4 Key Questions to Ask Your Customers

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On June 15, 2015

4-Key-quesitons-to-ask-your-customersA counselor who specialized in helping parents raise adolescents once related a revealing conversation he’d had with one of the parents he’d met with. The father led off the session by saying: “I don’t understand my son. He won’t listen to me.” The counselor asked the father to repeat his statement, which he did. The counselor said, “I’m going to ask you to repeat that once more, and then you tell me if you see the problem.” The father (a bit irritated by this time) said again, “I don’t understand my son. He won’t listen to me.” Finally, the coin dropped. The father didn’t understand the son because he (the father) wasn’t listening to his son. It wasn’t the son’s failure to listen to his father that was the problem. The father didn’t understand the son because he wasn’t listening.

In business, it’s not uncommon for business leaders to bemoan the fact that they don’t understand what their customers really want. Granted, people can be fickle. Sometimes people don’t know what they want. But often business leaders don’t know what their customers want because they don’t talk to them.

There’s nothing quite the same as actually talking to your customers and listening to what they have to say. It may not be practical to talk to every customer. It may not even make sense to talk to lots of your customers. But if you can identify a small number of customers that are representative of your base, having a personal conversation with them can prove invaluable.

But let me warn you: It needs to be a conversation about them—not you. You’re not doing a sales call. You’re not telling them about the newest development in your company. You’re calling them to talk about them. If you want to get their real opinions, you’re going to need to talk about their favorite topic: themselves (or their business).

Here are four key questions you can ask that will provide you with the kind of information you can use to shape your business.

  1. How are you doing? Ask your customers how their specific business is going. What are the highlights? What are the concerns? What excites them? What keeps them up at night? What are the challenges they’re facing?
  1. What’s going on in your industry? What are some of the trends they’re seeing? Do they understand these trends? Do they like them? Do they see these trends as opportunities or threats? Do they feel like they’re keeping up? What would help them? Ask their opinions. Let them be the experts.
  1. What do you hear about our competitors? You can be candid about this. You can acknowledge that they have competitors and so do you. Don’t bad-mouth your competitors. Simply gather information. Are they doing anything that you aren’t doing? Is it significant?
  1. How are we doing? This is as close as you’re going to get to talking about yourself—but you’re not actually going to do that. What you really want to know is, “How are we doing by you?” Find out where you’re meeting their needs—and where you aren’t. Find out when you’re meeting (or exceeding!) their expectations—and when you’re not.

If you want to be responsive to your customers’ needs (and grow your business) you need to know what they are thinking more than they need to know what you’re thinking. You need to understand them. And the best way to do that is to ask them!