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Someone Knocking at the Door?

October 3, 2011

As the regular readers of this column know, I like to reference rock’n roll from the 70’s.Rene1 This time, as I  sit down  to write this column about listening to your customers, one of my favorite songs from the Wings comes to mind. 

Someone's knocking at the door, somebody's ringing the bell,
someone's knocking at the door, somebody's ringing the bell,
do me a favor, open the door and let 'em in.”

I hope you are singing the song in your head as I am. This song is a constant reminder to me to “let customers in”.

For me, customers and their input are always there – just waiting to be heard. Their knocking on the door, ringing the bell and most of the time we just don’t do the favor.  We’re busy doing other things, moving on to the next project, solving the next problem so we fail to “let ‘em in”.    

Letting them in, though, is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your success. Customers have great ideas about their experience with you. They can tell you who you are and why others should buy from you. They can tell you how to make their lives even easier and if you listen to the feedback they become happier customers. And therein lies the key to a healthy business: happy customers promote your service to other people thereby bringing you more happy customers. 

One of the many things I learned from my grandfather was the importance of listening. For him, it was natural. He didn’t talk much; he just listened. Active listening in any conversation is always a good idea but as my career progressed I learned that there are proactive ways to listen to your customers as well. When I was at Intuit, I learned the classic market research tools used by the biggest companies 1) interactive interviews with small focus groups and 2) quantitative research through questionnaires to customers or prospects.

While both of these forms of research can take on a life of their own, there are simple ways to do them.  One of my favorite bosses taught me the importance of just talking to a handful of customers. His experience had taught him that talking to 10 customers would get you 80 – 90% of the learning. I agree wholeheartedly.  So, jot down a list of questions you would like to know and call up 10 customers. If you haven’t done this yet you will be surprised how much you learn. 

If you feel you need a broader sampling use a tool like www.surveymonkey.com to send a questionnaire out to all of your customers. I have been using this tool for many years and within a few days you will know what your customers think and how they feel.

The above tools are a great way to get you engaged with customers about services and tools that you might be considering. While gaining a better understanding of your customer needs, it is more important to first understand how well you are serving your customers. 

In the last 10 years, a tremendous amount of research has been done to determine the best way to gauge customer satisfaction. For me the research that makes the most sense is based on how strongly your customers would refer others to your service. This is called the NetPromoter score. For more on how to do this, check out www.netpromoter.com

I’ve been using this methodology for the last 8 years – first at PayCycle and now at Bill.com. The easiest way to do it is to follow the questions in the book (< 10) using a survey tool such as Survey Monkey. The beauty of the NetPromoter score is that it is simple for customers to respond to and you get an answer very quickly.    

So what’s keeping you from doing it? I have used an accountant for over 20 years and never once have I been asked for feedback on how likely I am to make a referral or what the firm could do better. Given the ease of surveying customers these days, I hope this changes. Accountants have some of the strongest customer relationships built primarily through the active listening techniques my grandfather taught me.  Using the simple tools above, will make them even stronger. I am very curious to see what happens as firms start applying more tools to the process of listening. You never know, it might lead to lots of people knocking at your door(ring ring)

Thank you for reading — René
Founder and CEO
@rlacerte

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