A business can’t grow unless it can meet its customers’ needs. Large companies can hire consultants to run focus groups and take surveys, but how can a small business solicit customer feedback to spark innovation? I believe that smaller companies can use their size as an advantage – forging closer, personal relationships with customers. And leveraging these relationships, and the conversations they spark, to out-innovate the big guys.
Here are four technologies my team and I use to let our customers do the hard work of coming up with innovative ideas!
Taking advantage of the ease of email communication. Every time someone signs up for our service one of our team members sends them an email. These welcome emails have sparked a number of interesting dialogs where customers have told us about their problems and how they hope our service will help them. Understanding the pain point that prompted someone to want to give our service a try has been very valuable. This not only helps us innovate, but also helps us understand which marketing messages are appealing to new customers.
Learning from our blog. Our blog is a valuable feedback tool. Obviously, the comments visitors leave are sometimes pretty illuminating. But there is another way to see what our customers care about. We use our web analytics reports to track which of our blog posts are most read – this information can help us better understand the topics that interest our customers. If customers are spending a lot of time on particular posts, that tells us something about what they are interested in and how they are trying to use our service.
Listening to our competitors’ customers. Do you follow your competitors on Twitter? You should! By paying attention to what our competitor’s customers are saying on Twitter, we have been able to better understand the needs of potential customers in our market. Run a search on Twitter and see what your competitors and their customers are discussing! You should also consider visiting your competitors’ Facebook pages and their blogs.
Talking on the good, old-fashioned phone. Given this hyper connected Facebook/Twitter/SMS dominated world, do you think phone conversations are out of fashion? Think again. My team talks on the phone each day to dozens of old and new customers. Simple questions like "tell me about your business" and "how are you using our product" have helped us come up with entirely new innovative features and tangential product updates. Our customers are excited to talk about their business and the obstacles they are trying to overcome. We learn a lot about what we should be doing to serve their needs from simple conversations.
It is possible for smaller businesses to out innovate larger companies, and a lot of that edge comes from being closer to the customer. Take advantage of some of the new technologies out there to build trusted bonds and start interesting conversations with your customers. And don’t forget the old ways of keeping in touch, like the phone – or dare I say it – face to face meetings!
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Prasad Thammineni is a serial entrepreneur and CEO of OfficeDrop, a document management and document scanning service that helps small businesses go paperless and manage their content in the cloud. With OfficeDrop, you can search, access and share your paper and digital files from anywhere, anytime.