Innovation

Podcast 72 Transcript: Customer Research

Written by Ian Portsmouth

Ian Portsmouth: Welcome to the Business Coach Podcast, an advice-oriented series that tackles the top issues and opportunities facing Canada’s small businesses.  I’m your host, Ian Portsmouth, the Editor of Profit Magazine. And we’ve developed this podcast in cooperation with BMO Bank of Montreal.

Listen to your customers is one of the golden rules of effective business management, but how many companies pay more than lip service to it? Even if you are listening to your customers, you could probably be doing it better, not to mention the tricky task of turning feedback into action. Tyler Gompf built an entire business based on this fundamental gap in the operations of many businesses. He is the cofounder and CEO of Winnipeg based Tell us About Us Incorporated, which helps companies get feedback from their customers. He joins me on the phone from his office in Toronto to discuss how to collect and use customer feedback more effectively. Tyler, welcome to the Business Coach Podcast.

Tyler Gompf: Thank you.

Ian Portsmouth: So Tyler, you started Tell us About Us in 1997, after a bad customer service experience. So what happened and how did that inspire your business?

Tyler Gompf: Yes. Basically I was a young guy about 23, I had it in my mind that I needed to buy a stereo. So I went into a store to complete a purchase and it felt like that the fellow that was serving me was more interested in closing up the store than complete the transaction. So, that really got me frustrated and I kind of vowed that I would try and make a better way for a consumer to communicate to management and then have management provide feedback back to the customer ensuring that the issue would be resolved.  So, that original experience was the idea and from there, over the last ten or twelve years, we’ve built out several programs that deliver enterprise level feedback to a lot of chains and small businesses alike.

Ian Portsmouth: Now, I guess a really big problem for companies is that customers rather than providing feedback whether it’s positive or negative, they just leave the store.

Tyler Gompf: Exactly. Organizations spend a lot of money to get people to come in the store and once they’ve attracted the people in then the next stage is trying to get that transaction completed, and if something goes wrong within that experience then, you know, the financial part of the equation does not transpire and often you’ve lost that person. So you know, trying to get them to come back a next time is a really tough experience, and you end up spending more on marketing and trying to attract more people than if you would listen to the customers and respond to what they need, you can probably reduce your marketing budget.

Ian Portsmouth: Now you started the company again back in 1997.  Do you think that Canadian companies generally are better at collecting customer feedback now than they were back then, or have things gotten worse?

Tyler Gompf: There is definitely more opportunities, obviously more tools to create communication channels, but I think there is probably about the same level as when we started in 1997.  And it really takes cultural commitment and the idea that you want to put the customer first to respond to their need. Some organizations have a hard time getting their head around that and therefore don’t put in place a system to gather feedback and action information that the customers provide.  So it is probably on par as when we first started.

Ian Portsmouth: You know, most business owners will probably say that they personally and their staff, really do listen to their customers. So, what’s stopping them from doing a better job of listening to their customers? I mean, are they merely delusional or do they have a different definition of listening to your customers than you might provide them?

Tyler Gompf: I think sometimes it’s a lack of a plan or not really wanting to take the head out of the sand at times.  Sometimes it is easier just to keep going down the same path than exploring the alternative listening to customers and making change. Change is scary and often, when you do put it out there that you would like to hear from customers, then you have to do something with it. Sometimes, you know, it’s like when you own a house and you show up there every day and you don’t notice the pain chips or things that are off.  And somebody comes over and they point out, you know, you should paint your banister or something. You get to see things through their eyes, you start to point it out. But you know, sometimes it means to just keep going on the same path, so we often hear, business owners say that, you know, I am there every day so I know everything that is going on. But you know that’s true to a certain degree but not for everything that is going on. Sometimes you need that customer to point out where you are missing their expectations.

Ian Portsmouth: Now there was a time when customer feedback would almost certainly come in the form of a comment card or maybe a handwritten letter sent directly to the chief executive. Today we really do have so many different ways of collecting customer feedback and even passively we can get customer feedback because there are so many ways that consumers can choose to deliver it to us.  How does a company go about sorting out which medium is best for them to collect customer feedback?

Tyler Gompf: As you’re suggesting, you could use a comment card, you could use the latest greatest which is the Twitters and the social media tools or you can just use an email address or you know, some sort of receipt based program. It really depends on what you’re comfortable responding to. Because as soon as you open the channel up, you have to be able to meet the expectations of that channel, and get back to the customer. Sometimes if you open up the opportunity but then don’t get back, or make the change that they’re suggesting, it is worst than if you had to open the channel all together.

So you really have to match the way that you are going to gather information to the way that your customers are going to respond and then also how your staff can get back to them as well. So there has to be some thought that goes into what works best for your organization.

Ian Portsmouth: Is a response always necessary? You know I go to some retailers these days and I do see the invitation on the bottom of my receipt to participate in an online survey. I do it, they might give me 10 % off my next purchase, but I never hear back from them.

Tyler Gompf: I think, offering the opportunity for the customer to opt in or opt out if they would like to be responded back to is important, and giving them that option. Nine times out of ten, people just want to tell you what went wrong, they’re not really looking for some sort of contact. But if you give them that opportunity when it is that less than 10 %, at least that avenue is there for them.

Ian Portsmouth: And it is probably important to remind our listeners that, you don’t only want to collect complaints, you want to collect positive testimonials and good experiences, right?

Tyler Gompf: Absolutely, I mean, if you have the positive aspects coming out and at times they are directed to a specific team member, then you can use that information to really positively promote the person’s behavior and try to instill it into others as well. So, it’s a good coaching opportunity when you have the positive attributes as well.

Ian Portsmouth: Is there a best time or situation for collecting customer feedback, such as you know, right at the conclusion of the transaction?

Tyler Gompf: I think, you know when it is top of mind with the customer, it is more effective. So, the transaction based programs are important, because it is relevant in their mind and you might catch on something that they are thinking about, so that’s important. I think always just have an open avenue there and promoting either if it is a phone number or you know, a web address or something that let’s them know it’s there, is important. So, just constantly having an ability for them to get to respond to you when they need to, is important.

Ian Portsmouth: Are there any magic questions or killer questions that business owners should always ask customers? What are some of your favorites?

Tyler Gompf: I think what is more important is to really match up the questions you ask to what you are trying to pull off as an organization. So, if you’ve put out there that you are the fastest service in town, then the questions that you ask should drill in and find out more attributes on that speed of service. So really focus the survey towards that. There is always an opportunity to, you know, ask to recommend in a return question so you understand, a little bit about their future purchases if they are going to come back to you, and then also you know, have an opportunity for an overall experience so you can key on that as a driver.  And then you know, one of my favorites is always an open-ended so that you can really understand more of the hard felt opinion of the experience as opposed to just the rating scale type of questions.

Ian Portsmouth: Now a final question Tyler, what should companies do with the feedback they’ve collected? I am sure there are countless companies out there that are sitting on tons of customer complaints, customer testimonials and it is not doing them any good.

Tyler Gompf: First they should have an open attitude that, if somebody has taken the time to provide you with some feedback, that’s the type of person that really cares about your organization.  So treat it with top priority, keep an open attitude that they are wanting to help you in your journey of trying to become a bigger stronger business. You know, take it in and try an action as soon as possible, don’t let it sit on the shelf for a while. Timeliness is usually the main operating motive you should have when you receive a feedback information.

Ian Portsmouth: Tyler, that’s great advice and I want to thank you for joining the Business Coach Podcast.

Tyler Gompf: Thank you.

Ian Portsmouth: Tyler Gompf is CEO of Tell Us About Us, a Winnipeg based provider of customer feedback solutions.

That’s’ it for another episode of the Business Coach Podcast.  Be sure to check out other episodes which you can download from BMO.com, profitguide.com and iTunes. For other tools to help you build your business, be sure to visit BMO.com/coach.  And until next time, I am Ian Portsmouth, the Editor of Profit Magazine, wishing you continued success.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com