It seems so simple, but few businesses take the time to listen and evaluate what their customers are saying. As marketing experts, it’s our job to serve as a guide and lead client strategy in a manner that helps them achieve their goals. But all too often, firms (and clients) want to operate in the reverse – jumping to what they think works best without this critical listening step. Market research doesn’t need to be a lengthy and cost-prohibitive process. The following is a guide to proactively improving client relations while developing a market research strategy that moves the needle.
1. Listen to your customers.
Think about the last time a vendor asked for your feedback. It’s pretty rare, right? More than likely, it was a survey at the bottom of a receipt at the store, which may have felt like the market research would end up at the bottom of someone’s database.
Quality feedback takes time and should be handled like a public relations move. There are a variety of ways this can be done:
Picking up the phone and talking to your past, present and potential clients can be one of the most insightful tactics you can deploy. Aim for a solid cross section of the good, bad and ugly client engagements. You want to hear from the people who had a negative experience and understand what went wrong as much as you need to understand why a star client is thriving with your organization. Allow the conversation to flow, but refer often to a set list of questions often to ensure you are pulling consistent data.
If you’re looking for larger group feedback, focus groups can be an efficient way to garner input. This method offers momentum from other participants and can often lead to inadvertent brainstorming of new ideas. However, beware: focus groups are also prone to “group think,” in which louder voices dominate the conversation and quieter voices follow behind.
I know I just downplayed the effectiveness of this method, but surveys certainly have their place in measuring feedback from customers. However, they likely shouldn’t be the only method. Even the most carefully crafted survey lacks the in-depth findings that focus groups and one-on-one interviews provide. Think through modes of distribution, incentives for completion and what you hope to measure to maximize the benefit of this method.
2. Understand the digital landscape.
You can find a wealth of information about what is working simply by understanding the current digital environment. Dive into Google Analytics – this free tool helps you understand how customers are using your website, where they are coming from and weak spots in your current user experience. Use tools like Sprout Social to look at your social media statics – which posts garner the most attention? How do customers interact with your page? What complaints do you get and how are they handled? These are all valuable clues to layer into the bigger picture of what your customers want.
3. Identify the gaps.
Now, take a step back. Review the qualitative data from your surveys and the quantitative findings from your digital landscape. What’s working? Where are you leading? What are gaps and opportunities? What are the overarching themes in your research? This critical step is where you can develop a customized PR or marketing plan to help you achieve your goals.
4. Evaluate how you’re marketing your service offerings.
When you complete this research process, you will possess a lot of information about what your customers value about working with your organization. Take the time to truly listen to the feedback and search for the underlying messages. No organization is perfect. What are the consistent shortcomings? Where and how can you improve?
These are questions that are difficult to ask when things are going well, but they are crucial to continuing to evolve as an organization. In the PR and marketing industry in particular, the tools and strategies are constantly changing. We have to invest the time and resources to ensure we stay at the cutting edge so we can bring the best to our clients.