“How am I doing?” was a question former New York City mayor Ed Koch often asked his constituents. In an effort to make sure he was meeting their needs, he surveyed their opinions constantly. Not a bad idea since it not only gave him valuable feedback to consider but also showed everyone that he was open to getting their honest opinions so he can improve his performance. Do you do this with your customers? Chances are that you don’t, or perhaps you do it in a somewhat ineffective manner.
The standard survey that we’ve all seen and probably have even responded to is usually very superficial. It asks some basic questions that get a feel for the customer’s current level of satisfaction along with other questions about their purchase decision. But they don’t get down to the heart of the matter, which is how do they really feel about doing business with you and would they do it again if they had the chance.
There are only a handful of questions that you need to ask that will give you a good sense of how your customers feel about you. They are short, simple and in your face. But you have to have the guts to ask them in the first place and then be strong enough to listen to answers you may not want to hear. These hard questions include:
1. What do you like about buying from us?
2. Why did you buy from us in the first place?
3. What problems did you have before you bought from us?
4. How did we help you solve those problems?
5. How are things better for you now?
See? Short, sweet and right to the heart of the matter. I believe that the answers to these five simple questions will tell you exactly how your customers feel about you. It’s not just asking questions about customer satisfaction. Those questions are about as useful as the hostess asking you how your meal was as you walk out the restaurant’s door thinking that you’ll never eat there again. All that question will yield is the infamous “Fine!” response. Too shallow and not helpful. You need to probe deeper and learn about their buying motives and what regrets your customers may or may not have. What would happen if the hostess at a restaurant asked you on the way out what it was that you liked about your dining experience? That would be a different story, wouldn’t it?
Let's take the first question about what they like about buying from you. The traditional question might be something less fruitful such as, “Did you enjoy your purchase experience?” This limits the response to a yes or no response, and given the choice, most people will opt for the less confrontational approach and simply choose yes (ala the restaurant’s “Fine!” syndrome previously mentioned.) That’s a problem with closed-ended questions (ones that require a one-word answer). By asking open-ended questions (ones that require elaboration), you are forcing your customer to expand upon his feelings about the purchase and explain exactly what he liked, if anything, about buying from you. Who knows, he may not have liked anything about purchasing from you, but had to because he needed what you sell.
The next question asks why he bought from you to begin with. It’s kind of funny to ask this question after the sale was made because he already purchased from you, but then you turn around and ask why did you do that. One would think that you should already know why he bought from you, and you may know the answer. But then again, you may not. More importantly, why YOU think he bought from you may not be the same as why HE thinks he bought from you. Hence, you’ll find out the more important answer from the source himself, your customer. You might be surprised.
The third question allows the customer to reflect on his past life – before he purchased from you. How miserable were things? How tough was his day? How much was he losing? What was driving his business into the toilet? Clearly this sets the stage for the fourth question, which asks how you helped solve those problems. Question four could actually make you wince when you ask it because you may really not like the answer. What if the customer told you that one of the problems he was having was that he was not attracting enough new clients to his business and your solution was supposed to help with that. Six months later when you ask question four he says that the problem still exists and, in fact, you have not helped solve his problem. What does that tell you? Did you sell him the wrong solution? Did he not use it properly? Was it implemented incorrectly? Does it need more time to take effect? There’s a good chance you’ll reflect a lot about this one.
Finally, question five asks how things are better for your customer now versus before his purchase. If he said in question four that you did not solve his problem, I think you’ll know the answer to this one. However, assuming you have helped solve his problem(s), then this question will allow him to elaborate more on how his life has improved. This will give you quantifiable results that you can use to evaluate your performance in delivering the right solutions to your customers’ problems. It will also give you a good indication as to their loyalty to you, not just their level of satisfaction. And loyalty equals future business.
Remember to ask your customers how you’re doing to get to the real truth about how they feel. Whether you’re the mayor of a city, a sales person or a business owner, this is important to know.
Good luck and good selling!