4 Steps to Better Customer Research

Last night I received an email from a hotel chain asking me to review a recent stay. I’m a fan of this particular chain, like their properties, and the one I stayed at wasn’t one of their best, so I thought I’d be helpful and answer this survey. Problem is, I never finished.

Screen shot 2010-11-30 at 6.45.03 AM
Like to many surveys, especially eMail surveys, this one asked too many questions. They didn’t just ask about my stay, they asked about whether or not I’d recommend the brand to others, other stays, etc. I get WHY they did this… the resulting information would be very helpful.

But information is only good if you actually acquire it. I only got about 60% of the way through.

Customers will tell you things…important things…things that will help make you successful. But your customers are not being paid to teach you. So instead of asking for everything, try asking for just the basics. Get what you really need.

Building a Better Survey
In my case this would have been a simple questionnaire like:

  1. Did you enjoy your stay?
  2. What did we do well?
  3. What didn’t live up to your expectations?

You could even insert an open ended question or two to gain additional free form input. Then, maybe a few days later you could send me another short questionnaire with a thank you for answering the first one and a request to learn a bit more about my previous answers. In this second questionnaire you could dive more into any issues I had. Where they service or property issues? Was it that I had a bad experience or just one that didn’t live up to my brand expectations?

Again, if you keep it short, I’m likely to answer. And you can then send me another email in a few days thanking me for answering the second email. If you still need/want more data at this point you could probably try to drop a few more questions in this third email… but anything after that might be pushing it.

Training Customers to Respond
Another thing you may want to consider, if you’re really hoping for constant feedback from customers is to actually thank them with something for taking the time. By doing so, you might begin to train them to want to answer your questionnaires, emails and Twitter/Facebook prods for input. Doesn’t have to be anything huge. For instance, the hotel might send me an email coupon for two free waters upon arrival in my room or better yet, free high-speed internet on my next stay. Neither of these have a huge cost but both have a huge implied value to me.

On Twitter and Facebook, you can constantly ask questions and thank your respondents. A simple Thank You shoutout to everyone that takes a second to respond can be huge. Want to go farther? Randomly pick a few respondents and just announce they’ve won today’s Customer Feedback prize.

Going Beyond Traditional Research
The beautiful thing about creating and engaging in digital conversations with your customer is that it reduces your need to launch and manage research campaigns. Like the small shopkeeper, you begin to know your customers. Detailed tracking of customer complaints and praise becomes less important. You’ll know what is working or not working because you’ll hear it over and over again.

Many traditional researchers discount the value of Twitter/Facebook research. They’ll cite sample bias, survey design, etc. All of that has merit but over time I’ve found both of these platforms have real value. In fact, last spring we uncovered what traditional research later determined was one of the top 3 hurdles to purchase for a major CPG brand. How did we find it? We had a hunch and we threw that hunch out on Twitter. Within 10 minutes we had the answer, which we presented to the brand management team. I’ll be writing that up in a future post, but the point is, social media platforms are a great way to go beyond traditional research to gain quick, focused consumer feedback.

Getting High Tech & Realtime
Go buy a couple of iTouches or iPads, make sure you have wifi in your office/hotel/restaurant/shop and image from www.learningsolutionsmag.com create a simple online survey using something like Survey Monkey. Then, while the customer is being checked out, paying their bill, etc., ask them if they would mind letting you know how you did for them today and hand them the device. You might be surprised how many folks will take the survey if for no other reason than they think it is “cool” or want to play with an iPad. Best of all, you can have the survey finish by dumping the person to a mobile friendly version of your website where they can sign up for your eNewsletter, DailyDeals, etc.

Getting customer feedback to become automatic and constant might just be one of the biggest struggles a business owner has today. However, if you can create the machine and then leverage the insights, it could also be the most powerful tool in your marketing arsenal.

So I shared a few of my ideas for getting better input. What about you? Are you seeing or doing anything that is really working? Do you have that great idea that someone should implement to improve the quality and quantity of consumer feedback? Care to share?


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About Tom Martin

Tom is 25+ year veteran of the sales & marketing industry with a penchant for stiff drinks, good debates and showing companies how to Sell Greatly, and turn conversations into customers. He is the founder of Converse Digital , author of The Invisible Sale and a contributing writer for Advertising Age. Tom guides clients through the digital sales & marketing maze and helps companies teach their sales force how to Painlessly Prospect their way to more sales. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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