The Value Of Customer Interviews – Do You Solicit Feedback From Your Clients?

Customer Interviews

Every business on some level needs to know how satisfied their customers are with the services they provide. If they keep buying from you, then that may be the most important feedback a business can get. However, that may not be a great indicator. Perhaps your business is one of the only of its’ kind and your customers do not have many options. If that is the case, your metric may not be correct. Getting information and feedback directly from your customer provides the most honest evaluation of performance.

Some businesses we interact with have set up satisfaction surveys and they can be very helpful. As an incentive, a customer may get a thank you gift by participating. These surveys are in the form of a “select one” answer format. They are helpful to understand performance, but sometimes we need to dive in to learn a lot more.

Getting instant feedback after a project is completed is another great way to gauge how well the process worked, and the performance of the staff. It is important to conduct this customer satisfaction survey immediately after, as the experience is still fresh in the customers mind. Feedback is extremely valuable and helps refine the process and insight into the performance of the account managers.

Advantages Of Customer Interviews

First of all, high levels of customer satisfaction (with pleasurable experiences) are strong predictors of customer retention, customer loyalty, and product repurchase. If you get negative feedback, it usually is an early indicator that the relationship may be strained and in need of repair. It could also indicate that a staff shake-up is in order.

Second, the feedback validates your team member’s performance. This is extremely helpful during annual employee reviews. It can also be a way to calculate end of year financial incentives.

Third, think of feedback as an inexpensive way to hire a business consultant. If your customers like working with you, or would like to see improvements, they will let you know if you ask them.

Inherent Problems With Surveys

The Power of Customer Interviews

I do encourage you to interview your customers often, but you need to be aware of some problems conducting these surveys.

First, I have worked in environments where the client will tell you what you want to hear. Other times they will tell you that everything is great only to have them announce their departure a short time later. They are polite and do not want to personally hurt someone’s feelings. This is flawed. How is our company supposed to improve if clients are not being truly honest with us? Try using anonymous surveys to solicit genuine feedback without a feeling of hurting someone.

Second, when you ask for feedback, only a small percentage of your clients respond. They are busy and most of us groan because of our experience with other surveys in the past –they are painfully dull and take up a lot of our time. When creating the survey, remember you are asking for their time and truthfulness. Be respectful to not ask too many questions.

Finally, you may only get completions from those that may have had only a bad experience and this is their way to get back at your brand. You might want your larger clients to complete surveys but they may not be allowed or do not have the time and you miss a key opportunity to interact with your biggest customers.

First Hand Experience

A while back I joined a company (not SA Interactive) and one of the first things I did was to ask permission to talk to a random sampling of the company’s existing clients. The thought was that the clients would be more forthcoming about how they truly felt than if asked by an existing employee. I was not looking for answers on a 1-5 scale. I wanted real feedback from my open-ended questions.

Some of the sample questions I asked included:

  • How satisfied are you with the completion of your project?
  • What did the company do really well?
  • What can the company do to be better or improve?

I wish I could report back that the feedback I got from clients was overwhelmingly positive, but it was not. What turned into nice introductions and pleasantries quickly evolved to “b*tch sessions”. I am not proud to say this but in one instance the feedback was so bad I asked them “why are you still working with us?” The response was equally as shocking, I was told that they believed in loyalty and they had been loyal to this company from the beginning.

Louisville Small Business Solutiuons

In this same instance the customers were so angry they began to shout at me! I had nothing to do with their current problems, I just wanted to get their feedback. It was really uncomfortable and I left the meeting asking myself what am I doing here. They told me in the interview process that they had great client retention and very happy customers.

I met with five or six customers and came back armed with lots of notes and places where we could improve. I presented my findings to the team and was met with negativity and some even wanted to debate me or question my reporting. That was sad, but it brings up an important point – they only heard pleasant things about their performance or heard no complaints at all.

The funny thing was all the complaints I heard were really easy to fix. Mostly I heard that communications were lacking from the company or that there were too many points of contacts within our company and the client was often confused as to whom to work with. I mean with a few internal tweaks of how they ran the business, they would ensure very happy customers and strong client retention.

Admittedly, we should do a much better job with our own partners – checking in with them more often about our performance. I’m sure you could say the same about your business. Client satisfaction is obviously key for your long-term growth. Do you conduct customer interviews? Has it been helpful? Want to read more about my recommendations based on feedback I heard from those five to six clients? I’m happy to share the notes offline anytime!