Responding to the customers’ voice

September 2, 2014 -  By

Have you asked your customers what they want lately?

“We don’t need to do that,” you might say. “We’ve been at this for a long time, so we already know. Our customers want…” Whatever your impressions are about what your clients want, are you sure they’re not just that—merely impressions? When was the last time you validated or challenged those assumptions through market research?

I learned firsthand how powerful an in-depth customer study can be these past few months as we conducted the most comprehensive research project in the history of Landscape Management. We’ve done many studies over the years, including quick opinion polls and extensive Industry Pulse surveys, but we’d never before conducted a full-fledged “voice of the customer” research project.

In our case, the customers are you: readers of the magazine and our associated online content. What you told us during our multiphase research project is invaluable, and you’ll see the results of what we learned next month when we debut an all-new LM.

I don’t want to give away too much before the unveiling of our redesigned magazine and brand in October, but I do want to encourage you to think about doing some research of your own.

“We don’t have a budget for that,” you might say. You don’t necessarily need one. What you do need is a point person on your team, patience and willingness to learn something new—and readiness to act on the results.

There are all kinds of resources available to get started on customer research, ranging from a basic list of questions to highly technical ways of ranking the results. Whatever path you choose, based on our experience, I highly recommend you include both qualitative and quantitative methods.

Two-pronged approach

We conducted qualitative research (reader interviews and a focus group) in addition to a quantitative online survey. The qualitative methods helped us understand what we do well and what we could improve. They also brought to light a few good ideas we hadn’t yet considered that we were eager to learn more about. That said, we didn’t just implement what this small sample size revealed to us. We used the information to drive our quantitative online survey (which went to a much larger group) to get consensus. Some findings from the qualitative portions held up in the online survey; others faded away.

The point is that focus groups, customer advisory boards and client interviews are all good ways to gather information, but be wary of the vocal minority. Be sure to test findings from qualitative methods with a bigger pool. Likewise, an online survey works well, but the questions you pull from a template or come up with off the top of your head aren’t nearly as deep or useful as the topics you’ll consider if you first ask a group of customers about their likes, dislikes and unmet needs.

Both methods, working together, will help you get to the heart of the customers’ voice.

 

 

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About the Author:

Marisa Palmieri is an experienced Green Industry editor who's won numerous awards for her coverage of the landscape and golf course markets from the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA), the Press Club of Cleveland and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). In 2007, ASBPE named her a Young Leader. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, cum laude, from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism.

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