One advantage of being a small business is that we tend to have direct contact with our customers. This contact is vital to the way we operate our business. On a daily basis we hear what is working or not working; where we can be of service; and how we can improve. In fact, I think direct contact is so important that I personally manage all the e-mails that come through our Web site and general e-mail account. Many of the improvements we have made over the years have come from conversations with our readers and advertisers.
As an organization grows, it becomes more and more difficult to listen to all customers. Many decision-making employees have no customer contact at all and certainly not a complete picture. This is why research becomes more and more important. A first step might simply be to centralize all your customer comments.
Listening (especially in social media) is a popular research trend right now but it has been the backbone of small businesses forever. What is new, however, is the ability to track what you are listening to. The data is even more helpful if you can assign comments to specific users.
Because market research is in our veins we centralize our customer feedback into a database. Aside from being able to see macro trends, one of the most interesting things I’ve discovered is that a very small group of customers represents a disproportionate number of complaints. I’ve heard of this happening before but to see the actual data really drove the point home.
Like most companies, we want to address criticism swiftly and take action to rectify the situation. This takes time, money and resources – money well spent, unless you are responding to the chronic complainer who will simply never be satisfied. In fact, responding to a chronic complainer can prevent you from addressing more pressing challenges that affect a greater number of customers.
So my advice would be not to let a few bad apples convince you that the barrel is spoiled. Instead, make sure to track actual customer contact as well as pay attention to the overall trends.