I'm currently reading Tough Man, Tender Chicken - Business & Life Lessons from Frank Perdue written by his widow, Mitzi Perdue. It's an admittedly biased, but enjoyable and educational biography of the infamous Frank Perdue. His insatiable need to learn and identify ways to continue to provide the highest quality product come through time and again -- as does his skill at asking the right questions.
In his quest for information, Frank instructed his marketing reps not to ask, "What are we doing right?" He felt he could only correct problems if he knew about them and he didn't want to use up scarce time on good news since good news generally didn't require action. Instead the appropriate question for the marketing rep to ask was, "What's wrong that we can do better" Or, equally good, "What problems can we solve?"
As you look at your business or areas of responsibility what questions do you ask of your customers to ensure you're serving them in ways that will retain them and allow you to grow and move forward with them? You don't need to develop extensive surveys. No one likes to complete them anyway. Instead, why don't you ask just two good questions, that if answered honestly, would provide you with enough input to revise or enhance strategies going forward?
Questions to identify what NOT to mess up:
Who am I to disagree with Frank Perdue? However, I do believe there's value in knowing what it is we really do that our customers like...so we don't mess THAT up! Too often, what we think our customers appreciate is NOT what they most appreciate. We often believe our customers like our product, but they often like the way it's packaged, presented, delivered, etc. Providing them with a good quality product or service is expected. It's often the HOW that sets us apart.
Given that, here are a few ways to identify what NOT to change or mess up:
- Specifically, what do we do (or provide) that best supports you/your customers/your business?
- Specifically, how have we been an asset to you in helping you move forward?
- Specifically, what do we do that makes your life/job/work easier?
If you notice, I start each sentence with 'specifically.' Without that nudge for clarity, you will too often receive a broad, general comment, such as "You guys are always friendly." Though a nice comment, it's not helpful. It's too vague. You want them to provide an example or two for clarity, such as "When our computer systems went down last week, Rick had us up and running in less than 30 minutes, and he sent us all very clear, instructions on how to prevent this from happening again." This more clear example doesn't really communicate Rick was friendly. It communicates that Rick was quick, efficient, and informative in that he resolved their problem quickly (which should be expected) but he also provided guidance on how to prevent the issue from happening again. THAT's what the client really appreciated as it was specifically mentioned. Because they mentioned it, it mattered. Because it matters to them, it should be repeated in every other technician's interactions with your customers too.
Questions to identify what NEEDS to be fixed:
Though we often find their answers hard to hear, what our customers tell us about our shortcomings can mean the difference in staying in business or not.
In addition to Frank Perdue's questions above, here are a few questions to help hone in on what needs to be fixed to keep your customers:
- In what specific ways do we frustrate you?
- How have we made your life/job/work harder?
- If you could have us do one thing differently, what would it be?
Which two questions are you willing to ask? Pick one question from each section. Ask. Listen. Learn.