Therefore Strategic Technology Services

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Putting the focus back on the Customer

Staying connected with how your Customers view your company, products and services is crucial to maintaining high levels of customer retention and growth. After all, the end point of the products and services that your business markets is the Customer. The most logical way of finding out how your Customer feels about your Company’s performance, is simply to ask them.

Surprisingly, companies are often reluctant to reach out to Customers and take honest feedback. I believe that the root of this phenomenon is twofold. Firstly, folks don’t want bad news … and human beings are inclined to avoid it like the plague. Years ago an outfit with which I was involved (details not provided for obvious reasons) held a Customer conference of sorts, with a view to taking Customer feedback. The take out from the event was that “Customers were ganging up on us … and we are providing them with a beating stick to do so!” All the great feedback that was received was simply brushed under the carpet. Nothing achieved. Rather bizarrely, the primary learning was never to have a repeat of the event. This introduces the second reason why companies may be disinclined to take feedback from Customers … very often, they simply are not confident that they have the capacity, staying power or political will to act on the input provided. If you ask your Customers what you could do better … and they give you the answer, they expect you to follow through. If you don’t, you lose face.

The long and the short of it … if you intend to canvas your Customer’s opinion … you need to be brave and you need to be committed to act on the feedback provided. If your organization has the maturity to want to work with Customer feedback, it is advisable to make “touching sides with your Customer” a component of your annual strategic planning cycle.

A great way for companies to make sure their whole organization stays informed about what is happening in their Customer’s world is to make use of Focus Groups. It is generally advised that Focus Groups are run by an independent professional, someone that has the necessary skill to steer the conversation such that you get the required feedback. You will need to brief the Focus Group Convener that you hire. The briefing that you put forward will be a key determinant of the quality of the feedback that you acquire. Some thoughts regarding the types of questions that you may want to put forward to the Convenor during the briefing session are presented below:
  1. How do you feel about our products and services?
  2. How do you feel about our company?
  3. What’s your typical buying process for this type of product or service?
  4. What criteria do you use to evaluate potential suppliers?
  5. What’s the decision making process and who’s involved?
  6. If you were looking for this type of product again, what would you do?
  7. What would you type into Google to find a business like ours?
  8. Is our website a helpful resource for you? What would improve it?
  9. Is it easy doing business with us? How can we make it easier?
  10. Where do you experience frustration when doing business with us?
  11. Who do you consider to be our competitors?
  12. What can we learn from our competitors?
  13. Where are we better than our competitors?
  14. What trends do you see in your market right now?
  15. How is the market in which you operate changing? What do we need to do to make sure that we remain relevant to your needs?
  16. If there was one thing we could do better, what would it be?
  17. How could we improve our products / services?
  18. What line extensions should we be looking into?
  19. What are our strongest selling points?
When selecting a Focus Group Convenor, it is suggested that you ask the following questions of the prospects:
  1. Is the session held in camera? Will we be given a copy of the footage?
  2. Is an audio recording taken of the session? Will we be given a copy?
  3. Will a written transcript of the proceedings be made available?
  4. Will the Convenor provide a report that details their independent assessment of the outcome?
  5. Will the Convenor present the above report to your Executive?
  6. What experience does the Convenor have that is relevant to your line of business?
The ideal candidate will respond to questions 1 to 5 in the affirmative and his or her response to question 6 will give you a sense of comfort.

Choosing a venue for the Focus Group is also important. It’s generally better that you don’t use your offices. Neutral ground is better … and it puts the participants at ease. There are some really great facilities available, so have a look around. The professional facilities typically have a one way mirror in place that will allow your Team to monitor proceedings without getting in the way. The Convenor will periodically interact with your Team and take guidance with respect to areas where you would like him or her to probe.

Typically, the Convenor would also play a role in selecting the Focus Group participants. Generally, you would provide the Convenor with your Customer database and he or she would randomly select prospects. A set of prospects that are willing to participate would be identified, a date set … and there you go! There is some degree of science to determining the appropriate sample size and selecting participants. You can rely on your Convenor to guide this process. A well constituted focus group should be representative of the dynamics of your Customer base. As a heads up, you can expect to have to compensate the participants for their time in some way or another. Your Convenor will guide you accordingly.

When you run a Focus Group, you may want the session to be company anonymous … i.e. you don’t tell the participants which company has initiated the session. Anonymous sessions generally provide better competitive context, whereas company specified sessions often give feedback that is better suited for deriving a Customer Service strategy. It’s a complex question. The route that you take will need to be informed by your objectives. I would suggest that you take guidance from the Convenor that you engage.

Once you have held your Focus Group, it is imperative that you develop an action plan to align your company to the observations made. The hard work then becomes prioritizing and taking actions on the feedback. It’s generally advisable to close the loop with the Customer. They have taken the time to give you feedback. You owe it to them to communicate back what you have done with it!

Over a period of time, businesses tend to become inwardly focused … and it’s often easy to forget that there is a Customer out there. Why not allow your staff to review the video footage of the proceedings … and ask them for their thinking? It’s an ideal opportunity to put your Customers back where they belong … centre stage.

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