To Improve Your Business, Listen To Your Customers Share
As a business owner, it’s easy to get swept up in the day to day activities of running a business. The demands on your time seem endless and it feels as if everyone and everything needs your attention now! As such, it’s easy for a business owner to get “tunnel vision” in their own business. I often use the analogy that owning a business is like getting swept into the current; once you’re in the current, you swirl around endlessly and it’s difficult to get out. This condition can be detrimental to how your business runs and ultimately how well you service your customers. Many times, especially when conditions get really busy, things begin to fall through the cracks, often without you even knowing. Your customers see it and your employees see it, but sometimes it takes a real customer crisis to get your attention. It’s critical for business owners to extract themselves (or get pulled out) of the current and back onto the beach to get a true perspective of what’s really happening and what needs to change.
One of the best ways to make the changes you need in your business is to put yourself in the “shoes” of your customers. There are several strategies for doing this. Many large organizations utilize mystery shoppers. Mystery shoppers can provide a wealth of insight into the customer experience and expose where breakdowns are occurring. The cost of paying a mystery shopper is far less than the potential loss of profit you may witness with a deterioration or breakdown of your services.
As a business coach, I often have the privilege of using the services of my clients. It’s a great opportunity for me to witness the lifecycle of an order and experience firsthand each step in my client’s order fulfillment process. As one of their customers, I have a viewpoint that they don’t have and it allows me to see more effectively where our focus is needed to help them get better results.
For small businesses who may not be able to afford hiring a mystery shopper or hiring other outside help, there are other ways to achieve a similar end result. Use a family member or friend that may not have used your product or service in the past. Many would probably do it for free, but I would encourage some kind of compensation be provided to them as a courtesy, whether it be some of your own product, a gift certificate, etc. It’s also important to ensure that they experience what a normal customer would experience. Don’t attempt to make any changes in your business or even hint to your staff that you’ll be using a mystery shopper. In fact, for any type of mystery shopper service, it’s vital that he or she experience “business as usual” in order to get the real picture of what’s happening.
At a minimum, if you feel your circumstances won’t allow for some kind of mystery shopping service, it’s essential that you get inside your customer’s head. Randomly choose a few customers and offer to take them to lunch or meet with them in some other way. Let them know you’re genuinely trying to improve your business and that you’d greatly value their feedback on how you can improve. Most customers (even those who may have not had the best experience with you) will gladly accept the opportunity to voice their opinion about your business, your team, your product, your service, etc. If you do get this opportunity, make sure you are prepared with a list of questions to ask about every step of the customer experience. Ask probing questions that focus not only on what happened, but how they felt about the experience and what suggestions they recommend to improve the experience overall. Spending this precious time with your customers could very well be the best time you will ever invest in your business.
Most importantly, take the feedback you receive and make the changes that are needed. Let your customers see that indeed you really are listening!