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The Lesson That Every Business Owner Learns for Growth

By John Lincoln,
business.com writer
|
Feb 17, 2020
Image Credit: Jacoblund / Getty Images
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No matter what business you are in, there is one lesson and a corresponding process that will lead to better growth and happy customers.

In my experience growing a business, one of the most important lessons I've learned is that if you learn to listen to your market, it will tell you exactly what you need to be successful. 

Most business owners don’t spend enough time listening to their customers. And I get it.

On the surface, listening isn’t the most glamorous business strategy in the game. 

We’re living in a customer-centric world, where brands compete on experience over price or product. It’s through collecting feedback that brands learn how customers think about your brand, your products, your services. 

Understanding your audience means you’ll need to develop a listening strategy that blends multiple types of feedback: structured and unstructured, qualitative and quantitative, solicited and unsolicited.

In this article, I’ll go over some strategies for how you can develop a listening strategy that goes beyond likes and dislikes to chart a path toward improving the customer experience.

Develop a plan of attack

Turning insights into action is easier said than done. 

You’ll need to be intentional about how you collect and organize feedback, mobilize your team toward action, and finally, close the loop with customers.

My recommendation is that you use the following framework as a starting point for building out your listening strategy.

Perception

  • What do customers think about the brand? 

  • Do they receive a consistent experience across all channels?

  • Do target audiences understand the brand’s value proposition?

Problems

  • What issues are customers currently facing? 

  • Are there urgent issues that need to be addressed immediately? 

  • Are you having problems reaching your target market?

  • Do patterns emerge around specific problems? 

  • Is your team aware of these issues? 

Product

  • Does the company meet quality expectations?

  • Is it user-friendly?

  • Does capability development keep pace with competitors?

Act on Insights

  • Flag priorities. Identify which channels, features, and customer segments have the biggest impact on your bottom line.

  • Fix urgent problems first. Start by addressing critical issues, things like bug fixes, communication issues, or website security problems should be first on your to-do list.

  • Move down the list. Once you’ve bolstered the core, then expand outward from it into new segments and new offerings.

Close the Loop

Finally, it's important to make sure you have a plan in place for closing the loop after you've implemented feedback.

Make sure you don't ask for all feedback at once. Segment surveys by market or feature, and fix one issue at a time. 

Otherwise, you won't be able to review, much less follow up on the feedback received. Customers want to know that you’re not just listening, but acting on the input they’ve taken the time to share.

The faster you can respond and implement changes, the better, According to Qualtrics data, collecting real-time feedback improved both employee and customer experiences. Customers felt like their voice made a difference, while employees were able to gain real-time visibility into their most pressing issues.

Surveys

All surveys are not created equal. You'll need to make sure you select the best fit format for your objective. Your survey might collect feedback for any of the following:

  • Why they chose to do business with you. Was it price, free shipping, a special offer, customer reviews? 

  • How they found you. Did they see an ad on social media, receive a recommendation from a friend, or find you on the first page of the Google SERPs?

  • Feedback after service was performed. quality, price, availability, others.

  • Product feedback. How do they feel about price, quality, etc.? Did the product meet expectations?

  • Experience. Was it easy to reach customer service, complete a purchase, resolve an issue?

  • Brand sentiment. What do people think about your brand on a holistic level?

Net Promoter Surveys (NPS)

Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a customer satisfaction benchmark typically used to measure loyalty. The familiar survey method asks customers one simple question, on a scale of 1-10, how likely are they to recommend your brand to a friend?

According to Bain and Company, companies with the highest NPS tend to grow twice as fast as their competitors. This survey aims to measure customer sentiment on a big-picture scale, representing overall brand perception, across multiple touchpoints. 

CSAT Surveys

CSAT surveys are used to measure customer satisfaction with a specific interaction. Where NPS measures long-term sentiment and customer loyalty, CSAT surveys are used to measure satisfaction at individual touchpoints. 

You might use CSAT surveys to follow up with a customer after closing out a support ticket, inside your app to gauge satisfaction with a particular feature, or after a customer completes a purchase to find out if they had an easy time checking out. Surveys alone don't paint the full picture. Scoring systems, no matter how simple, fall victim to individual perceptions of what a good or bad score is.

Some reviewers might say 6/10 is a "good" experience, but if you were to apply that score to a movie rating, chances are it would be considered a flop.

Some people believe there's no such thing as a perfect score and therefore, won't give you a 10/10 NPS score on principle. Others always provide a perfect score unless something went horribly wrong. For numeric surveys, adding a line or two for freeform feedback allows you to learn a bit more about why that person assigned a particular score.

Interview your customers

Qualitative stories from customers add context to quantitative feedback like star-ratings or NPS scores. Here, the goal is to understand the human emotions that drive customer decisions. 

What kinds of questions should you ask? What you ask consumers depends on what you hope to learn by talking to them. 

Write an outline in advance to ensure that questions are structured around your core objective--be it learning about how customers perceive your service team or their experience using a new product.

Open-ended questions give structure to the conversation, while also offering customers the flexibility to expand on any given question if they have more to say. Be sure to remain unbiased and avoid asking leading questions. Instead, start simple and broader questions that focus on one concept at a time. 

Here are a few examples:

  • What do you like the most about the product/service?

  • What would make this product/service better?

  • If you could change one thing, what would it be?

  • Do you have any needs in the future you would like us to help with?

Keeping things broad allows the customer to elaborate on their experience and it presents the opportunity to ask detailed follow-up questions to learn more. Asking follow up questions also shows the customer that you're listening. Repeat key takeaways back to them and ask them to clarify answers or elaborate on a specific point.

The challenge with conducting interviews is, you're working with anecdotal information, making it hard to correlate individual feedback with demographic trends. Other sources of anecdotal feedback can come from salespeople and customer service reps, as they’re getting real-time, front-line feedback every day.

While these daily interactions won't typically dive deep into customer issues, they may reveal frequently asked questions, complaints, or feature requests that you can follow up on later.

Have customers perform a SWOT analysis of your brand

Another strategy you might use is running through a SWOT analysis exercise with customers. 

If you're unfamiliar with the concept, SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Essentially, it's a way for visually assessing the pros and cons associated with a business decision.

Consider having your customers complete a SWOT Analysis to assess your solution. This allows you to gain learn how your audience views your brand in relation to their goals and pain points.

For example:

  • Strengths: What does the consumer like best about your product or service? How would they define your unique value proposition (USP)?

  • Weaknesses: Is there something your solution is missing or doesn't do as well as your competitors? Is the user-experience frustrating, somehow?

  • Opportunities: Opportunities represent the chance for something positive to happen. Here, customers should identify the benefits they'll reap from using your solution or a similar product/service.

  • Threats: Threats represent obstacles from the outside. From the customer perspective, you might seek to find out what they lose by not using your solution or something similar. Essentially, you're asking them to identify pain points/problems.

Social listening

Social listening covers your unsolicited feedback channels from social media mentions to review sites. This process includes tracking specific brand mentions, as well as industry keywords, topics, and competitors. 

Given that there’s a ton of data you can track, here, you’ll want to separate your social listening strategy into different objectives. Examples include:

  • Identifying emerging trends and pain points.

  • Monitoring and responding to mentions and/or public complaints.

  • Soliciting feedback from your audience.

Dig into support channels

Online chat logs, support tickets, and direct messages on social all fall into the support channel category. 

Here, you might look for the following:

  • Average Time to Resolution. According to HotJar research, long wait times were the number one cause of customer friction. How long does it take for service teams to resolve a ticket? How long do customers wait to receive a response? 

  • Frequently Asked Questions. If certain questions keep coming up, it may mean you need to create more self-serve content that answers those questions or clarify your existing messaging.

  • Common Complaints. Do customers complain about a specific touchpoint, product, service rep more than others? 

Wrapping up

Delivering a great experience is no doubt important for every business no matter the size or industry. When you make listening a priority, you’ll develop a deep understanding of your customers and what they want. While it takes some time to learn the ins and outs of turning insights into tailored solutions, listening – actively and with empathy – is the first step toward success.

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John Lincoln
John Lincoln
See John Lincoln's Profile
John Lincoln (MBA) is CEO of Ignite Visibility (a 2017, 2018 & 2019 Inc. 5000 company) a highly sought-after digital marketing strategist, industry speaker and winner of the coveted Search Engine Land "Search Marketer of the Year" award. Ignite Visibility is a leading digital marketing agency specializing in SEO, paid media, social media, creative, email, PR, Amazon and CRO. Founded on the principals of relationships, responsiveness and results, Ignite has been named #1 SEO company, # 1 Paid Media Company, #1 Social Media Company and #1 Digital Agency in the USA. With 16+ years of demanding experience, Lincoln has worked with over 1,000 online businesses including amazing clients such as Office Depot, Tony Robbins, Morgan Stanley, Fox, USA Today, COX and The Knot World Wide. Lincoln has authored thousands of articles, taken hundreds of websites to number one positions in Google for competitive keywords, built social communities to millions of members and worked on many advanced projects in CRO, SEM, influencer marketing, media buys, email, Amazon and affiliate marketing. Lincoln has authored two books, "The Forecaster Method (2019)" and "Digital Influencer (2016)," and is Producer and Director of "SEO: The Movie" and "Social Media Marketing: The Movie". Lincoln has received the Most Admired CEO Award and San Diego's Top Business Leaders Under 40 Award.
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