Communication. It's an essential ingredient in any relationship and yet we often underestimate its importance.
Many relationships break down due to 'lack of communication' between the two parties, and the situation is no different in service industries where the nature of that relationship can determine whether the customer decides to stay or go.
Why is it then that in many cases we prefer to operate blind. Ignorance is bliss... or is it?
Check in before they check out
We're now in the sprint to Christmas, the last few weeks of work before most of Australia checks out for two weeks or more to relax, enjoy the sunshine and eat way too much Christmas ham.
As we enter these final weeks, it's worth taking stock and asking yourself: when was the last time we asked our customers if they were happy?
Asking for feedback can often be confronting. If you're the business owner, you may take it personally if you find out that many of your customers don't really like the service you're providing and have one foot out the door. Likewise if you're an employee, you may be reticent to gather feedback on the customers you look after in case the news isn't good. Maybe you are worried your job will be on the line if the outcome is less than desirable.
But the reality is, if you don't ask, you won't know. And how can you improve the situation if you don't know where the problem lies?
Asking your customers to tell you about their experience with your company is - or should be - a critical way for any service-based business to gather formal feedback on how they're travelling. It can help identify how to turn satisfied customers into advocates - and just as importantly - how to turn dissatisfied customers and potential 'switchers' into satisfied customers.
While you may not like what you hear, better that you hear it and address the issues that arise from the research than wait till half your customers walk out the door to find out what you could have done differently.
So what's the best way to check in with your customers and find out how they're feeling?
There are a few options to consider.
Online surveys are the most common way for an organisation to canvass the customer experience. An online survey can be a great way to reach a broad sample of your customers, but only works if you have email addresses for them - and if they are the type of people who will have easy access to a computer. While it's true that most people these days do have access to a computer, if your customers work in the construction or manufacturing industry, where they are spending long periods of the day doing physical work, you may struggle to get a meaningful sample from them online. Online surveys provide you with quantitative data that can be used as a benchmark the next time you repeat the exercise. This way, you can find out whether the changes you made on the back of the last survey had the intended impact or not.
In-depth interviews can be useful if you're seeking some qualitative feedback and don't have a need to establish a benchmark you can use to measure future results against. They can be done on the phone or in person, and have the benefit of allowing people to be more fluid in their responses to your questions than they might be able to through the construct of a survey. They can also be a good alternative to surveys, if you can't reach them online. If you do adopt this approach, make sure that you interview a cross-section of your customers - some new, some that have been with you a long time, some young, some old - as that diversity will help remove some of the biases that you might otherwise gather in the data.
Another qualitative research methodology, focus groups are a formal discussion led by a moderator - usually someone independent to the organisation that is gathering the feedback - that discuss a range of topics set out in a discussion guide developed prior to the event. They're usually used if you're testing a concept or gathering feedback on a specific product or service, rather than trying to gauge satisfaction with the business. The group forum offers some great benefits for drilling deeper into specific areas than you could do in a survey scenario, but the moderator is crucial to ensuring the discussion stays focused and the participants feel comfortable speaking honestly and openly. So it pays to choose someone with strong experience in focus group moderation.
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