Most business leaders talk about conducting customer surveys, but few actually conduct them. What’s Worse, even fewer know how to fully leverage their customer survey results into practical applications. In the first case, it’s mainly an opportunity loss. Butin the second case, it’s a waste of both time and money. But there’s good news: It’s  not that difficult to develop practical applications from the results of your customer survey initiatives.

Every business, regardless of its type, size or market focus, can benefit from the results of a survey-based research program designed to identify and evaluate its performance in meeting customer needs, requirements, preferences and expectations for the products or services that it sells. These surveys can provide valuable data and insight such as: 

  • Overall market demand for the company’s products and services.
  • The specific product and service components, both basic and “value-added,” preferred by potential customers.
  • Areas where existing products, services or customer service can be improved.
  • The need for implementing required changes or improvements to the organization’s existing service delivery model.

But before conducting a survey research program, an organization must first ensure that it has established and identified both the appropriate research objectives as well as the proper methodology for carrying out the program. Common research objectives include collecting customer and market data that can be used to identify:

  • Customer needs, requirements, preferences and expectations with respect to the company’s products and services.
  • Specific features, characteristics and attributes that define the desired products, services and customer support that will meet the market’s overall needs.
  • Customer or market perceptions and opinions with respect to the quality and availability of the products and services they are receiving from their present suppliers (including your organization).
  • Suggested Improvements to the existing products and services in order to maximize both new sales and existing customer satisfaction.

The next step is to analyze the findings, which can be extremely useful in providing an organization with both a strategic and tactical roadmap to:

  1. Modify and enhance its existing product or service lines to address the highest levels of market needs and requirements.
  2. Develop new products  and services to reflect the most important value-added requirements of the market;
  3. Identify and cultivate new target markets based on identified patterns of market decision-making and purchase behavior, product preferences, user characteristics and customer or market perceptions.
  4. Strengthen the company’s overall product awareness and image, sales and marketing, advertising and promotion, and PR activities through recommended refinements and enhancements based on the study findings.

In this way, customer surveys can be much more valuable than simply measuring generic metrics, such as “how well are we doing?” They can — and should — be used to identify new business development opportunities in new or emerging markets, as well as cross-selling or up-selling opportunities within the organization’s existing customer base. 

A general method of approach for carrying out a survey-based research program of this nature can generally be accomplished in terms of the following seven tasks:

Initial Liaison and Coordination

The first task typically involves the creation of an internal project management team to establish team members and key points of contact, identify any existing data resources and work with any outside consultants. Under this task, the project team would coordinate and develop the overall research plan and schedule, checkpoints and milestones, and means for monitoring the ongoing progress of the program.

Internal Management Interviews

Task two involves more detailed interviews with designated company customer-facing management and staff with respect to gaining an internal overview of the organization’s goals and objectives; its strengths and weaknesses; perceived service delivery performance, reputation and image; desired market and planning targets; existing problem areas; and opportunities for gaining a more competitive market position through the refinement, improvement or expansion of its existing business lines. From these discussions, the project team would gain a full understanding of the internal company perceptions and expectations which could serve as a benchmark from which external (i.e., customers, market prospects) perceptions and expectations can ultimately be identified, compared and evaluated.

Qualitative Interviews with Customers and Prospects

As part of this task, a limited number of qualitative, in-depth interviews would be conducted within the existing and/or prospective organization’s customer base. The principal purpose of these interviews would be to determine the potential range of needs and requirements, preferences, perceptions and opinions that the market may have with regard to the company’s existing product and service lines, and to identify the primary issues to be quantified in the large-scale survey of customers or prospects to be conducted as part of task four.

Customer and Market Survey

Based on the results of the first three tasks, the project team would then develop an overall survey design for a customer/market survey to extend the original qualitative interview phase (task three) to a statistically valid quantitative customer or market base. The survey could be conducted electronically and would target the universe of present and prospective customers representing a desired, or targeted, market base. Sufficient responses would be collected from all targeted respondent segments to ensure a statistically valid survey sample. The subsequent analysis of the survey data would then be used to develop specific study findings and strategic implications that would be of direct value in refining, modifying, augmenting or expanding the organization’s existing product and service lines. 

Strategic Analysis and Findings 

The fifth task would involve a comprehensive analysis of the full survey results on both an aggregate, and individual vertical and horizontal market segmentation basis. This would also take into account the results of the first four tasks and would involve the development of specific study findings and strategic recommendations for action with respect to defining the optimal product/service line features, characteristics and attributes to offer to the marketplace. 

Executive Report and Presentation

The sixth task would involve the preparation and presentation of the overall study conclusions to company management in terms of a comprehensive report and executive briefing. The report and briefing would focus on the key findings of the overall survey analysis, the strategic market implications resulting from the analysis, and specific recommendations for improving existing levels of customer satisfaction and market penetration.

Development of Practical Tactical Applications

The final task would take the specific findings from the survey analysis, and translate them directly into practical applications for improving and expanding existing customer relationships; identifying and cultivating new market opportunities; and rolling out targeted sales and marketing activities using a tactical roadmap based on the survey results.

The only effective market research programs are those that are well planned and well executed. By following these steps, your organization will be much better prepared to take full advantage of the practical, tactical applications made available through the execution of a targeted market research program.

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