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You can learn an awful lot by listening.

With the knowledge learned from that listening, you can craft better messages, deliver better services and attract better customers.

This dovetails perfectly with small business owners’ #1 strategy for increasing revenue: “To improve existing customer experience and retention.”

strategies to improve revenue
 

It’s also a great opportunity, because most businesses are not doing an entirely awesome job at listening to their customers. 65% of businesses rarely or never do any customer research.

Now, sure – doing customer research is going to add more to your to-do list. And you already have plenty to do.

So is this customer research stuff worth it?

In a word, yes.

Here’s what a recent survey of marketers discovered:

“… successful marketers are 242% more likely to report conducting audience research at least once per quarter (when compared with those who don’t).

And marketers who do so at least once per year or more are 303% more likely to achieve their marketing goals (80% of the time or more).”

Dunno about you, but I like to triple my chances for success. I’ll definitely put some time in for that.

So here’s how to triple your chances of success, simply by researching your customers – aka “listening”. Ends up listening doesn’t have to be particularly hard, or expensive, or time-consuming.

How to Listen to Your Customers

1. Do surveys.

You can set a survey up in a few hours with one of the popular survey tools like SurveyMonkey or Typeform. Or check your email service provider account – many email tools also include survey functions.

Try to limit your survey to 10 questions at most. The longer your survey is, the harder it will be to get people to complete it. And try very hard to get at least 400 responses. Otherwise, there’s a risk of you drawing the wrong conclusions from your survey because you won’t be looking at statistically valid results.

You may need to incentivize people to get them to do your survey. A free gift certificate for your business is ideal. Be generous, and consider offering more than one prize so everyone feels like they have a real chance of winning.

2. Do polls.

These are usually done on your website, but they can also be done via social media if you’ve got a decent following on Twitter or Facebook. You can also do a simple poll in an Instagram story.

3. Ask for feedback.

Instruct your staff to ask, “Is there anything we could have done better for you today?” at the close of every order or issue.

This is a step beyond just listening for problems – it’s actively engaging the customer to see if there’s something amiss that they’re just too polite to complain about.

Track the responses you get to this question. If more than three people bring something up as an issue, it’s probably an issue.

4. Ask for reviews.

Online reviews have become one of the primary ways people decide who to do business with. The more you can get, the better.

It’s best to ask for reviews immediately after the customer has just expressed how happy they are with your service. Then make it easy for them to leave the review – even if that means buying a tablet so they can write their review from your store’s checkout counter or your office’s reception desk.

5. Seek out existing reviews.

Are you checking the major (and minor) review sites for any mention of your business? You should be. The odds are high you’ve already gotten a few reviews you don’t even know about.

When you find these, always respond to them. Always. Especially the negative reviews. Otherwise, you’ll look like you don’t care. That’s often worse for business than the original mistake.

6. Set up a listening station.

You don’t have to scour every review site or online forum yourself. There are paid services that will do it for you. Tools like Mention are affordable and easy to use. Tools like Talkwalker and Brandwatch are more expensive but have more features and capabilities.

Google Alerts is another option. It’s free, but I’ve found it often misses things.

7. Be the fly on the wall.

Ever heard that message on some customer service lines, where the company says your conversation might be recorded for training purposes? It always reminds me to stay on my best behavior, but it is a technique some small businesses might want to steal.

You may, for instance, already have cameras up in your retail store so you can cut down on shoplifting. Or maybe you have a way or quickly checking in on the customer service complaints. Or you just happen to hang out near the cash register sometimes, just to hear how things are going.

That’s all listening. Some of it is low-tech listening, but it all shows an interest in your customers. So keep listening. You may be surprised by what you hear.

8. Ask for customer ideas.

Don’t just wait for enthusiastic customers to offer ideas – ask for them. LEGO has gotten ideas for some of its best-selling products from customers. They’ve even set up a website just to manage customer input.

LEGO ideas
 

Conclusion

Most of what we’ve covered assumes that you’re going to find problems when you listen to customers. That certainly does happen, but it’s not the only reason to listen.

It’s just as important to listen for what customers really like. Some standard operating procedures at your company might not strike you as exceptional, but maybe some of your customers really like them. It’s just as important to know what customers like as what they don’t like.

Especially listen in for ideas. Ideas for how to run your company better, but also product ideas. Human resources ideas. Even packaging and marketing and social media ideas.

Customers can be a source of ideas, and they’ll often give you even better ideas than a high-paid consultant could give you.

You just need ears to hear them.