By Ann Amati | Guest Writer
This post originally appeared on ezonearticles.com and is published here with the permission of the author.
The first thing that comes to mind when most people think customer feedback is customer survey. While a checkbox survey will give you data, it’s not the right approach for a company that manages only a few (or a few dozen) important relationships per year.
[Note: This article uses construction-industry examples]
Interviews Succeed Where Surveys Fail
Checkbox surveys are designed to produce findings that are easy to analyze. Unfortunately, people hate surveys. It can happen that the customers with the most useful insights aren’t the ones who’ll complete a checkbox survey.
For most construction-related companies, a few customers determine how successful your company will be this year. Therefore, it’s much smarter to reach out to important customers one-on-one. You want to learn how they view you and your competitive landscape. You also want to know what their current business priorities are.
To make this kind of initiative more successful, don’t reach out to everyone all at once and ask everyone the same set of questions. Instead, narrow your scope:
- Decide what you want to know
- De clear about why you want to know it
- Determine who the best contacts are to help you amass information you can use
Even when the focus is narrow, planning a series of customer feedback interviews can quickly become overwhelming. Members of the senior team might not find the time to complete the initiative. And if you assign the project to someone who is too junior, your customers might not fully engage. When this kind of project is executed internally, it’s best to approach it in small bites. However, when time is of the essence, you can outsource customer feedback interviews to someone you trust with your customers.
What can you expect to learn? Let’s look at what a general contractor, a sub and a supplier learned from their customers.
What the General Contractor Learned
One general contractor, or GC, reached out to three customer groups to amass three distinct bodies of knowledge.
- Loyal customers are experts at what’s so great about you. The general contractor’s loyal customers were able to help articulate the company’s competitive advantages. They also offered feedback about the company’s people and operations.
- Dormant customers know why they haven’t contacted you in recent years. When asked, the GC’s dormant customers addressed nuanced subjects, such as competitiveness and match.
- Perennial prospects know you but haven’t yet chosen you. During their customer feedback project, this general contractor’s perennial prospects each spelled out what he will have to do to displace incumbent GCs.
This could easily have been three separate projects.
Customer Input the Shape the Five-Year Plan
In another example, a subcontractor was looking ahead to developing a five-year strategic plan. The ownership team knew it would be wise to let customer opinions influence their priorities. What they wanted was an assessment of how they were regarded by the general contractors and owners who represented 40 percent of their prior year’s revenue. Were the relationships secure? What was the lingering impact of the occasional odd incident? Were customers in favor of changes the sub was considering?
The sub learned about:
- Their competitiveness in the selection process
- The strengths and weaknesses of their job-site performance
- How partner-oriented their business practices were
The sub was pleasantly surprised to learn what past (puzzling) incidents were really about. More importantly, the company rebuilt dormant relationships and won projects they otherwise wouldn’t have been invited to bid.
Customers Illuminate the Causes of Lost Business
The final example spotlights an out-of-state facility owned by a local materials supplier. In the midst of a construction boom, the satellite facility was losing to its competitors. Nobody could figure out why.
Similar to the general contractor's project, the supplier debriefed:
- Loyal customers
- Customers who bought from multiple suppliers
- Prospects who called for quotes but never purchased (or who had last placed an order years ago)
The owner learned how customers viewed his salespeople. He also learned about a subtle change in that location’s competitive landscape. Customer interviews told him where the gaps were that cost him business and where the added value was that kept loyal customers loyal.
You Don't Know Until You Ask
In conclusion, in none of these cases would a survey have delivered the ‘ah-ha’ moments that were turning points for these firms. Why? Because surveys are rigid. Further, the results are ambiguous. On a scale from 1 to 10, “4” doesn’t tell you what to do.
Conversational interviews are fluid. One benefit is, during interviews, customers introduce topics you wouldn’t have known to include. And that’s what you’re trying to learn: What’s on our customers’ minds? What do they really think and want?
Rather than opt for a checkbox survey because it’s efficient and inexpensive, recognize that insightful guidance from a handful of customers can help you take action that helps narrow the gap between your current revenues and your company’s full revenue potential.
When it comes to what customers are thinking, it’s better to know than to not know. And the way to know is to ask.
Bonus: Visit my website’s contact page for a link to download “Surviving the Next Downturn: Tips for Subcontractors.”
About the Author
Ann Amati, a Principal at Deliberate Strategies Consulting, helps companies use guidance from their current and past customers to grow future sales. She has a 20-year track record of using deep-dive interviews to create positive turning points in her clients’ relationships with their customers.
In her national practice, Ann has clients who sell millions to companies that make billions and sole practitioners/LLCs with more modest practices.
Contact Ann Amati when you want to know what your customers think. You’ll start making faster, more confident decisions.
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