Just as technology has changed the way businesses market to their customers, it is also providing new ways of learning from them.
Advanced analytical tools are enabling companies to get deeper insights into what customers want and can provide businesses with many differentiating ideas that would not have emerged from traditional focus groups, individual interviews or broad-based surveys.
Research is expensive though and without large budgets, small and regional businesses could lose out on valuable information that can help them grow their markets and differentiate themselves from competitors.
Social media and websites offer many new ways to reach out to customers. And more than just offering the opportunity to get the company’s message out, social media provides a forum to learn from customers so you can position your business as the best choice to meet their needs.
If you have a very tight budget and don’t have the time to create and manage a website, you can start by launching a Facebook page. You can start your own page free, publicize it in your store or business and post discount coupons and useful customer information on the page to drive traffic.
As customers begin to visit the site, invite them to post pictures of themselves using your products and to share their personal stories. If you want to integrate the live and online experience see if some of your in-person customers will let you take their pictures and post them on the site. This can help you reinforce or remind them of the fun, value or pleasure of the live experience and encourage repeat business.
Always offer customers who visit the site the opportunity to register for outbound communications and use this as an opportunity to learn more about them. Ask them some questions “that will help you to serve them better,” but only ask a few thoughtful questions, you don’t want to take too much of their time.
It is always valuable to get comments directly from your customers and to encourage them to ask questions. If you don’t have enough web traffic to assign someone to monitor a chat screen, give the visitor an opportunity to ask questions and then give a time frame that lets them know how often you check the site and when you will get back to them.
There is a lot of opportunity to gain insight from customers just by letting them talk. And, all these insights are costing you nothing. You will get complaints at times but at least you will know about them and will be able to address them. But don’t forget to pay close attention to the comments of your happiest customers. Their stories help you identify what creates the ideal customer experience and what products are most likely to bring them to your store or business. Understanding from them what is most valuable about the live business experience and how the social media and web experiences complement it is the foundation for building the ideal and most profitable customer experience.
As you learn about your customers you can begin to identify segments and target those segments with specific messages. Are there different things that drive people to consider doing business with your company? Is that broken down by age? Lifestyle? Economic background? Analyzing what your customers say can help you provide relevant offers for each target segment. The more personal you can make your outbound marketing, the more attractive your business will be to your customers.
Letting the conversation flow on the web or in person also helps you understand the language or buzzwords that people use when discussing your business. When I am in need of something for my home and want to find a local business that sells it, I will often type some search words into Google and add the name of my town or the surrounding town to get a list of local businesses that sell the product or service. Make sure your online experiences discusses your business in customer language, so you will show up when people are searching common terms. Conversations with customers and comments on the website are a no cost way to learn these terms so you can integrate them into the copy on your site.
Professional research can definitely help your business grow. But for those who are not in a position to afford it, there are many ways to learn more about providing value to your customers and growing your business just by investing your time and being willing to listen.
David lives in Fishkill, NY with his wife and two daughters. He worked for IBM for 29 years as a brand and naming consultant. He now works as an independent brand strategist and naming consultant.