The days of focus groups, hiring expensive business consultants, conducting mass surveys, and spending countless amounts of money designing and redesigning products that go nowhere are all but over. We are officially connected. Connected with each other, with other businesses, and with the customer.
Whether you are a small business owner struggling to find more business or a CEO who is comfortable with your current market position, you can always learn from your customers. Don’t ever let yourself be tricked into thinking that because you know the company so well, you know best what to do next. Because you don’t.
First, think about who talks to your customers the most. You have a customer service department that solves their problems, a sales team that helps them answer questions and make a purchase, and maybe a group of brand ambassadors that communicates with potential customers and advocates. They are all in a better position than you to create real change in the customers’ eyes.
Listen to what they have to say. Create a suggestion box and give them credit (maybe cash) if one of their suggestions gets implemented. Hold weekly meetings for them to voice their opinions. Allow them a forum for open communication between various departments. Create teams to develop these new ideas.
Start a blog that you use to communicate directly to a community of your customers or clients. Tell them what you are working on, how you are solving their problems, and who you are working with. And constantly ask for their feedback. They will be quick to tell you where you are going right and even quicker to tell you where you are going wrong. But as many companies that have already done this have seen, they will show you where you can improve and thank you for actually making the effort.
Use various social networks to solve problems and open the lines of communication. Twitter accounts can be used for customer service just like JetBlue, Zappos, and Comcast have done. A Facebook page can be used for idea and strategy discussion. Make the customers feel like they have a real ownership interest in the company. They will reward you for it.
Starting today, you won’t have to come up with any new ideas on your own. All you have to do is implement some or all of the strategies above and let the people do the talking. Then just sit back and relax, make the decisions as they come, and enjoy a more powerful business; a business supported and backed by a community of evangelists.