Are you taking the time to pick up the phone and talk to your customers (and prospects) about what they need most?

Listening to Customers Through Research

There’s nothing quite like that light-bulb moment, the one when you dream up your next product or service — or even your next business. It’s easy when that light-bulb is glowing above your head to rush forward with plans, make investments and start marketing your fresh idea. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But, there’s a specific and invaluable task that should be completed somewhere between that light-bulb moment and the planning, investing and marketing to follow.

You must listen to your prospective customers.

A Willingness to Hear Hard Truths

Conducting market research and listening to our prospective customers is how we validate our light-bulb moments. You see, there’s a difficult truth in this: Not all light-bulb moments are worth pursuing. By listening to prospective customers, you can save a lot of pain and heartbreak down the road — even if that means your idea for a new product, service or business doesn’t become a reality.

And here’s a more encouraging truth: It’s never too late to start listening to your prospective (or current customers). Have you been in business a year? Five years? Ten years? It’s so easy to say: “I know what my customers want.” But do you? Spend some time listening and you may find that the responses surprise you.

The responses may also serve as a catalyst to take your business to new heights. You never know when you’re going to glean an insight, hear for the first time a complaint, or receive feedback that completely transforms your approach to doing business.

How High Tech IQ Started

Alvin and I learned the hard way about the importance of listening to prospective customers. We’ve both spent time at companies that failed to listen to their customers, and we’ve both started our own ventures without testing the market and listening to the people we want to serve.

It’s tempting, isn’t it? By actually listening to prospective customers, you run the risk of learning that your idea isn’t so fantastic. And by actually listening to existing customers, you run the risk of learning that you’re not doing as good a job as you thought.

It’s akin to not checking your bank account because you know deep down you’ve been overspending. And it’s akin to not checking your email because you’re behind on key projects and deadlines, and you just know colleagues are urgently checking up on your progress. You can easily insulate yourself from the bad news — but it’s not going to benefit you in any way.

Alvin and I took a different approach when starting High Tech IQ. We’re listening. In fact, that’s just about all we’ve done so far. And it’s been an amazing experience.

We’ll spend 30 minutes or an hour at a time on the phone or in-person with an owner, a founder, a business development officer or another executive from a technology company. You learn a lot during those conversations, and some of the insights are worth their weight in gold.

Finding Snippets of Clarity

What exactly are you listening for when you listen to your customers or prospective customers? You’re in business because you believe you have a product or service that can solve someone else’s challenges and frustrations. So that’s what you listen for: What are your customers’ greatest challenges and frustrations?

When Alvin and I talk to owners, founders and executives, we hear challenge after challenge and frustration after frustration. They sound a little bit like this:

  • “If only I could get in front of the right people to make the sale.”
  • “People have just forgotten about our brand.”
  • “We’re more expensive than the competition, and we’re having a harder time convincing prospects that we offer more value.”
  • “We’ve tried different marketing firms and a few in-house people, but nothing seems to be working.”
  • “We bought a list, but no one on it wants to talk to us.”

Each of these comments came up naturally during our conversations. And each represents a frustration or challenge that is holding a business back. These types of insights are invaluable as you create your brand identity, develop products and services, market your company, and even as you work with customers on a daily basis.

There’s nothing like understanding their situation and interacting empathetically with them at all times.

How to Listen

What are the best ways to listen to your customers? There are several that represent a range of intensiveness, from low impact to high. Here’s a look at several of the ways you can start listening to your customers:

Feedback Forms: Do you request feedback on your website or in other places your customers visit? This is pretty low-hanging fruit. Simply add a contact form to your site with a headline that reads: “How are we doing?” Of course, gird yourself to hear lots of complaints. Satisfied customers rarely provide feedback — you much more likely to hear from dissatisfied customers through a feedback form.

Surveys: Do you give customers a chance to share their thoughts at the end of an engagement? This can be as simple as creating a survey using free tools (like Survey Monkey) and then sending an email. You can even send mass emails to past customers using other free tools (like MailChimp). It’s a small step that could deliver hugely valuable insights just after customers have done business with you.

Pick Up the Phone: This is about as easy as it gets … And yet so few of us do it. Talking on the phone is a slowly dying pastime, but it’s one that can yield incredible insights that help your business improve and grow. Pick up the phone and call one of your customers. Then do the same thing the next day. And the next. The call need not be formal, and you don’t have to prepare much. Just pick up the phone and ask these three simple questions: 1) What are your most pressing challenges and frustrations right now? 2) How are we doing? 3) If you could wave a magic wand and make one change about how we serve you, what would it be? There, done. That’s easy enough, right? You just have to make the time.

Sit-Downs: Have an upcoming meeting with a client? Before the day of the meeting arrives, ask your client if you can carve out just a few minutes to talk about the relationship. Make sure they know you want brutal honesty, and then ask them the same three questions listed above. A sit-down is better than talking over the phone given how much of our communication is non-verbal.

Scientific Research: If you want to really get into listening to customers, and if you want to get past the self-selection problem that leads to an overwhelming number of complaints via feedback forms, choose scientific research. This may require an outside market research firm, one that can develop a method that includes both quantitative and qualitative approaches. For example, you could survey your customers using a random sample (quantitative) and then follow up with in-depth interviews or focus groups (qualitative). Scientific research should result in reliable and valid results that you can truly act upon with full confidence — though it is the most expensive and time-consuming path to take.

One last thought on how to listen: Don’t wait until your customers’ frustrations are boiling over. The middle of a project is not the right time to conduct a survey. The point of crisis is not the time to sit down for a chit-chat to ask about the quality of service you’re providing. The best times to listen are when a project is fully complete, when you haven’t worked with a client in a while, or when there’s enough distant from a problem or issue that all parties can properly reflect.

The Benefits of Listening

Yes, listening to your customers can be time-consuming and it can even require an investment depending on the approach you take. But the benefits are innumerable, including the following:

Constant Improvement: When you listen to your customers, you can’t help but take their feedback and put it into action — which leads to natural and constant quality improvement.

Customer Retention: When you listen to your customers, they feel valued. And when customers feel valued, they are far less likely to leave you for the competition.

Competitive Research: You’re probably not the first service provider your customers have interacted with or tried out. When you listen to your customers, you may discover what competitors are offering them or even how competitors have approached the same services in the past.

Confident Trajectory: To use a cliché, you’re flying blind when you choose not to listen to your customers. When you listen and respond to customer feedback, you can set a confident trajectory for your company’s future.

Advocate Development: Finally, listening to your customers allows you to identify your brand advocates. When you discover that someone’s deeply satisfied with your services, you can turn to that person for testimonials and referrals — which are incredibly valuable.

Knowing is Half the Solution

We all want to get better at what we do. What’s harder is taking the actions needed to actually improve on a regular basis. But just knowing where you can improve is half the solution. When you listen to your customers, you don’t have to guess at where you can get better, and you don’t have to arbitrarily choose the products or services you want to address. When you choose to listen, you know in your customers’ own words exactly where you stand. And you also know the opportunity in front of you.

Need help getting started with listening to your customers? We’re here for you. Just reach out using our Contact form.