Surveys are excellent at gathering data, but there are pitfalls that can lead to bad information. One of the best types of research you can do as a small business owner is listening.
Listen to your clerks and customers interact with one another. Listen in on phone calls if you can. Read comments left on Facebook, Twitter or your website. Listen to customers talk to each other or even to themselves on the next aisle over. It seems simple, but really that’s all a survey does, except in a standardized format.
Beyond passively listening, you can always talk to your customers. Don’t be over-bearing with your questions — standing at the door with a clipboard and a list of questions — just be friendly. You’re simply having a conversation, but along the way ask how the service was or where they buy their widgets because you’re thinking of adding widgets. Try and ask questions that will not lead to a yes or no response if you can.
“What has your visit been like today?”
“I see you’re getting ABC today. What do you think about that brand?”
Have a set of questions you can bring up. Think about them in advance and work them into conversations or better yet, use them to start a conversation. If you can get someone talking, you’re more likely to create a dialogue, build a relationship and get more information.
The one caveat to remember: One or two people do not represent your entire customer base. You may talk to a couple of people that really dislike your business. One very angry person may have a large impact on your perceptions. Be cautious and don’t make drastic changes based on that information. They may hate all businesses. On the other hand, be open to criticism and don’t let those glowing reviews cloud your judgment about what may be wrong.
Some people will be very open to criticizing you and your business, as I’m sure you’re well aware. Others will simply leave without saying a word and never come back. This is the group you really need to listen to. They need to know it’s ok to be open and honest with you. If you sense something is wrong and they won’t open up in person, offer them your business card with an email address.
With this approach you accomplish two goals: Offering great, friendly service and learning what else you could be doing to better serve your customers. You may be surprised by what you hear!