By Jim Roddy
Six data-collecting tactics to help you listen to your customers, plus best practices for acting on what they say
The most successful, innovative software developers I’ve worked with have not only gigantic ears (figuratively speaking) but also turbo-charged feet. They spend inordinate resources obtaining customer feedback and then respond quickly and thoroughly when adjustments need to happen.
Let’s talk through both aspects of that equation. First, let’s start with a lightning- quick customer service quiz as a refresher:
- Question #1: True or false: The customer is always right.
- Question #2: True or false: We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen to customers twice as much as we speak to them.
- #1: False. The customer is not always right because they don’t always fully understand what their problem/challenge is, and they don’t always understand the best way IT solutions providers can help them achieve their desired outcomes.
- #2: True. We should listen more than we speak. That will help us understand when the customer is right, when they’re wrong, and how we can best help.
BEST PRACTICES FOR COLLECTING CUSTOMER FEEDBACK
The first computer programming advice I ever received was “garbage in, garbage out.” That applies not just to coding, but also to crafting your products and services to meet customer needs. If you shortcut the data-gathering process, you could waste resources on a product enhancement that gives minor lift to 3 percent of your customers instead of using the same amount of effort (or less) on an enhancement that would provide significant value to 60 percent of your users.
Below is by no means a comprehensive list of data-collecting tactics, but these are the methods most mentioned during my ISV engagements over the years:
- Surveys: At least once a year, conduct an online survey of your customers for a snapshot of how they feel about your product and your customer service. This will uncover any blind spots you have and will provide you with a foundation for customer discussions going forward.
- Phone Outreach: If you only talk with customers when they’re experiencing problems with your software, you’re doing it wrong. Set aside time to proactively engage with your customers away from day-to-day distractions. Deepen your understanding of what you learned in your online survey to ask questions such as, “Some of our users said ____. Have you had a similar experience?”
- Inbound Calls/Chat Sessions: Taking care of the customer’s immediate needs is foremost, but while you have them on the call, take a minute to ask questions such as, “What could we be doing better for you?” or “What innovations or changes would you suggest for our software?”
- Conduct QBRs (Quarterly Business Reviews): Similar to the phone outreach concept, take time to help your customers work “on” their business instead of just wrestling with daily operations. QBRs with end users and reseller partners will enable you to understand where their businesses are heading and will give you intel on how you can adapt your product to stay a step ahead. Of course, you can’t conduct QBRs with every customer or reseller, so be selective with which meetings will be the most impactful.
- User Groups: I can still vividly recall the first software user group meeting I attended, held at some nondescript hotel suite off the Vegas strip (that sounds like the beginning of a crime story, doesn’t it?). Most of the ISV’s resellers were in town for a large industry trade show, so the VARs were invited to stop by, talk shop, take the planned upgrade for a test drive, and share what functions and features their end users desired. There were several “a-ha” moments for both sides.
- Monitor Social Media: Set up alerts for comments about your company — and your competition. Just like settlers literally kept an ear to the ground to hear hoofbeats headed their way, you should monitor rumblings about your company.
DON’T JUST LISTEN — ACT!
You could implement all six data-gathering tactics I listed above, but if you never take action on what you learned, you will only frustrate your customers. I won’t tell you the exact steps your business should take — that’s dependent upon the feedback you receive — but I will share four best-practice principles related to acting on customer comments.
If you receive negative feedback the first day your survey is open, don’t wait until the survey closes two weeks later to reply to your customer. By that point, their blood pressure will only have risen because now they presume you don’t care about them or their thoughts. This principle applies also to inbound calls and chat requests. A complicated automated attendant that results in customers waiting to talk with a live person may be efficient for you, but it’s infuriating to your customers. Even if your staff member who first answers the call can’t help solve the problem, the customer will feel some level of satisfaction they have aired their complaint (vs. listening to campy hold music).
PROVIDE FREQUENT UPDATES.
For issues and requests that can’t be resolved immediately, follow up with your customer to let them know you’re working on their situation. If you don’t provide updates, the customer will assume their issue has fallen through the cracks or is a low priority. For urgent customer problems, you may need to update them every few hours to share the progress you’ve made. For product enhancements that might take weeks, months, or quarters to complete, a regularly scheduled email will be helpful to those who are concerned with that issue. The goal you’re aiming to achieve is the customer thinking, “They heard me and are making progress.”
ASSIGN A PDR (PERSON DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE).
When there’s a pop fly in baseball, one player needs to shout, “I got it! I got it!” so there’s no confusion among the players converging on the ball. If you don’t have a PDR to respond to each item of the customer’s feedback, it won’t get done, and you’ll drop the ball. A month later, the team will look back on the situation, and zero progress will have been made. Be very clear about who the PDR is, exactly what actions and outcomes they are responsible for, and when they will complete the job or when they will provide a next update.
CLOSE THE LOOP.
A famous line from the movie Animal House is John Belushi’s character exclaiming, “Nothing is over until we decide it is!” Same goes for your customers. The issue isn’t resolved until they decide it is. Don’t fall into the trap of closing a ticket without receiving confirmation from your customer.
JIM RODDY works with high-initiative, growth-oriented VARs, ISVs, and MSPs to help them uncover their blind spots with customers, employees, and business best practices. Then he applies his 25+ years of business management experience, executive leadership, and industry expertise to help them get better. Jim has been active in the channel since 1998, including 11 years as the president of Business Solutions magazine, six years as a Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA) board member, and one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board. He can be reached at jim@JimRoddyCBA.com.