Your customers are each individual people. No one customer is exactly the same as the next one. When performing your market research, you will undoubtedly come across and/or use such terms as: target market, demographics, household income, etc.
It is crucial, though, to realize that though this data is valuable, it is nothing more than looking at the entire forest instead of the individual trees. When you take the time to look at the individual tree, it has the ability to teach you more about the entire forest than you could ever learn by only looking at the whole forest.
Getting to know your customers on an individual level does a few things that are to your advantage:
- It provides you with a unique opportunity to learn exactly what it is that brings that customer to your business instead of a competitor.
- You demonstrate your true appreciation of your customers and inadvertently encourage your customers to increase their word-of-mouth marketing on your behalf. People love to talk about businesses/companies that treated them right, particularly when they are asked for a recommendation.
- By learning from an individual customer, you are able to gain a greater understanding of how all of your customers think, specifically, and with detail.
Knowing who is in your target market and what their general demographics are is definitely important. But equally, if not more so, as important, is the understanding of what makes your individual customers tick.
How do you do that exactly? A customer survey, whether formal or informal, is the most common way of doing this. There are some key things to keep in mind when preparing your survey and when conducting your survey.
When preparing your survey:
- Start with the end in mind. Know what you’re trying to accomplish with the survey. Keep the questions focused in on this objective. Don’t ask for more information than what you really need to gain perspective on the things you’d like to know. For example, asking your customer what kinds of pets they have only makes sense if your product serves either the pets themselves or handles the concerns of a pet owner.
- Be objective with your questions. Don’t lead customers into saying that they love your product or hate your product, rather use questions that remain neutral and give your customer the ability to answer honestly – and without having to feel bad for being honest.
- Use open ended questions for at least part of your survey. Give your customers a chance to tell you more and in their own words. If you are conducting an informal, verbal survey, this is very easy to accomplish and can provide some of the best information you could ever ask for.
- Make the language simple and easy to understand. Don’t use jargon, industry-speak, acronyms, etc. Make sure you don’t try and inflate the appearance of your intelligent by using big words. Use language that your customers will understand, but be careful not to use language that is too simple and therefore insults your customers’ intelligence.
When conducting the survey:
- Treat your research just as you would any customer interaction. Use respect and regard your customers’ information with the utmost respect.
- Don’t argue/debate with an answer. This defeats the purpose entirely. If you customer gives you an answer you don’t like, ask them how they would suggest fixing the issue. Take down their answer, and move on.
- Tell your customers what your objectives are. By telling the customer what your objectives are you provide them with the right mental framework to answer questions in a way that is the most helpful and beneficial to your success in achieving those objectives.
- Use multiple surveying methods. Some customers will prefer to just fill out a postcard with some answers. Others would prefer you email them a survey they can answer online. Others will appreciate a phone call (usually only customers you have a close relationship with, and only those who have given you permission to call them), and many would love to answer a few questions in person while that are at your location.
- Provide something of value in return for participation. This provides both an incentive for your customers to participate in the survey, and also gives you an easy way to say thank you. Try to steer clear of giving store credit, if possible. Store credit is nice, but a gift card for $5-$10 will be much more appreciated. Also, offering “a chance to win” is not really an incentive for most people.
The bottom line: get to know your customers as individuals. You’ll learn a whole heck of a lot more about what your customers in general really want.