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When was the last time you talked to your customers?

I don’t mean to take an order. I mean to find out how you can do better. If there hasn’t been a problem you probably don’t see the need, but you are wrong.

Understanding your customers is a vital part of any successful business. I am not just talking about buying patterns or demographics, but what really makes your customers tick. If you are an online business, you rarely, if ever, communicate directly with a customer. If you do, it is most likely to solve a problem.

I’m sure at some point, we all received an email asking us to take a survey and be entered into a drawing to win a gift card or some other prize. This type of survey is a low response survey which you will get about a one to three percent return. They are typically “rate our service on a scale of one to ten”. These are fine tools to get an overall view of how you are doing but ratings of seven or eight doesn’t tell you anything. I’m talking about digging deeper and getting inside your customer’s head and really finding out how they interact with the systems you have in place.

Where do you start?

You can start the recruiting process on your website or with your current customer list. Online you can recruit by adding a pop-up or a quick one question survey with an email field. If you have a good list of customers, select a range from one time purchases to regular customers. Engage by asking them to help you make their experience better. Set the expectation on time or number of questions so they can allot the right amount of time for you.

Always have open ended questions and possible follow-up questions ready. Yes or no questions don’t really give you much to go on. Even if you give them a choice, like x versus y, make sure to ask them why they answered that way.

You also would want to group customers together into in someway. It could be demographic or geographic and in those groups about three to five individuals. The reason for this is you want to see patterns. Having five diverse people will give you five diverse answers. It’s kinda like having a watch telling you one time and a clock another. Which is right? However, seeing that a certain group is having a hard time will give you data on how to fix it.

Ask the right questions

Reaching out to your customers, and asking them about your process. It’s about finding out how your internal systems can be improved. Think about it this way, a 10% conversion rate means that 90% didn’t make a purchase. Why? You may not discover all the reasons, but if you could solve a few think about what that could do to your bottom line?

Ask them how they would fix it. They may not have the technical knowledge but they can tell you things that would make it easier for them. It could be placement of buttons or the number of times they had to go back and forth because not everything fit on one page. Their outside observations can help others who may have similar issues.

Another point to consider is of the ten percent that made a purchase, how many struggled or didn’t understand fully what they were doing and only through trial and error did they figure out how to make the purchase. You can’t assume that because the purchase was completed it wasn’t without issues along the way.

Make it human to human

Don’t rely on survey software to do these interviews. Survey software is good for low level starter questions but doing follow up or asking someone to expand on an answer requires human interaction. Pick up the phone. Remember, you want to get inside the mind of your customer. They may say something in their answer that may spark other questions. The one thing you don’t want to do is keep bothering them with follow-up questions at different times. It should be a one and done interaction. So asking and listening human to human is key.

Don’t be afraid to find out the truth

Just because you spent thousands of dollars on a system doesn’t make it perfect or those that don’t understand it, idiots. We are far from perfect so it is not too much of stretch to assume that what we create is not perfect either. Getting defensive or upset because your interviewee finds your process hard to understand or has too many steps is not going to be helpful. You don’t have to take their advice but you want them to speak freely and not feel hindered by the fact they may hurt your feelings.

This whole process is about fact finding and not selling the idea of how much better your system is better. The information gathered from outsiders can give you a fresh perspective on your process. Truthfully, by doing this with your customers you have already proved your system is better for them because you cared enough to ask their opinion.