Most of the business owners I speak with tell me they know what their customers need and want.  They know they are meeting and exceeding their customers’ expectations. How do they know this specifically? Most have good feedback from their client-facing team members, from the customers themselves and from feedback solicited via online surveys, questionnaires and follow-up phone calls.  I usually also hear that “Of course the client is happy, they’re continuing to use and pay us!  If they were unhappy, they’d let us know, right?” 

Wrong. 

Only those unhappy customers that are willing to take the time to complain are likely to give you another chance. Those are the great Moments of Truth where you learn what the problem is and run the extra mile to correct it.  It is possible to make those customers raving fans if your improved level of service remains high.  They’re invested in you! 

However, some customers won’t take their time or be bothered to complain.  They will eventually leave, and you may not know why until they’ve already replaced you. Since none of us are running a monopoly (try complaining to the cable company in a small town!), it’s a good idea to make sure you have a sense of what your customers are thinking about you.  The bonus is that you can gather information about what they’d like to see in the future. How? 

One way is to hold a focus group.  Here’s an overview of how to do this: 

1.) Select a group of 5-7 customers that use similar product lines that are not direct competitors of each other.  (For example, if you have full-service customers, you will put them together.)

2.) Decide what you want to ask them about. For example: 

    • how well are you delivering existing services (what they really think, and this is not the time for you to argue about whether their perception is correct or not) 
    • what are your strengths and weaknesses from their perspective (this is a good way to see how strong your messaging is too)? 
    • what could you be doing better? (the goal is to exceed expectations!) 
    • What are you doing that they don’t care about? (isn’t that silly?  We all do it too!) 
    • What do they wish you would start offering as a service? (in my prior life we learned that our clients wanted us to take over the administration of a similar type of program that we offered that a provider had abandoned.  We were interested since we had core competencies that fit that need.  Ended up being a very profitable service and provided entrée for other cross-selling!)  

In addition, I’ve had customers tell me what we should be doing based on solicitations they get from other companies, how we fit from a price perspective and whether that’s reasonable, how they think we should get new customers and/or employees!  

3.) Select a skilled third-party facilitator to run the focus group.  This is the best way to get honest feedback.  I know you think your customers will feel free to be open when you are in the room, but believe me, they won’t.  Much better results will be collected by a person who is not from your company. I’ve used business school professors, friends from different consulting companies who were not in the landscaping industry and focus group firms (who will also help you design the experience if you feel the need.) With an expert leading the group I’ve had customers enthusiastically brainstorm for the future success of my company! We’ve even had to break up groups so we could send them back to their offices (we had cars with drivers waiting so they could work or relax while getting to our event). 

4.) Plan the event carefully. We would offer an honorarium (a donation in their name, usually to one of their charities or kids’ teams—most recently $200 each) and a delicious lunch.  With our guests’ permission, we shared the list and a brief bio for each to the other and the facilitator.  After the event, we sent thank you notes and set up a reminder to thank participants and get any input they wanted to share at least annually.  

5.) Determine how you will act on the information you collect.  Who will decide what kinds of actions you might take?  Who will “own” the project? 

How do your customers think about your company?  Do you have “hidden opportunities” a focus group might reveal? Could you buy a company to add those services to your portfolio? Have you held focus groups?  I’d love to hear how that went for you.  If you’d like to discuss your situation, selling or buying a business or preparing your business for sale, please let us know. In the meantime, if you have questions or comments, I can be reached anytime via email: [email protected] or phone at: 224-688-8838. We’re here to help you harvest your potential.

Alison Hoffman

Alison Hoffman

has more than 25 years of experience in strategy, operations, mergers and acquisitions and delivering business-to-business client solutions. Her areas of expertise include managing operations for profitable growth, organizational design and strategy activation. She brings a wealth of experience through her work in evaluating, valuing and purchasing over 30 companies, leading company-wide cultural and business integration projects and consolidating best practices among business processes and corresponding computing systems. Read Full Bio