Looking for Strategic Insights? Start with Customer Research

Customer Research is the key to understanding how to grow and better meet the evolving needs of existing and potential clients. Every firm, at some point, has questions about how to best to meet the evolving needs of existing and potential clients.

Questions it struggles to answer.

For smaller firms, or those just starting out, maybe it involves determining how best to position a new product or price an innovative service offering. As firms grow, their questions become more complex and nuanced.

Medium-sized firms, considering expanding into new geographies or perhaps diversifying their client base, must address many complex, strategic issues to avoid costly missteps. Customer research is key.

Even large multinationals, with departments dedicated to market research and strategy, grapple with finding answers to issues that impact their ability to expand, increase profitability and grow market share.

Unfortunately, many firms look for answers to their most important, strategic, business challenges in all the wrong places. The web.

Despite what you might think, the internet and the limitless access to information it makes possible only complicates the search for answers – especially for small and medium-sized businesses that have little to no time to dedicate to fruitless endeavours.

It’s incredibly easy to go online and look for answers to most issues affecting business today. How to launch a new product or improve service delivery. How to reposition your brand or grow your business by developing new channels of distribution.

To say you could spend hours, even days, searching the internet for articles that will help you think your way through all the potential issues impacting your company is a gross understatement.

But the truth is, you won’t find the RIGHT answers. Yes, you will find frameworks, approaches, and methodologies. You will get a better perspective on how to frame the challenge and go about finding potential solutions. But you won’t find specific answers to your specific challenges.

The good news is that the best source for answers is right in front of you. Your clients. It’s about customer research.

Clients, and customer research, are an incredible source of intelligence for business. The type of information that is relevant, applicable to your firm, and can be used almost instantly. I’ve seen it first hand. The quantity and quality of information that customers are willing to provide are incredible.

I’m just not too sure why a business doesn’t take advantage of one of the greatest resources they have. One could make an argument that a businesses’ greatest asset is the client relationships it’s developed. Not just because many prove to be an ongoing source of revenue. But because they are an incredible resource of information that, if tapped properly, can provide powerful insights that can help a business succeed.

If you’ve done a good job meeting the needs of your customers, they want you to succeed. They want you to get better at doing what you do. They want you to be successful and bring more value to them and their business.

Every time we administer a survey or research project on behalf of a client, I am always blown away by the willingness of people to share their views, and offer profound suggestions on how our clients can fix specific issues or develop their business in a meaningful way.

And what’s most important is that, for professional services providers, your ‘service’ is your product. How you and your firm deliver every day has a direct impact on your firm’s ability to grow. You absolutely need to know how your ‘product’ is performing in the field. You are absolutely crazy not to ask your clients how you are performing from time to time, if not on a regular basis.

Are you convinced? I hope so.

But before you rush out and start asking your customers a bunch of customer research questions, here are a few tips to make sure you get the information you need.

Clarify Your Objectives: What are you trying to achieve? Do you want to assess the quality of your service delivery, and track it over time? Or do you want to determine the potential for the introduction of a new service or expansion into underserviced geography? Or maybe you believe some client insight will help to answer a strategic issue your firm has been grappling with. But don’t try to do it all. Start with a clear objective for surveying your clients, and design your questions so that you capture the information you need.

Craft Your Questions Carefully: It’s crucial to have a crystal-clear understanding of what your firm will do with the information gathered from your client interviews. Think about the information you will likely receive based on the questions you intend to ask. Will it provide the type and quality of information necessary to make important business decisions? If the answer is no, keep re-working the questions until you are convinced that, once you get the data, you will have the confidence and necessary insights to act.

Don’t Discriminate: When developing your list of clients to interview, don’t avoid those that may be critical of you or your firm. By not discriminating, you will get a balanced perspective and more useful insights.

Use Humans: There are many, online, automated survey solutions. Survey Monkey is a good example. This is a great solution if your questions are relatively simple, and you want to survey many clients. But if you are looking for richer information, and the opportunity to clarify responses or dig deeper into certain areas, then you need to hire real people to conduct your questionnaire.

Gain Independence: If you want to receive honest, valuable feedback, hire an independent firm to conduct your client interviews. Yes, it will cost you more than doing it in-house. But an independent, third party is your best shot at getting full and frank feedback from your clients. And, for those customers wanting a degree of anonymity to offer their opinion, they will be much more inclined to speak with someone not employed directly by your firm. The additional cost will pale in comparison to the value you derive from making more informed business decisions.