Today is Election Day, and across America, people from a wide swath of life and experiences will cast their votes for an array of candidates and ballot initiatives. This process will unfold in big cities and small towns alike, all with a singular purpose: giving constituents the opportunity to voice their individual opinions. In some cases, the feedback will result in significant, wholesale changes; while in others, voting results will reaffirm an existing direction. Nevertheless, the premise is the same: getting constituent feedback to plot the course forward.
This scenario can, and should, play out in the corporate setting. Companies should welcome the opportunity to get constituent (customer) feedback, and seek it out on a regular basis. Too often, business gets in the way, and customer input isn’t received until it’s too late to do anything about it. Smart organizations recognize the value of getting feedback about the products and services their customers are using. Listening to what your customers have to say isn’t a one-shot task; rather, it’s a fluid, ongoing process that incorporates multiple business groups and client segments.
Should your company ask for customer feedback? In a word, yes. When companies create a business plan, an important part of the plan is a comprehensive competitive analysis. This is critical in understanding the company’s position in the marketplace. To accurately compete this process, a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) should be conducted. Asking for, and receiving, customer feedback on a regular basis has many benefits that, together, resemble a SWOT matrix. These include:
Strengths (What Works Well)
Everyone wants to hear that someone else thinks they are (insert superlative). Companies are no different. Getting customer feedback helps companies understand how their product or services add value. Knowing why customers are staunch advocates for your products or services is invaluable competitive information. Get it, and use it to your advantage to crush the competition.
Weaknesses (What Could Be Better)
It’s been said that when people have a bad product or service experience, they will tell ten other people about it. While this describes individual consumer behavior, it also has meaning in the corporate world. By actively seeking customer feedback, companies will uncover product or service issues that clients are experiencing. Understanding and improving the customer experience is not optional. Customers want to know that their voices are heard. Ignore them at your own peril.
Who knows industry trends better than your customers? If your customers are investment firms, then you know that they operate in a heavily regulated environment that requires them to anticipate change. Obtaining regular feedback from these firms will help your company stay abreast of industry trends. Using customer feedback to anticipate future needs and then design practical solutions opens the door of opportunity. If it knocks, will your company be there to answer?
Whereas customer feedback helps companies pinpoint opportunity, it also identifies threats. These are threats that could challenge the future viability and success of your company, such as:
- Changing regulations that could render your company’s flagship products and services obsolete
- New competitive forces that may arise where competition was previously scarce
- Industry trends that would adversely impact your company’s operations (i.e. reduced demand for outsourcing)
Getting customer feedback will help your company identify potential threats before they arrive. Adaptation is a key to the longevity and staying power of companies. Adapt, improvise and overcome.
Companies create and follow a strategic roadmap that guides all business functions, including product development, marketing, sales, operations and finance, among others. To build a flexible, scalable strategic roadmap, companies often solicit customer feedback. For a company providing analytics software to the investment industry, obtaining insight from customers about current/future needs is invaluable. The feedback may help prioritize product development objectives (if enough customers, or the biggest customers, are asking for something to solve pain points), along with sales and marketing efforts. If your clients are willing to give you a blueprint to follow, why not follow it?
There are several ways for companies to obtain customer feedback that are well known, though often under-utilized:
- Formal client surveys (email, newsletters, tools like SurveyMonkey)
- Online and print polls
- Social media interaction and engagement (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter)
- Information gathering through business development processes
Regardless of the method, companies need to get regular, open feedback from customers. Don’t be afraid to ask clients to give you their honest opinions. They’ll appreciate you asking for their input, and you’ll get invaluable information about how to keep them as a customer.
Ask and you shall receive.