“How are we perceived as a company on the market? How well do we meet our customers’ expectations today? And where is our future business potential?” Medium-sized companies are confronted again and again with these typical questions. They often seek the answers in their own wealth of experience and rely on their knowledge of the market. But is that enough?

Dr. Axel Hermeier, managing consultant at enomyc, knows from experience that “the much better answers come to those who let their customers have their say.” And the best way to do this is through regular customer surveys. How can companies develop, implement, and correctly apply the knowledge gained?

FALSE ASSUMPTIONS – FALSE BUSINESS OBJECTIVES
“Effective business measures cannot be derived from customer surveys.” “We don’t need customer surveys. We know what our customers want.” “Customer surveys generate a lot of internal effort and cost unnecessary time and money.” These and similar opinions are shared by German companies in the middle market, particularly when they have failed with poorly conceived customer surveys.

Negative examples include surveys with contents that are difficult to understand and thus make it hard to answer the questions. Samples that are too small, which are only carried out selectively or too seldom, do not allow us to derive any concrete improvement measures. This often generates useless results that in no way advance business development. What are good concepts, and to what extent do they provide companies with real added value?

CUSTOMER SURVEYS – WHY?
Let us start with the unpleasant part: the risks. Many companies measure themselves in their ability to assess their customers, their needs, and their wishes very well and therefore do not rely on comprehensive customer surveys. Medium-sized companies in particular like to refer back to an extensive company history characterized by long-term and stable customer relationships. However, this fundamentally positive starting position harbors certain dangers, as referring exclusively to one’s own assumptions, without having them regularly validated by one’s own customers, does not permit any well-founded knowledge for the future development of a company.

THE BENEFITS OF CUSTOMER SURVEYS
Do companies want ideas for their future strategic orientation and positioning or perhaps even concrete clues for optimizations? If additional business potential is to be tapped, customer surveys are indispensable – in fact, they provide the decisive impetus.

Targeted questions regarding customer ideas or wishes can even point out new business potentials. In addition, customer surveys can detect systemic weaknesses or sources of error in market development and customer service in good time and can thus be corrected more quickly, even before customer dissatisfaction arises – which, in the worst case, can result in unexpected declines in demand.

Regular customer surveys also offer the advantage of being able to identify specific changes – for example, in customer satisfaction or your own performance in defined service categories. They help companies gain insights into the development of demand and the changed expectations of their respective target groups for a specific product or service.

Although customer proximity is important, direct dialogue with individual customers does not provide representative insights into market and industry trends. Only sufficiently large random samples can do this. In the best case, companies rely on comprehensive customer feedback gained from structured customer surveys that are conducted on a regular and random basis. What does this entail?

THE OBJECTIVE
The following applies: the clearer the objective (illustrated in a tailored questionnaire), the higher the potential gain of knowledge from the survey. What is the aim of your customer survey? What do you want to know? The formulation of a concrete objective is the first step, as the success of a customer survey stands and falls with it.

The following central questions can be trendsetting:

  • Would you like to get an overview of how satisfied your customers are with your company?
  • Does your survey relate to the existing product range?
  • Would you like to know what your customers think of the services that are being offered?
  • Are you interested in identifying customer needs as a starting point for portfolio expansion?
  • Would you like to uncover concrete optimization potentials for products or business processes?

Tip: Companies can especially benefit by checking market acceptance before implementing a certain business policy measure – for example, a new product development or the establishment of a new sales channel – in order to avoid an expensive malinvestment.

EXPERIENCE VALUES AND EXAMPLE CASE
It takes a lot of strength to convince the responsible stakeholders to raise the necessary resources to conduct and evaluate a high-quality customer survey.

Our experience as consultants shows that medium-sized companies are reluctant to invest in customer surveys, especially in times of crisis, even though the insights gained can be the key to future business success in many cases.

Important for acceptance is a solid and pragmatic concept that addresses all subject areas defined in the objectives by means of a clear and simply structured questionnaire. The involvement of the client is critical to the success of the preparation starting with the formulation of the objectives and the hypotheses to be tested all the way to the detailed design of the questionnaire.

In one of our most recent projects, we designed and carried out a web-based customer survey together with our client in order to obtain comprehensive customer feedback for the first time in the company’s history and to use it for further business development.

In addition to feedback on the company’s perception in the market and its current performance, the focus of the content was on concretizing current and future customer needs and identifying potential for optimization and further business development.

Almost 1,500 active customers, inactive customers, and interested parties were invited to participate in the survey. As a result, we secured a relatively high participation rate of almost 15 percent, thus enabling the formulation of a well-founded catalog of concrete recommendations for action. It should be emphasized that, in this example, the company was able to build on good and stable customer relationships in a difficult market environment but had not yet sufficiently exploited the potential for business development identified by the customer, either in established or new business areas. The customer survey was able to provide concrete starting points that could be addressed in the form of separate corporate initiatives.

FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTION
These tasks are part of a successful customer survey:

  • Formulate a clear objective of the survey in advance.
  • Select the optimal shape and a suitable channel. (Examples of online surveys include SurveyMonkey or Survey Online.)
  • Develop hypotheses to be tested by the survey. Ask goal-oriented, neutral, unambiguous questions.
  • Always leave room for questions, suggestions, and comments at the end of your survey.
  • Don’t just leave it at that – evaluate customer feedback in detail.
  • Act!

In which areas of strategy and corporate performance can we advise you? Talk to us. We are look forward to hearing from you.

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