Get on the Phones and Let Your Customers Tell You What You Don’t Know About Your Business


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Many times, marketers build their ads and other creative materials based on gut feel or other various forms of research such as focus groups or surveys. This approach is oftentimes highly successful, but it can just as often lead to companies losing direct touch with their customers.

Many products have applications that might not have been apparent at first. Nintendo’s Wii is one of the hottest video games on the market. Who would have guessed that it would be used for physical therapy and as a source of exercise in retirement homes? Chances are that Nintendo’s marketing team did not have this in mind in its initial plans. But new Wii commercials show a wide spectrum of generations playing the system.

The lesson learned is that your customers may use your products and or services in a variety of ways, including those you never thought of. Your company could invest a lot of money on researching how the product is used and still not nail down an opportunity that could reap large benefits. The question is: How can you get to know your customer directly without expending resources?

A common theme among the callers was that they were always happy to speak about their businesses and how they are going to use the products.

My company was faced with this exact dilemma. We sell fully designed and printed marketing materials and promotional products for small business and consumers worldwide that can be used in virtually limitless ways. Instead of doing a large-scale research project to learn our customer, we decided to go back to one of the earliest forms of learning and research: listening. It may sound like an obvious solution, but our management team implemented a program that gives all employees the opportunity to field customer service calls routed from our call center.

We knew that the calls coming in were often from customers who had problems with their orders or needed help designing a product on our site. So we were dealing with customers who may have been frustrated heading into the calls.

You might have thought such calls should have been handled by call center specialists trained to deal with conflict resolution, but we saw this as an opportunity to really get to know our customers.

Listening in

After enrolling in the program, I fielded calls for 14 weeks and talked to countless number of customers. The callers ranged from dentists sending out appointment reminder cards and construction companies creating brochures to mothers creating birthday invitations for their children and college students creating personal business cards for networking. Their problems were just as varied, but it was often quite easy to correct the issue and get each caller a new order in a matter of minutes.

The phone calls themselves may have lasted only a few minutes, but the benefits were lasting. While looking over customers’ orders, we were able to see their materials and how they were altering our templates for their needs. The old adage preaches, “Seeing is believing.” But in our case, speaking (with the customers) and listening (to what they had to say) were just as effective.

A common theme among the callers was that they were always happy to speak about their businesses and how they are going to use the products. They also let us know when we had a great offer or a product they loved. They were just as quick to let us know where we needed improvement. These issues ranged from site and upload issues to products that they would like us to offer and designs that they would like to see.

This feedback gave us great insight into how our customers view our product and, in turn, a number of ways to improve our site, products and services. It gave us a chance to evaluate what we are doing both positively and negatively. A major change that was made as a result of the program was after we discovered that customers were unable to save their postcards once they had updated them. Once this became evident through several calls, we corrected the problem.

The employees taking the calls also found that agents could not refund or give a merchandise credit if a customer mistakenly took a bonus buy, a promotion given to certain customers. This resulted in the agent having to escalate the call to a supervisor, which would lengthen the call and delay the resolution. This has since been resolved, and now agents are able to refund customers quickly.

Finally, our usability group was able to get insight into how our customers use and react to the web site while not in a formal usability session. They then could apply the many lessons learned—things like site paths, page designs and ease of use—in their roles, developing how the site should function to make it as easy as possible for customers.

The program served as a viable example for a company looking to truly learn from their customers.

No matter what the budget your company has available for research and marketing, directly touching base with your customers can give you some great insight. If you don’t have the resources to do a similar test, you can always reach out to some of your high-value customers or most consistent purchasers to gain valuable feedback. You can usually do this for free, and the input that you receive in return can often be priceless.

Melissa Crowe
Melissa Crowe is the vice president of marketing services at VistaPrint, an online supplier of graphic design and printed products to small businesses and consumers, and works in Lexington, Mass.


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