This column was originally published on Entrepreneur.com on 21.11.2016
You lose focus. Whatever your job or whatever project you’re working on, as time passes you start forgetting why you’re doing it. You keep your eyes on your work and stop wondering if what you’re doing actually helps your team and company to move forward.
The best way to combat this it to take some time and speak directly with your customers.
This is what I did last spring. When setting my goals for the summer I added “getting direct input from clients” as one of my OKRs. Having now spent more than three months actively engaging different customers I can share why it’s important to stay close to the people who pay your bills.
Of course, most companies have customer support people who already give everyone feedback on a lot of different things. But if you’re an exec or a designer or a marketing specialist who relies only on reports and feedback from the sales guys and customer support, you are missing out a lot.
It’s a lot easier to implement these principles in a start-up then a Fortune 500 company. However, as I’ve previously written anyone can implement processes that have made many start-ups so successful.
Susan E. Wyse writes that “Despite the rise in popularity of online and mobile surveys, face-to-face (in-person) interviews still remain a popular data collection method,” and that it “provides advantages over other data collection methods. “
Here are the top benefits you get from spending time with your customers.
1. Remembering why you’re doing it.
Calling up customers and finding out what they think about your product, and why they’re using it, is a huge motivation boost. It helps you understand how your specific tasks influence the work of your entire company and resonates with clients. It reminds you that there is a purpose to what you do. That your work matters.
2. Helping you to get back on track.
It also helps you understand if you’ve gone in the wrong direction. You may be really excited about your work but find out that it actually doesn’t work for the paying customer. This is not a bad thing; it just sends you a signal that you need to change something. And it’s better to find these things out before you’ve spend days and weeks on something that, in the end, is unproductive.
3. Letting them know you care.
Even though the impact this sort of direct communication is good for you, it’s even better for the customer. As they see first-hand, that your company considers them a valuable client. Of course I don’t think you should change your product or offer new features because one or two customers ask for it, but it’s good to listen to them.
4. What next?
The biggest counter-argument to this sort of customer research is, it’s time-consuming. You could get a lot more data with a survey or with a focus group analyses. And you should definitely also use some quantitative research technique. However, I believe that qualitative research is worth a lot more and shouldn’t be neglected.
But due to its time-consuming nature it’s important to get as much out of this work as possible. In addition to personal feedback you need to use the data to help others. Make sure it doesn’t end up in some forgotten document somewhere, or in a TPS report no-one is never going to read. Use it to plan your long term strategy or as an in-office coaching material. Or write an article sharing your insights.
These interview can also be turned into case studies that show how your product is used which increases trust for potential clients.
The Washington Post writes that “ one-on-one conversations with existing and potential customers allow you to uncover many nuggets of information that respondents may not otherwise share directly with the brand.” So talking with your customer gives you insight you wouldn’t normally get as well.
And in the end you’ll be smarter. Client will be happier and your product will be healthier.