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Getting to know Your Customer

14 Apr, 2008 By: Melissa Crowe imageSource

Getting to know Your Customer

When I first entered marketing, one of the things that appealed to me was
gaining a better understanding of the customer and in turn, making products
interesting to them and then by extension, increase revenue for my company or
clients. 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 often lead
to companies losing direct touch with their customers.

Many products have obvious applications, for instance, Nintendo’s Wii is one
of the hottest video game consoles on the market now. It is easy to see that the
gaming system would be used to play games by a variety of age groups, but who
would have guessed that it was being used for types of 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 their initial plans, but now their new
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. Your company could invest a lot of money on
researching how the product is used, but may 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? Like other companies, we were
faced with this type of dilemma.

We primarily create marketing materials and promotional products for small
businesses and/or individuals that can be used in virtually limitless ways. 
Instead of doing a large scale research project to learn about our customer, we
chose 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 provided all employees the opportunity to field
customer service calls that were routed from our call center.

Like many people who have called into customer service, our company knew that
the calls coming in were often from customers who had problems with their orders
or needed help in some way. So in a sense, we were dealing with customers who
were frustrated heading into the calls.

At a glance it may seem like these calls should be handled by trained
specialists that deal with conflict resolution, but we saw this as an
opportunity to really get to know our customers.

Ultimately, we fielded calls for 14 weeks & talked to a countless number of
customers.  The callers ranged everywhere from executives sending out mailers to
construction companies creating brochures to sales reps creating personal
business cards for networking. Their problems were varied but it was often quite
easy to correct their issues and give them customer satisfaction in a matter of

The calls may have lasted only a few minutes, but while looking over their
orders we were able to see their problems to then attend to their needs.
Although the old adage preaches “seeing is believing,” from both speaking with
the customer and listening to what they had to say, the end result became quite
successfully addressed.

A common theme among the callers was that they were always happy to speak
about their business and how they plan to use a product or service.  They will
let you know if/when you have a great offer or product that they like. Much as a
customer commenting on things that you/we do well, they are just as quick to let
you know where things need improvement. For us, the issues ranged from website
and upload issues to products that they would like us to offer, and other
designs or information that they would like to have, etc.

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. By
being passionate on both sides of the spectrum, it gave us a chance to evaluate
what we are doing both positively and negatively.

The effort 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 listen for free and the valuable input that you receive in return
will  become priceless, business-wise.

Melissa Crowe is the vice president of marketing services at VistaPrint, an
online supplier of graphic design and related products for small businesses
and/or individuals. For more information visit

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