Have Questions? Ask Your Customers

Have questions? Go to the store: your customers have the answers.

About 50 years ago Sam Walton said that, and never has it been more true. Customers play an increasing role in the design and innovation stages of products and services, driven by a combination of social technology and the adoption of always-on devices. And there are plenty of references to best practices when considering the use of these techniques in your business: for starters, search for “customer ideation platforms.”

Perhaps overlooked, there is another application of direct customer inquiry worth your consideration: after-the-transaction surveys, feedback, and questionnaires. Sure, there are the obvious uses of these tools to get at customer satisfaction. But there’s another use, and it’s related to return on investment (ROI).

Start with the basic transaction itself, and the touch points that are likely to drive conversations. One of my favorite personal examples is MercedesSource, a small firm in Bellingham, Washington that not only hand-packs the parts it sells – including installation instructions and tips – but also includes non-latex gloves and a gumball with each order. I love working on our cars (it’s therapy) and I start each job with a smile when I open the box and see that gumball. Mercedes Benz of Austin concludes each service with a customer survey. These are businesses that want to understand what their respective customers are likely to say before they say it publicly. It’s important to consider the drivers of the conversations (a point made in this column) if you are going to be asking, “Based on this experience, how likely are you to recommend me?”

Moving to the actual transaction, I purchased a replacement Philips Sonicare toothbrush via Amazon.com. Amazon offers a well-known process to provide a rating or leave a review, but how many of us actually do it? The purchase was fulfilled by SquarePrice.com, and with the order it included a card that directly requested feedback. Simply put, asking the questions is half of getting the answers you need to keep your business running, and the easy step of adding a prompt to gather feedback has “best practice” written all over it.

In more formal survey applications, survey firms like ForeSee can be helpful. One caution, however: if you are a fan of NPS (disclosure: I am) you’ll want to consider the impact of the standard ForeSee “Customer Satisfaction Survey” on completion rate and on the observed satisfaction scores themselves. At just over 30 questions there is the potential to not only turn away customers who would have happily answered “the one question you really need to know” (which is of course, “How likely are you to recommend…?”), but also to actually reduce observed satisfaction simply because the survey is itself long and detailed.

Moving beyond transactional satisfaction, how does this relate to ROI? For those implementing social customer care, one of the considerations in proving value is call deflection: the transfer of inbound service questions from more expensive phone-based processes to less-expensive social technologies. One of the questions I’ve seen added to customer care follow-up surveys is, “If we had not provided this channel, would you have called, visited a store, looked for an alternate product…?” This information can be used to quantify otherwise nebulous estimates of call deflection and investment return.

By taking time to gather this data – asking customers what they would have done had your peer support site, Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ not been options – you’ll create a baseline to measure against, and you’ll be able to make a well-supported claim to fiscal ROI in your social customer care programs.

If you haven’t already, consider the application of post-transaction surveys: satisfaction, suggestions, and alternative service paths can all be documented and evaluated when you have this data. So go ahead and follow the advice of Sam Walton: “Ask your customers. They have the answers.”

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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