Low Cost Market Research


The problem facing many small businesses is they need more information about the marketplace but can’t afford to access it. But market research doesn’t have to be high priced. Consider:

The craft store whom advertised in the local paper and then found that over 80 percent of her customers came from outside the area. How? She used a 3 x 5 index card that had a checkbox for male/female, approximate age and then she asked for people’s zipcode. This information led to a newsletter, product catalog and classes on crafts at an annual fair.

The manufacturer who sold production service equipment with a 20-day, no risk trial. If you didn’t like the product, you didn’t have to pay for it. Just ignore the bill. When the bill was ignored, the owner called to find out why. This research led to new products and improvements of existing products. Had the people just paid the bill, they would never have come back and be on the street possibly bad-mouthing the product.

The building material dealer who purchased windows sold by their competitors. The sales staff then disassembled the samples. This allowed them to determine product characteristics such as roller type, frame assembly method, joints welded or just screwed, etc. The end result was a more knowledgeable sales staff who knew when to stress which selling points about which products. A few of the windows were then put on display to show the customer the differences between products. Sales went up over 30 percent in less than four months.

Trade associations frequently provide information on pricing structure, operational costs, along with product and customer trends. Most every type of industry has an association. They can be found in the Encyclopedia of Associations at the local Business Development Center. A recent report showed that dentists back east are now staying open until 8 p.m. and on Saturdays. How easy is it for you to make an appointment at your dentist? The BDC also has a variety of other information on industry markets. This includes a report on industry financial results. The BDC can be reached at 383-7290.

The secret shopper who called businesses to evaluate their professionalism on the phone. They were able to find out what services were provided at what cost as well as information on how additional charges were incurred. Additional information was gathered on when the business was available, whether or not they took appointments at odd hours.

The key to gathering market information is being a detective. If the success of your business depended on the information, you would figure out how to access it. The point is, it often does.

Jim Kress works at COCC where he helps companies develop plans for gathering market information and improving sales. He can be reached at (541) 383-7712.

Service Through The Customer’s Eyes


Quality and customer service has become the business trend over the last decade. If you ask business owners, they say they focus on delivering the best in customer service. Yet if you ask the customer on the street, it is difficult for them to recall a truly memorable service experience. The reasons for this are many. The lack of service in business often is due to a misunderstanding of the basic fundamentals of providing customer service. Remember that if customers have a problem with your product, they will often ask to have it repaired or replaced. If they have a problem with the service you provide, they usually leave and don’t return.

First, owners and employees must understand service from the customer’s perspective. The most critical factor in this perspective is service time. The customer focuses on three areas when evaluating service time. First, what was the waiting time to obtain service? Did they have to wait in line, or wait hours (or days) for a return phone call? Second, once their problem was recognized, how long did it take for them to have the service delivered? And finally, how long did it take to provide the actual service or solution to their problem?

For retail establishments, the service time is often compressed into a few short moments. The customer enters the store and waits in line at the service counter. After expressing their concern, the product may be replaced and they are on their way. Or they may then be passed on to someone else if the employee at the service counter is not empowered to make the necessary decision. (Don’t you just love waiting for a supervisor who often doesn’t even review the problem, but just signs off on it and leaves you wondering if their signature was that important?) Even though these service times are short, remember to view them from the customer’s perspective. The waiting time in a bank is from when customer enters the bank. Yet the teller views the length of transaction from the time it took them to take care of customer at their window.

For many businesses, the service experience is much more complex. I’ll use a recent appliance repair as an example. First, the company is called about a broken refrigerator. The employee says all service personnel are out and will call back that afternoon when they return. The customer now waits six hours to obtain service. When the service person calls an appointment is made, at best for the next day. That is another day to wait until the service is delivered. Finally when the repairman shows up and inspects the refrigerator, the customer finds a part has to be ordered. The two days waiting is now added to the service delivery time. The part arrives and is installed. For many companies they view service time as how long did it take install the part. Three hours using the above example. The customer measures service time beginning the moment their appliance broke. For them the service time was four days. Look at your own business. How would you (and your customers) measure service?

Here are some guidelines to improving service perceptions. Begin with measuring and controlling service quality and time standards. It may be as simple as having a goal of answering every phone within three rings. This should also include creating consistency in the quality of your service. Do you treat all customers the same or are some more important than others? Reality tells us some customers ARE more important to our business. The hidden message to employees is we don’t have to provide consist quality. Maybe the smaller accounts don’t spend as much with your business because they felt they weren’t that important.

Companies should work on creating tangible elements or functions of a service through increased focus on perceptions. This may be as simple as how products are merchandised or promoted. Dominos Pizza in thirty minutes is an example of creating a perception in the customer’s mind.

Fundamental to improving perceptions is through regular training of employees on service issues. How much time do your employees spend on understanding service and customers sensitivity issues? Too often customer service approaches are developed on the spur of the moment when a young employee is learning how to deal with conflict resolution (i.e. one mad as hell customer) as it is occurring. The result is often an unhappy customer never to return.

Service has improved locally over the last few years. This is due in large part to competition. It is not uncommon to get same day delivery on major purchases. Technology has made it possible for service personnel to stay in better communication with their customer. You may want to consider taking a leadership role and begin to raise the customer’s expectations for service levels and quality (as if customers aren’t demanding enough). Les Schwab has educated generations of drivers on what service is about when it comes to tires. Wouldn’t you like to become the Les Schwab of your industry? This years award winners are examples of those who accepted this challenge and are some of the best in providing service to Central Oregon.

Jim Kress provides customer service training at Central Oregon Community College. He can be reached at 383-7712.


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