Have you ever lost customers and been unsure why? Perhaps you knew of no recent order problems. You may have even had a good relationship with your customer but, without word, orders just stopped coming.
So, what happened? Chances are that the customer was dissatisfied with some part of the ordering experience. Maybe the client wasn’t happy with the size or appearance of the logo on the product, got the order a day later than requested or felt the price was more than expected, based on your quote. Regardless of what caused the client to be unhappy, he or she didn’t feel the problem was big enough to notify you. Still, the next time he or she needed promotional items, another distributor got the order.
Ouch. And, you could be very close to losing another customer this very minute. How can you prevent your business from suffering this kind of customer attrition? The answer is research. Researching your customer’s satisfaction is a sure-fire way to weed out these little problems and fix them before they cost you business and sales.
The term “market research” often inspires fear in the hearts and wallets of business owners everywhere, but it doesn’t have to! While you may not be ready to take on a full-scale research project, there is one simple way you can learn more about your customer’s satisfaction with minimal investment, no additional equipment and great results: qualitative phone research.
The Telephone: The Most Valuable Research You May Ever Do
If market research is conjuring up ideas of complex surveys and hours of analysis, think again. Phone research can be much simpler, and it is arguably the most valuable research you will ever do. Why? Because it gives you another point of contact with your customers where you can work on developing a strong relationship. You’ll also demonstrate that you are concerned about their happiness and stand at the ready to make things right if there is any problem. A customer might not call you to complain about something minor, but if you call and ask, they will most likely divulge everything.
The easiest kind of phone research to implement is qualitative research, which involves collecting, analyzing and interpreting data by observing what people do and say. It is not analyzed using complicated formulas, but by reading customer interviews to gain insight into their experiences with your company and discover trends. Not only does it help you determine whether your customers are satisfied, it also helps you correct any immediate problems and hopefully retain a customer who wasn’t happy with an order.
Implementing this type of research is simple. Either you or your staff will place a call immediately following every order that your business completes. The caller will ask the customer specific questions about his or her experience with the ordering process, satisfaction with the product delivered and overall satisfaction with your company.
Record the responses in writing and compile them so they can be analyzed over time. If a customer reports an immediate problem or dissatisfaction with the order, the caller should take steps to fix the situation and mend the customer relationship.
First, decide who will be conducting the research. Of course, a call from the owner or president of the business will make the customer feel special, but if that is not an option, choose a sales associate or CSR who works closely with customers and has a very professional demeanor.
Second, decide what you want to learn from the phone calls. It is recommended that you at least ask about your customer’s satisfaction with the quality of the product, the quality of your service and the overall order. If you have other specific areas of the customer relationship that you are wondering about, include questions about those, as well. Remember that, when choosing questions, you want to keep the call to a reasonable length. Also consider this: Questions should not have yes-or-no answers. Ask open-ended questions, such as, “If you could change anything about this order, what would it be?” This will yield more interesting and insightful results.
Finally, compose a script for your chosen staff. They should introduce themselves as representatives of your company, stress the importance of customer satisfaction to your company, proceed through the questions and close with a heartfelt “thank you.” Practice the script with them and let them make a few practice calls to get the hang of listening and writing. Make sure they know how to handle a difficult customer or one who has a serious problem to report. Once your staff is ready, let the follow-up research begin!
The Cardinal Rules of Gathering Customer Feedback
Before you begin to implement research, it is important to read and understand the following rules for gathering feedback:
- Make it quick and easy. How long are you willing to spend on a phone interview for your suppliers? Divide that in half, and that’s the amount of time you should expect your customers to spend giving you feedback – especially the first time you ask them to participate! Keep the conversation brief. Your customers will appreciate your efforts to ensure their satisfaction a lot more if it does not interrupt the flow of their busy schedule.
- Ask structured questions. How would you respond if someone asked you, “Could you give me some feedback on your recent order?” Many people would not have immediate feedback and might ask to return the call or simply say they’re too busy to respond. Instead, ask specific and structured questions, such as, “Did the quality of the product meet your expectations? Why or why not?”
- Don’t argue with a customer. If a customer begins to describe a problem he or she had during the ordering process, be very careful not to argue with that side of the story! Even if you think the person is being unreasonable or using the feedback session to launch a fullscale complaint against your company, you should not disagree or make excuses. Remember, you have asked for feedback, and if the customer feels you are criticizing that feedback, he or she will not be open to giving it again. If the customer is this unhappy with your services, it’s also likely that he or she was not planning to order again, so now is your chance to make it right! In the end, it comes back to one of the simplest principles in business: the customer is always right.
- Say, “Thank you.” Feedback can be very valuable to you and your business, as it can help you grow, improve and save customer relationships. Think about what it’s worth to you, and thank your customers for participating accordingly. A heartfelt thank-you note with a spec sample or small logoed gift can encourage customers to participate in future research efforts and is a great opportunity to introduce them to a new product! Appropriate thank-you notes and gifts will also make them more willing to participate in longer and more in-depth research efforts that you may want to conduct later.
This particular type of phone research will yield written records from the interviews that provide information and insight into the experience of each customer. The easiest way to analyze your interviews is to read each of them and carefully consider what your customers are saying. You should take notes while reading them and see if trends emerge. If all of your customers are dissatisfied with a certain product or employee, that trend will show, and you will be able to make the necessary changes to avoid those comments in the future. Conversely, if one customer is frustrated with a particular situation, you are able to make an immediate fix.
Many online resources can help you learn more about conducting research to determine customer satisfaction. Once you have begun conducting some basic phone research, you may begin to see the benefit of research in your business. At that point, you might consider contracting an outside firm to complete a more in-depth study on your customers or on your prospects. You can then use the results in your marketing materials as it is conducted by an independent agency.
Your customers may not always give you the feedback you need to maintain a healthy relationship. It’s up to you to create opportunities for them to share concerns. Telephone research provides you an easy, cost-efficient way to ensure those relationships are strong.
This article was written by Julie Cajigas for Corporate Logo Magazine. Reprinted with permission.
Julie Cajigas is a public relations manager for Proforma, a leading provider of graphic communications. Proforma serves more than 30,000 clients through its 650 member offices in the United States and Canada. Learn more at www.proforma.com, or contact Cajigas at firstname.lastname@example.org.