With all the emphasis on marketing (digital marketing, content marketing, strategic marketing, marketing plans, etc) companies in every industry still miss the mark on what marketing is supposed to do for them. The various marketing tactics companies employ are supposed to attract customers, and yet businesses still fail to identify what actually resonates with customers resulting in a lot of wasted effort.

Companies big and small all fall into this trap even though the solutions is as obvious as it is simple – Ask the customer. The reason companies aren’t asking the customer is everything from not knowing how to start the conversation to fear of what the answer will be. It can be difficult, but it is imperative that you press on with the questions if you are after strategic growth.

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Some customers will give five star reviews while others write scathing remarks; the ones you need to concern yourself with are those doing neither. Fantastic reviews make your Facebook page look great and soaring testimonials lend credibility to your website, but have you taken the pulse of the customers who don’t give you any feedback? You would be wise to do so. In fact, I believe if Socrates were alive today, he would agree with me that to have longevity in business would be to “Know Thy Customer”.

4 Steps to Better Understand Your Customers:

1. Informally Ask Questions

This can be at the end of a meeting or phone conversation early on, or at least mid-way through a project or after a service has started. You want a chance to course correct if you get an unsavory answer.

Questions like, “How are things going so far?” “Do you feel like this has been valuable?” or even, “What could we be doing differently?” will give your customer a chance to air any grievances and bring up any concerns before they turn into unresolvable issues.

2. Send a Survey

Survey Monkey is free – use it. Yes, there is an art to wording scientific surveys and for that, by all means hire a professional, but if you just need to know how you’re doing and get some feedback from your customers – you can write your own questions.

Simple questions like, “Are you Satisfied with the service you’re receiving?”, “Have you had any problems with the product you purchased?”. Don’t be vague, in order to get good feedback, you need to ask straightforward questions. Be sure to include at least one open-ended question with a sufficient comment box for their response. The question might be “How could we provide a better experience”, or “What one thing would you change about our service agreement?”

3. Listen

When you receive feedback, be sure to listen closely. Depending on the person, you may or may not get a straight answer. Is your customer one of those nice guys who has a hard time saying anything negative? Encourage him that his candid response is the only way you can grow as a company. You may have to coax it out of him, but don’t think just because it doesn’t come spewing out that everything’s fine. In fact, if there is any hesitation at all – that’s your signal to keep digging.

If there’s nothing negative, ask a follow up question such as, “If there was one thing you would change, what would it be?” If things are hunky-dorey they will double-back with a more enthusiastic response or they will give you some valuable insight.

4. Respond & React

Thank your customer for their candor and be prepared to do something about it. There’s nothing worse than being asked your opinion only to have the other person completely ignore it. If a customer provides you feedback and continues to have the same bad experience with you, underscoring the fact that you asked, then disregarded them – well, that’s the business equivalent of poison hemlock.

Once you know what your customers like and don’t like about your company, you’ll be able to zero in on the exact message. The message is half the battle, once you have that figured out, all that’s left to do is get it in front of the right audience.