know they have been heard and understood. Examples of reflective listening include statements like these: “If I understood you correctly…” or “What I hear you saying is…” and, using your own words, reflect what you heard the customer express to you.
  • Capture the details with care. Electronic and hard-copy surveys provide their own digital or paper trails of data as you collect them. Capturing the content of an interview, however, is up to you. Depending on the circumstances, you may take notes while you are on the interview (for phone interviews, I like to type my notes as we go and use ear buds so both hands are free for the keyboard), you may audio record the interview (though be sure to get permission, and know that most people will share more information if they are not being recorded), or, you may video record the session if visual demonstration (like screen share demos) are relevant. In any case, you will want to have solid documentation that you can refer to as you compile your findings and recommendations.

Do you see how reaching out to your customer base could be one of the easiest and most informative ways to gather the data you need to make better marketing decisions? It’s an opportunity to strengthen goodwill with the people who are already doing business with you, while homing in on what needs to change (and what shouldn’t be touched!).

If you’re not sure you have the bandwidth to reach out to your customers, reach out to me. It will lighten your load, you’ll gain actionable data, and customers will often tell more to an “outsider” like me than to you or another representative inside your company. Let’s see what we can discover, and use it to improve your results!

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