There are many ways to regularly and systematically listen to your customers. Which tools you use will depend on the size of your business, the nature of your customers, the type of information you are seeking, and your comfort level with the various techniques.
Techniques to get customer feedback include:
1. Focus groups. These groups bring customers and staff together to discuss specific issues. These sessions can provide invaluable feedback and direction on expectations, trends, standards and complaints about service. Focus groups can range from an informal gathering to a structured session using a professional facilitator.
2. Customer satisfaction surveys. Surveys are powerful tools for determining what customers want and for measuring user satisfaction. Surveys can be simple or complex. Data can be collected via mail, telephone or using a form on your Internet web site. The most important thing is to ask the right questions so that actions can be taken to respond to complaints and prevent problems in the future.
3. Hotlines. The customer hotline is one of the most frequently used and most effective methods of staying in touch with customers. By working the hotline you can get a sense of trends and how services are perceived by customers. A toll-free line works best.
4. Comment cards. These are cards that are available where services are provided. They are mailed or faxed in to be analyzed and acted upon.
5. Customer information and education. Attending dog shows, conferences and other educational/industry events is an excellent way to gather data and communicate with customers.
6. Listening to front-line staff. Your sales people know your customers best. Staff who are trained in service skills learn to listen closely to the customer and provide management with feedback that is precise and accurate.
7. Opportunities for customer-related situations. Take every opportunity through visits and face-to-face meetings to find out how well (or poorly) your company is meeting their needs. For example, you should spend time talking to customers who are waiting in line, or visiting customers on their own site.
Make the time and effort to listen to your customers. A business that is out of touch with their customers doesn’t last long!