At every point of your business, on every web page, in every store, on every visit, you need to have mechanisms for getting what customers wanted, how they wanted it and whether or not you provided it.
This can be in the form of questionnaires, feedback forms, post-service interviews, testimonials, surveys and so on.
If you immediately think, upon mention of the word 'survey', of people out on the streets with clipboards, or of potentially painful and time consuming efforts to get answers to questions on the phone from past customers, you have the wrong idea. To survey for customer needs there are a variety of methods, for the most part based on work you have already done.
When you have the result of a survey, it is like having targeting data for an intercontinental missile: with survey results, you can reach more and more customers and pinpoint them and their needs exactly.
Your business has to do with getting a customer to the point where his or her needs are fulfilled by the product or service that you offer. A transfer takes place; an energy interface occurs, if you like; a vacuum is filled. The customer has either already paid money or will pay immediately afterwards as part of that transfer or interchange.
What vacuum or vacuums do your customers have which your product or service can fulfil or can be modified to fulfil?
Nail that, and you have nailed future affluence for your business.
As we have seen and said, attempting to operate a business in the absence of correct information about customer needs is folly and wasteful. You can push your product or service all you like - unless it strikes lucky with a passing customer in terms of need, you will miss out.
You might even have some idea of what customers need, but unless it is an exact match, the vacuum will not kick in and some customers will walk right by - even if the product or service was actually capable of filling their vacuums. Your promotion has to be precise.
But does this mean that you need an army of people with clipboards?
Customer information comes in many forms, most of which you will already have.
Take a look at all your past sales. Analyse what product or service you have sold over the last year which has acquired the most customers.
Promote that product and you will have increased traffic.
Whatever it was about that product, however ill-thought-out the vacuums - or perhaps even with no idea of vacuums at all - it was working to pull in customers. It has some kind of vacuum effect working for it despite everything. So push it and benefit in terms of your cash flow and customer satisfaction.
Push the product that already sells. Then examine it and see what it is about that product which seems to find and fill vacuums. Push those vacuums and watch your sales statistics go up.
Additionally, you could then contact each of the previous purchasers with a short survey and ask what it was that they liked about the product. You can see Amazon and other on-line businesses contacting past customers all the time with short surveys. The trouble is, they don’t really have any idea of vacuums and are just seeking to raise the profile of the product. If they were to examine the answers to surveys more carefully, they would find vacuums that the product satisfied and then would be able to use that data to actually increase sales rather than raise profiles and hope that sales were increased.
Promote whatever it was in a product that, by survey, customers said filled their needs and you will get a sales response.
You could also review all your sales geographically and find out where your customers are. There might be some geographically related vacuum. For example, a particular book on stamp collecting might be selling well in a country where stamp collecting has just been discovered as a hobby; or a type of electronic device might be popular in an area which has just had improved connectivity to the internet.
Pump your promotion into that part of the world and watch your sales go up. Matching an exact product to an exact area using past sales data can increase this effect even more: perhaps the particular electronic device that customers were buying was proven and known by word of mouth to be the most reliable in terms of picking up a signal. Push that item rather than other similar items, and magnify your sales.
You can also use customer testimonies to isolate what worked in terms of vacuums and get that to work again. Find out what got the most praise, which service was most appreciated, what item proved the most effective. Put a package together of those items or sell them individually with the confidence that you are presenting something which already has proven vacuum power.
It’s a good idea to have your staff note down customer comments at the point of sale, at the point of delivery and at the point of use, as well as encouraging customers to give you feedback both immediately afterwards and into the future. For one thing, it increases trust - and, as we have seen, trust is defined as the relationship that arises based on the experience of having a vacuum competently and accurately filled.
Trust is also created by being willing to have such an open communication with the customer into the future - an untrustworthy company would discourage communication for fear of backlash.
Take a look at the advertising campaigns you have used in the past. Which one got the best results? Which one got any results at all? Anything above a 5% return is considered good, especially in today’s ad-saturated consumer world.
If you have a customer base which is built around one product - a car, for example, which, once sold, means that your customer moves on and may not be seen again - you need to figure out, by survey, what else the customer would like from you. Would it be after-sales care? Updates on accessories? Services you could offer relating to travel, like hotel or airline recommendations? News on new models?
What, in other words, is your customer’s next vacuum?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you only have one public to promote to.
You have many.
For a start, there’s your old public and your new public. Each probably have different vacuums. Then there’s
• young public and older public
• male and female public
• wealthy and not-so-wealthy public
• local and international public
• English-speaking and not English-speaking public
Tall and short, small and large, sporty and non-sporty - depending on what your product or service is, the available publics are probably much larger than you thought.
For example, let’s say you make winter scarves.
You have old and new publics, but some of the old public are male, while some are female. Some are wealthy; some not. Each group has its own potential vacuums. For the old public who are female and wealthy, there is a different potential vacuum from the new public who are male and not wealthy.
Of course you can add entirely new categories: wool lovers and not-wool lovers, children and elderly, novelty scarf wearers, travellers and locals, and so on. Each one of these categories, crossed with other categories, forms a 'micro-public' with its own vacuums.
You have at your fingertips, in your previous sales records, a wealth of information from which you can construct a wide variety of vacuums specific to a particular public.
All without a clipboard in sight.
There’s also a situation with which you are probably familiar whereby you or a sales or marketing person in your employ goes full on to try to get a customer to purchase the entirety of a product or service all at once, after a very intense and full briefing about the product and what it can do.
Surveying also means observing your customer while he or she is in your presence to judge how much vacuum-power they are willing to take. Hit someone with the data that 'This food source conquers all known disease' will have an effect opposite to that which was intended, even though the vacuum that it is conveying is very strong indeed - 'all known disease'. You may believe that the food - whatever it is - does indeed have highly beneficial properties, but your customer has individual and undoubtedly smaller vacuums than the capability of your product.
Try 'This food source has been shown to have a positive effect on the chesty cough I noticed you had when you came in to the health food shop' is more likely to get a positive response. The customer, more likely than not, came in with a desperate need to solve the chesty cough rather than all the ills of mankind.
Asking a walk-in customer for more information on what it is that they wanted handled is an obvious survey for vacuums. How they found you in the first place and what got them to walk in are obvious spheres for further vacuum research.
Here’s a handy checklist to help you put some of this together:
1. Create a table for your product or service listing the various categories of public as described above. Add as many categories as you wish and have data for.
2. Draw up mini-surveys for as many of the 'micro-publics' as seem useful or likely to yield results to you.
3. Study your market: your competitors, your existing customers and your potential new customers.
4. Be aware of the general public vacuum which your business presents to your public at large .
5. Know your product or service inside out - by which is meant, know all of its features and benefits, but also as many of its vacuums as you can possibly grasp. Know what vacuums it can and does fill, and know what vacuums it might fill. Spend time listing out every feature and spend more time listing out every possible vacuum which that feature could satisfy.
6. Brainstorm how some of these vacuums might link together.
Example: obviously for a pizza restaurant the big vacuum is Hunger -but spreading out from that we have other, associated needs such as Speed, Flavour, Type, Size and so on. Each one of those could have different vacuums spinning from it: Type, for instance, could include thin crust, thick crust, square, etc.
Example: for a motor mechanic business, the basic need is probably Repair - but around that are more specific needs like Speed or Urgency, Magnitude, Cost and so on. Each one of those has subsidiary needs: Engine Repair or Body Work, needed immediately or within 24 hours, and so on.
The more work done on this, the more you will get into the habit of thinking about customer needs rather than the product or service that you are offering, and the more creative you will get in terms of marketing - and the more effective your marketing will become.
7. Realise that, when it comes to designing promotional material or even a product itself, aesthetics plays major role. The field of aesthetics has its own vast technology of vacuums. Aesthetics can apply to anything ranging from the look of a whole campaign to the specifics of a piece of promotion. Use geometric design, colour, perspective, layout and so on - all of which use vacuums in a different way.
8. Be creative and use imagination to bring the vacuums to life, ranging from graphic design to wording of advertisements, to colour choices, to marketing stunts and so on. If you get the above steps right, you won’t especially need to work on directing people’s attention - your promo piece or campaign will have vacuum power and will draw customers in almost of its own accord.
9. If everything starts to look too complex, bring it all back to basics and simplify it: you have a customer, you have vacuums, you have products - remove any obstacles that are going to get in the way of bringing the customer and the product together.
10. Find vacuums and let your product or service fill them.