Creating a product, service or program that is of value to your target market involves one very important step – listening to what your target consumer wants and needs. When you launch a business, or a new product offering, this should always be the first thing that you do. And then, as you refine your offering, gathering ongoing feedback from your customer will be the key to ensuring what you put out there in the world has the impact you are looking for.
But gathering this data from your customer, or potential customer, is not an easy feat. We all know from being on the receiving end that surveys that promise to take “only 5 minutes of your time” often fall flat. The truth is, even when you are most genuine and appeal to a person’s generosity, response rates on surveys are disappointingly low.
So how can you test whether a program, product or service is hitting the mark, or whether your idea will have any value in the community?
Business and Entrepreneur Coach Lisa Princic advises that you consider conducting “Customer Discovery Sessions” instead. Steve Blank talks about the Customer Discovery process in his book The Four Steps to the Epiphany. It is a popular model amongst start-ups. For Blank, you first create a hypothesis around what your product/service offers. Then you test this hypothesis in conversations with others. For Princic, the idea of using an interview instead of a survey just makes more sense. “I am not a big fan of surveys. The only great data we get is by asking open-ended questions. Otherwise the answers are leading and people will tick off something in a box but it doesn’t mean they care a lot about it or would pay for it.”
The interview model allows you to engage with the customer/potential customers answer in real-time. Still, as with online or paper surveys, this model requires that you formulate the best questions.
Here is a pathway to the right way to survey your customers:
1. What is Your Objective?
Survey Monkey, an online program that allows you to build and send surveys (for free at a certain level) recommends you first define your objectives. What are you most hoping to learn from this survey? Then you work backward in crafting questions that help you to satisfy those objectives. This helps you to clarify what data you need in order to make the key decision. If you want to create a future event that is even better than the last event you put on, you want to ask questions around what worked and didn’t work before.
2. Avoid Leading Questions
Lisa isn’t a big fan of surveys because she worries they can lead people to a specific response. Take out your own bias from the question – be sure you are asking clear, open-ended questions that don’t provide an easy answer for people to choose. You want to tap into what people really think, and not what they think you want to hear. This is a huge obstacle for survey writing. Studies do show that people often answer in ways they feel will make them most like-able to the survey taker. Try to avoid this by using open-ended questions when possible.
3. Don’t Lead People Along Through Your Introduction or a Special Offer
Don’t forget that the wording that accompanies a survey can also lead people along to a desired response, as can offering an incentive for participating. In Ask: The Counterintuitive Online Formula to Discover Exactly What Your Customers Want to Buy, Create a Mass of Raving Fans and Take Any Business to the Next Level, author Ryan Levesque advises against attaching an offer to entice people to complete the survey. With an offer you run the risk of gathering information from people not because they care, but because they want that free offering. Because they may not be engaged, they may not provide truthful answers.
4. Build Up Your Listening Channels as a Supplement or Alternative to Surveys
Whenever you can, talk one-on-one with your customers or clients to learn about their experience with your product or service at the time of purchase or afterward. Create a file on your computer to gather this data. Ask questions in your community that help you to build knowledge around what your consumers need. Join conversations online where your clients/customers hang out and begin to keep a recording of what kinds of questions they are asking. Create a customer experience pathway that includes an evaluation component, so you can always receive real-time feedback on the way in which your product/service does or does not impact your customer’s life. Continually tweak your offering based on this feedback.
When you do go the survey route, remember to keep it short and simple. Check with an unbiased friend or colleague to be sure your questions are concise, easy to interpret and answer your objectives. Ask open-ended questions when you can, and try to get a sense of what people value. Lisa recommends a rating system from 1-10 to see how much people value a specific aspect of your offering. This will help you in interpreting their open-ended responses, as well as give you some quick feedback on what did and did not work.
And always, keep things in perspective. Deep dives into what works and what doesn’t in your business should not be as simple as asking a few questions. Getting to know your customers, intimately is always the best advice.
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