"How are we perceived as a company on the market? How well do we meet our customers' expectations today and where does our future business potential lie?" SMEs are confronted with these typical questions time and again. They often look for 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: "The much better answers come from those who let their customers have their say." And the best way to do that is through regular customer surveys. How can companies develop such surveys, conduct them, and properly apply the insights gained from them?
WRONG ASSUMPTIONS - WRONG BUSINESS GOALS
"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 effort internally, cost unnecessary time and money." German SMEs share these and similar opinions, especially when they have failed with poorly designed customer surveys.
Negative examples include surveys with content that is difficult to understand. As a consequence, it is not easy to answer these surveys. It is also not possible to derive concrete improvement measures from samples that are too small and are only carried out selectively or too infrequently. This often results in unusable results that in no way advance business development. What do good concepts look like, on the other hand, and to what extent do they provide companies with real added value?
CUSTOMER SURVEYS: WHY DO THEM AT ALL?
Let's start with the unpleasant part - the risks. Many companies are confident that they can 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 to a long company history - characterized by long-term and stable customer relationships. However, this fundamentally positive starting position harbors dangers: Relying exclusively on one's own assumptions without having them validated regularly by one's own customers does not allow any well-founded insights into the future development of a company.
THE BENEFITS FROM CUSTOMER SURVEYS
If companies want ideas for their future strategic orientation and positioning, perhaps even concrete indications for optimization or the development of additional business potential, then customer surveys are indispensable: they first provide the decisive impetus.
Targeted questions based on customer ideas or wishes can even reveal new business potential. In addition, customer surveys can reveal systemic weaknesses or sources of error in market cultivation and customer care in good time and can thus also be remedied more quickly - even before customer dissatisfaction arises, from which, in the worst case, unexpected declines in demand result.
Conducted regularly, customer surveys also offer the advantage of being able to identify very specific changes, for example in customer satisfaction or the company's own performance in defined service categories. Through them, companies gain insights into the development of demand and the changed expectations of their respective target groups with regard to a specific product or service.
Customer proximity is important - but direct dialog with individual customers does not provide representative insights into market and industry trends. This can only be achieved with sufficiently large samples. In the best case, companies rely on comprehensive customer feedback - obtained from structured customer surveys conducted on a regular and random basis. What is involved?
The following applies: The clearer the objective - reflected in a tailored questionnaire - the greater the knowledge gained from the survey.
What is the goal of your customer survey? What do you want to find out in concrete terms? The formulation of a concrete objective is the first step: the success of a customer survey stands and falls with it.
The following guiding questions can point the way:
— 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?
- Do you want to know what your customers think of the services you offer?
- Are you interested in identifying customer needs as a starting point for portfolio expansion?
- Or do you want to uncover specific potential for optimizing products or business processes?
Tip: Companies can particularly benefit by checking market acceptance in advance before implementing a specific business policy measure, for example a new product development or the establishment of a new sales channel, in order to avoid expensive bad investments.
EXPERIENCE AND EXAMPLE CASE
It takes some doing to convince the responsible stakeholders to commit the necessary resources to conduct and evaluate a high-quality customer survey.
Our experience as consultants shows that medium-sized companies shy away from investing in customer surveys, especially in times of crisis - and this despite the fact that the insights gained through them can in many cases be the key to future business success!
A solid and pragmatic concept is important for acceptance, which addresses all the topics defined in the objective via a clear and simply structured questionnaire. The involvement of the client is critical for success in the preparation - starting with the formulation of the objective as well as the hypotheses that need to be tested, through to the detailed design of the questionnaire.
In one of our most recent projects, we worked with our client to design and implement a web-based customer survey to gather comprehensive customer feedback for the first time in the company's history and use it for further business development.
In addition to feedback on how the company is perceived in the market and on its current performance, the focus was on defining current and future customer needs and identifying potential for optimization and further business development.
To this end, almost 1,500 active and inactive customers as well as interested parties were invited to participate in the customer survey. As a result, a relatively high participation rate of almost 15% enabled the formulation of a well-founded catalog of concrete recommendations for action. In terms of content, it should be emphasized in this example case that although the company was able to build on good and stable customer relationships in a difficult market environment, it was not yet sufficiently exploiting the potential for business development identified by the customer, both in established and new business areas. The customer survey was able to provide concrete starting points for this, which could be addressed in the form of separate company initiatives.
FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTION
These tasks are part of a successfully conducted customer survey:
- Formulate a clear objective for 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 unambiguous questions that are goal-oriented, neutral and to the point.
- Always leave room for questions, suggestions, and comments at the conclusion of your survey.
- Don't leave it at that: evaluate the customer feedback in detail.
Which topics in the area of strategy and corporate performance can we advise you on? Get in touch with us. We look forward to hearing from you.