As the head of sales at Vision Critical, one of the questions I usually get when I meet with executives from prospective clients is the following: Will people really willingly share their most candid thoughts with us? The idea of asking for customer input seems like a no-brainer, but some executives are rightfully concerned about getting honest feedback from customers. Many executives believe that people are too busy to really contribute or participate in an insight community.
This typical C-suite concern reminds me of one letter that changed the way I look at customer insights and influenced how Vision Critical and many of our clients implement studies today.
A few years ago, I was walking by reception when I noticed that one of our staff was opening a letter addressed to Vision Critical. The hand-written note was from a member of a client's insight community. She mailed it to Vision Critical since she didn't know where else to send it. The member said that she was compelled to write a note because she had more things to say after the client's survey. Given that she had more input about the business and the brand, she took it upon herself to send a note to us in the hopes that the letter will reach the right people. As she requested, we sent that note to the client, who was thrilled to hear from the customer.
The member's letter was encouraging: it proved to me that there's tremendous business value in consumer insights. It confirmed that what we do for clients is valuable both to consumers and to brands.
Her note also informed the way many Vision Critical clients currently do surveys. Most Vision Critical clients now include an open-ended question at the end of the survey to capture any additional input customers may have.
The community member's letter also demonstrates one thing many brands still need to truly get: that people often have a lot to say - and they want a place where they can give that feedback. While some brands hesitate to engage customers in a community, people are already talking about you on social media. People will rave, rant and complain about your brand whether you're listening or not. It's up to you to provide a place where people can provide input on a consistent basis.
Still not convinced? Consider the following:
- While most Vision Critical insight communities have response rates that exceed industry averages, a client (a sports organization) regularly do surveys that have a response rate in excess of 75%. For a community of several thousands, that type of enthusiastic response is encouraging to any brand that wants to harness consumer insights.
- We have insight communities with a waiting list of people to join. We've heard time and time again that people want to be part of these communities so they can share their say on what the companies do next.
- To help stay on top of trends, a fashion brand once asked community members to upload photos of themselves in various outfits. And they happily did. Another client asked people to go on a mission on behalf of the brand and take a photo of the grocery aisle where their product is located. Many customers who are loyal to your brand are happy to share their shopping habits with you (within reason). You just need to ask.
Yes, your customers want to communicate with you. And it's not just because of the extrinsic incentives you offer. For most, they participate not only because they want to be heard. They also want to know that their feedback went somewhere, and they enjoy being part of an exclusive community.
But customers also want brands to really get to know them. They want to be treated as individuals. The brands that will win in the future are those who use research to build respected, authentic conversations and who treat customers as individuals in their community.
Your customers have a lot to say. And many of their insights will surprise you and your C-suite. People really want to share what they think about your brand - it is up to you to turn a 10-minute conversation with a customer into a long-term relationship that benefits your brand and the customer at the same time.