Domino's made headlines recently by admitting customers hated its pizza, and pledged a complete pizza makeover. It was a rare instance of a company asking customers what they thought, and then actually doing something about it. The company decided to reinvent its core product "from the crust up."
That takes guts, and it offers a lesson to many small businesses who only think they are giving customers what they want. In reality, says new product development expert Dan Adams, president of Advanced Industrial Marketing, most are only giving customers what the business wants them to want. In effect, they start with a product and then try to talk customers into giving it their stamp of approval. But that's a backwards approach.
Here are four steps you can take to REALLY learn from your customers.
1) Change how you talk to customers. Many businesses pay lip service to the idea of asking customers what they want, but often don't really listen. Reconsider how you are collecting customer feedback. Are you doing it in a way that really engages the customer so that you can get the truth?
"There's no substitute for respectful dialogue with customers," says Adams, whose own process helps B2B suppliers elicit idea-generating, peer-to-peer conversations with customers. "When you can get people really focused on what they need and want from you you'll get their honest opinions. And that raw honesty is what you need."
2) Don't rely on sales reps alone to capture customer needs. Sales people are unlikely to uncover what customers really want and need if they are rewarded for near-term selling, can't reach true decision makers, or aren't calling on most of the customers in your target market segment. Instead, put a good salesperson on a team with marketing and technical colleagues, train all of them in advanced interviewing methods, and you'll run circles around your competitors.
3) Act on what you're hearing. Many small business owners ask customers for feedback with the best of intentions. But when they start hearing things they don't like, they find a million reasons to explain it away. As a result, the feedback never gets translated into action. "Either they don't really want to change what they're doing or they don't trust the customer or they don't trust themselves to understand what the customer wants. A good interviewer knows how to dig deep and figure out the customer's hidden needs," says Adams. "And a smart business owner will take action to meet those needs, no matter what."
4) Be willing to ditch products or services and launch new ones. Too many small businesses start with their solution, and then simply try to validate it by showing it to some customers. And they measure market needs by watching sales results. But that's backwards. "Begin with customer needs and end with supplier solutions," says Adams. "Intelligent customers can detect your validation a mile away. They sense you are more interested in your idea than in them -- and that doesn't do much for the long-term relationships you need to build."