Finding your Real Customer Preferences

Finding customer preferences, and modifying your practices, customer service and overall customer experience to reflect and accommodate them is an important goal that businesses who know what’s up do strive to accomplish. However, in spite of all the surveys, focus groups and other such things that companies often go through, finding the real preferences of customers is a challenge.

So, how do you find your real customer preferences? People will be overly polite or behave in a somewhat programmed manner with surveys and other such controlled data acquisition exercises, because as a civilization, we’ve become used to it and, unless enraged, we don’t often derail from our routine with this.

That’s not to say these exercises aren’t helpful, because in a limited amount, they are. Nonetheless, they are far from enough to really get the insight we need. And you know what? For a long time, short of illegally spying on peoples’ mail and phone correspondence (in unfeasible ways I might add), there was no way to step beyond this. It’s rude to listen in on conversations, right?

Normally, yeah, it is. But then, we have the internet. Now wait, I’m not telling you to go find some way to spy on people’s SMS, IM and email conversations. Don’t do that. Seriously, don’t. No, there is another set of communications mediums that is inherently public and yet people still have candid conversations over despite this. It’s called the social sphere and the world of blogs and forums.

These public but candid conversations are easy to tack with business intelligence and competitive intelligence software designed to track trends and mentions over these, and to harvest and parse what is being said over them. Customers know this is happening, and they don’t care. So, harvesting and “spying” on this dimension of society is not only morally acceptable, it’s kind of encouraged.

So, what can we learn from this information? Tons that no other acquisition approach could hope to provide. For example, we can find out, as they discuss a company or a service, what they wish was or wasn’t done, how they wish things did work, etc. Through this, we can learn what their ideal preferences in channels of support, purchase facilitation, presentation of a service or product or any number of other aspects actually are, as they chat and complain idly on Facebook, Twitter and in forums and the like, as humans are wont to do.

So, the problem isn’t that finding the real customer preferences just aren’t possible in modernity, it’s that too many companies are looking in the wrong places for them even now. People are viewing the social networks and forums as decent places to market, and potential places to handle customer support, but they’re too often overlooking the raw power this provides when it pertains to access to the customer base’s subconscious preferences, desires and the like. People are very willing to express their opinion on the internet, and in a much freer voice than they would in a survey or chatting on the phone with representatives and the like. Too long have we ignored this fact. Time to make avail of it.

is Specialist in Customer Success and chief writer and editor of I Want It Now, a blog for Customer Service Experts. Follow her @StefWalkMe