Everything was perfect at The Novus Center, a wellness center specializing in the treatment of erectile dysfunction— the phones were ringing, the business was growing, revenues and profits were increasing every month— but founder and CEO Stephanie Wolff P.A.-C still felt like something was wrong. “People thought I was crazy— we had an amazing business. We were curing lots of guys and making lots of money. And we were doing everything right— but I knew it could be better.”
It wasn’t until she stopped focusing on the business model and started listening to her patients that she figured it out. “I suddenly realized guys wanted this treatment but not in our clinic— they wanted it in the privacy of their own home— and that’s how The Rocket was born.” Ms. Wolff is the medical genius behind the first ever home use device to treat ED— and it is disrupting a multi-billion dollar industry. But she never would have discovered the need or created the solution for The Rocket had she not listened to her customers.
But, how does one “listen to their customers”? It seems like an abstract strategy that’s recommended in all the best entrepreneurship books. Here are three ways to ensure you’re understanding what it is your customers are looking for, so that you can always be a step ahead of them.
Struggling to find the next billion dollar idea? Listen to your customers | Stephanie Burns
1. Conduct a Market Research plan.
Another term for listening to your customers is “market research.” Oftentimes utilized as a strategy when forging your first company or creating your first product, market research refers to the process of researching your target market and identifying their “unmet needs.” The Free Management Library notes that market research should include in-person investigation through the use of focus groups, interviews, taking diligent note of customer and client reviews, or even just reading the newspaper. If you’ve already started a company and you’re looking to expand your product selection, focus this research on your current customer-base. If you’re looking to start a brand new company, make sure you get clear on the specifications of the ideal customer-base you’d like to serve. Then, focus your research on that group of people.
2. Make it as easy as possible for customers to give you feedback.
All feedback is good feedback – even if it’s full of complaints and criticism. In fact, it’s within the criticism that you may find a breakthrough for the next billion dollar idea. The trick is to make sure it’s as easy as possible for your customers to give you this feedback. A more obvious way to do this is to share a customer support email or phone number boldly on your site – but keep in mind that customers are less likely to be candid about what they’re really feeling regarding your product or service if they’re stating it to your directly. Instead, seek out feedback on social media. By searching the name of your company or product on Twitter, it’s likely that you will find feedback, comments, or complaints that were tweeted by one of your customers.
Lisa Coralan of Ex Squared Solutions notes that social media should be a two way street. Encourage more of your customers to engage with you on social media by engaging with them. If they tag you, reply! Or, you could also establish your approachability on social media by forging conversations from your brand voice. A Hootsuite blog shared some prime examples of this, from the Wendy’s account engaging in friendly banter with a customer that asked about IHOB to the Patagonia account standing up for their use of sustainable paper catalogs. Making your brand seem more accessible will encourage more customer engagement, so you can listen where it really counts.
3. Seek to understand when you receive feedback.
A great way to solicit feedback from your customers is through a direct line to customer service, online surveys, and focus groups. While many companies follow these steps, they often miss a crucial element: understanding where the customer is coming from. It’s easy to take a piece of feedback at face value, but the best companies prod further. They ask their customers why they feel this way, and continue to ask why until they have an enhanced understanding.
Keri Lindenmuth of CustomerThink advises companies against immediately defending themselves or trying to “fix” a complaint: “It’s important that you stop yourself from answering right away and instead hold those ideas back… Chances are, you may not truly understand the situation your client finds his or herself in, not at first, and not well enough to solve all of their problems immediately.” Take a step back and continue to ask “why” until your understanding trumps a need to act immediately.
This understanding will lay the groundwork for finding insights that might transform not only your customers’ lives, but your business.