Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ask your customers!

Treat with utmost respect your power of forming opinions, for this power alone guards you against making assumptions that are contrary to nature and judgments that overthrow the rule of reason.
~Marcus Aurelius

Asking your customers about your business is so important. If you are selling a product or service, both market trends and customer desires should be part and parcel of the decisions you make about your business, especially where those decisions concern a shift in your company’s orientation.

While a customer satisfaction survey about the quality of your customer service provides great information, there is so much more that you should be periodically asking your customers. We are dealing with a very neat entrepreneur who has an exercise/spa business. The spa was not doing well for numerous reasons. To name just a couple, they were having difficulty finding qualified nail and hair technicians and attracting new business.

Recognizing that the spa space was not being used effectively, the business owner decided to make over the space as a wellness center that would offer a dietician and a formal weight loss program. The wellness center scheme sounded like an appealing way to overcome the difficulties with the spa, and the change also seemed to follow a nationwide trend, so the owner decided to move in this direction. However, she never asked her customers if they would support this change in the orientation of the business. Once I asked her if she had sought her customers’ opinions about the change, she quickly realized that she had missed this critical step and that she needed to survey them before proceeding.

When surveying your customers, you must ask the right questions in order to ensure that you are getting valid information to base your decisions on. A student of mine was considering starting a business selling custom motorcycles. As part of this project, he had to conduct a survey in order to gauge the demand for this new business. He went to a motorcycle event and asked as many motorcycle owners as he could to fill out his questionnaire.

Having received an extremely positive response to his survey, he decided that the business was sure to be successful. He based this judgment on the fact that 98 percent of respondents gave a positive answer to the question, “Would you consider purchasing a custom motorcycle?” However, after having some time to reflect on the survey and the question, he realized that it was not valid as most people would consider buying a custom motorcycle.

Following this realization, he amended the question to read, “Would you buy a custom motorcycle that was priced about $5,000 more than a standard motorcycle?” The revised question received positive responses from only one percent of respondents, and he quickly abandoned the idea. As a result of this experience, he learned that asking the wrong question on a survey could potentially sink a new venture.

Each and every business must continually and constantly ask its customers how it can serve them better. Of equal importance, business owners must also frame the questions in a way that extracts the information that is needed.

You can do this!

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