DIY Customer Research: PART I

By Mark Wardell

How to find out what your customers think of your business, and keep them coming back for years to come.

Gathering the all-important, often business-changing information you want from your target market can be a challenging and costly venture. The big companies like Coke and Ford spend hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to find out how to make their products more successful in the marketplace. However, for the average SME, a simple questionnaire remains one of the most accessible ways to learn what customers want. Whether you’re polling customers online, asking a few questions at the checkout or using a paper survey, your customers’ opinions should inform the way you run your business.

When it comes down to it, listening to your customers isn’t really an option. We’re in an era where customer dissatisfaction has the potential to spread rapidly (think Yelp) with damaging consequences. Now, more than ever before, it’s important to set your business up so that you’re paying attention to what people want before anyone gets to the point of being dissatisfied.

If you’re ready to embark on the DIY customer research route, here are some key factors you’ll want to consider as you shape your next survey—and your business!

  • · Ask yourself, what is the most convenient way for your customers to provide their opinions? Are they more likely to answer one or two questions at the till or would they actually go online to do a quick survey—perhaps for a prize incentive? Are you in an industry where people would be willing to fill out a paper questionnaire in person? Are your customers on Twitter or FB? If so, you’ll definitely want to investigate the many great polling tools out there designed for the social media space.

  • · What is it that you want to learn? What information will be most useful to your business? For example, do you need input on a specific product you’ve just released, or is customer service your primary area of concern? Focusing on one area of concern will bring you more specific customer feedback.

  • · What types of questions will best serve you? There are several types of questions you can pose. Depending on the mode of delivery (face-to-face, online, etc.) and the type of information you’d like to gather, each of these has its advantages.

  1. 1. Open Questions invite your respondents to share whatever details they see fit.  (i.e. Tell us about the worst experience either you or someone you know had with our company? What could we have done to keep it from happening?)

  2. 2. Closed Questions encourage your respondents to give specific, often one-word answers. (i.e. Will you tell your friends about our store? or What is the name of your favorite restaurant?)

  3. 3. Multiple Choice Questions give your respondents a choice of several predetermined responses. (i.e. Income under $30K, over $30K, over $45K, over $60K, over $85K, declined.)

  4. 4. Scale Questions ask your respondents to rate some aspect of your business on a predetermined scale. (i.e. rate your dessert for tastiness on a scale of 1 through 10 where 1 is awful, 5 is average, and 10 is the best you’ve ever tasted.)

Stay tuned for Part II of DIY Customer Research on Wednesday.

MARK WARDELL is president and founder of Wardell Professional Development, a business consulting firm, focused on the unique needs of private growth companies. You can reach him at [email protected] or


By Adam

September 26, 2011