Market Research: Best questions to ask your customers

At OpenView, we’ve written extensively in the past about the importance of listening to your customers and allowing their collective voice to help shape the way you build and deliver your products and services.

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Without question, Voice of the Customer research can help you do that, providing valuable insight into potential target customer segments, product functionality developments, product positioning, and marketing strategies.

But soliciting that insight starts by making certain that you’re asking the right types of questions.

Recently, after finishing Voice of the Customer research with one of our portfolio companies, I examined the interview transcripts and tried to find the most interesting answers. I wanted to uncover the responses that shed the most light on the company’s customer needs and pain points.

Looking back at the answers from the aforementioned VOC research, it turned out that the greatest responses were to three very specific, open-ended questions. They were dead simple, disarming, and particularly suitable to expansion stage software companies – all of which made them extremely effective.

Here they are, along with my thoughts on why they work:

How is product X currently used to meet your business goals or responsibilities?

This question goes straight to the heart of the customer’s needs and motivation. It’s posed from their point of view and allows you to reap the most straightforward response, cutting through any fluff and technicalities.

By asking it, you’re also encouraging the customer to share their experience, which will ultimately boost engagement and allow you to build a product that better suits your customers’ needs.

How would you describe the value of product X to your peers in the same industry or organization?

This is a great way to get customers to talk about the product in the most honest, jargon-free terms, helping you acquire a great source of content for messaging and a ready-made list of value proposition statements.

This question may also provide clarity on your customers’ brand loyalty and the attachment they feel with your product or service. And, even though a recent Forrester Research study found that marketers are increasingly more worried about customer acquisition, increased brand awareness and marketing return on investment, loyalty marketing still has its merits.

As Forrester’s Luca Paderni points out in the report, marketers need to ensure that they’re able to define compelling customer value at each stage of the customer life cycle. Asking questions like the one above will help companies accomplish that.

Is there a situation when a company like yours does not need product X?

This is a difficult question to ask, but you might be surprised by the answers. Remember though, that they reflect the customer’s perception of the product, which can be addressed by adjusting positioning and marketing collateral.

While it’s always rewarding to know why your customers love your product, it’s often just as important to be aware of potential unaddressed opportunities or areas in which your product could be stronger.

Technology solutions provider CDW, which was presented with one of Forrester’s Voice of the Customer Awards in 2010, is well known for focusing on perceived issues or gaps in its product. The company has developed a “hot alert” system that encourages customer feedback and suggestions.

So, are you asking those questions?

If not, try them out during your next round of VOC research. You might be surprised – despite their simplicity – by the value of the information they produce.

If you haven’t yet implemented a Voice of the Customer program, Beth Harte shared a great five-step process at The Customer Collective that Ernan Roman first published in his book Voice of the Customer Marketing.

Very briefly, here they are:

  • Conduct and Apply VOC Relationship Research: Interview customers and prospects to better understand what they expect from your company and product.
  • Create VOC-driven Opt-in Relationship Strategies: Engage customers and prospects to find out exactly what they do – and don’t – want from you.
  • Create a VOC-driven Multichannel Mix: Integrate a marketing strategy across multiple channels that will ultimately strengthen that engagement and inspire your customers.
  • Create a VOC-driven Social Media Presence: This will encourage real-time engagement and customer feedback.
  • Invest in an Excellent Customer Service Experience: Seems simple, but not every company truly commits to it. It must become a top priority for your company and its employees.

Once you have your VOC program up and running, don’t forget the three questions I listed above. Great questions lead to insightful answers and that will ultimately allow you to get the most out of your VOC research.

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