Hints and Tips | | Published May 09, 2014

Guest Post: How to Find Out What Your Customers Want

Michael Crassweller, guest blogger and veteran of the video games industry, suggests in order to provide the best customer service you must first understand the customer

By Michael Crassweller
Guest Contributor to TeamSupport

blog graphicWhat do our customers want?

That's a question I've heard asked time and again by senior management and executives. By product managers, developers, designers and sales teams. I've sat in countless meetings where we puzzled over this question, talking about creating customer surveys, focus tests. We even discussed contracting with expensive market research firms to put together a really exhaustive report with a few slick looking PowerPoint decks.

But do you know one group of people that never has to ask that question? The one department or team in your company that knows exactly what customers want? The folks who could lay it out for you in detail if you thought to invite them to the meeting?

Customer Service.

Your CS team is probably one of the few groups in your company that is always in touch with your customers. They know in detail what's causing problems, what needs to be improved, what opportunities there are to improve your product or service for the people who are already paying you money.

But they're almost never looked at as a valuable resource when it comes to making sure you're delivering what your customers want. In my experience, customer service departments are typically hidden away in some corner, paid poorly, and regarded as the least important people in the company, doing a job that is necessary, but not very valuable.

When I see this, I see people who fundamentally don't understand the job Customer Service does. And this is typically because they themselves have never answered a customer call, or spent a day in an email queue. (Or at the extreme, have a certain degree of contempt for their own customers)

Not only have I seen this happen at places I've worked, but virtually every friend I've talked to about their experiences at other companies has told the same or similar story about how CS is regarded and utilized. What's worse, most of these companies publicly state over and over how much they care about their customers and how they're the company's #1 Resource/Secret Weapon/Whatever.

It's because of all of this that I now strongly advocate that everyone, at every level of a company spend some time regularly in the trenches with their CS teams. And to do it in a meaningful, productive way.

Check Your Ego at the Door

I'm sure in your day-to-day, you consider yourself to be a very Important Person. That you're above such low-level, common tasks as CS. I bet your hourly rate is easily triple or quadruple what the company pays the entry-level CS agent. Forget all of that. Check it at the door. When a customer has a problem, it doesn't matter what your title or your pay is. All that matters is if you can help them.

Go in Anonymously

When you're dealing with customers, or even other CS agents, you should do it as John/Jane from Customer Service. Do not go in and tell everyone that you're the CEO jumping in to lend a helping hand. This isn't an ego thing, this isn't even a team-building thing. You're here to see what's really going on with your customers, and you won't get that if you tell every customer you talk to that you're not normal CS, you're actually an Important Person.

Go in as an Entry-Level CS Agent

It doesn't matter if you own the company, or are the product manager on the flagship product. You're new to CS so you get the work they'd normally give the 16 year old they just hired for the holiday season. This means you answer the most mundane, common questions. This will give you a great view of the most common problems, the low-hanging fruit of things you could be improving.

Answer the Phone, Emails, Chat, Forums etc.

If CS covers it, you should cover it. That means picking up the phone, or wading into the forums (with your non-Important Person identity). Again, this is about getting a full exposure and really understanding what's going on for your customers.

Put in a Full Day, and Do it Regularly

This isn't a one-off thing where you can go "I spent a day with our customers, so now I know what they want!" The truth is that what your customers want, what struggles they're having changes constantly. If you're going to evolve your product/service, you need to be continually checking in to see what the reality on the ground is. Make this a scheduled thing. And when you do it, don't let yourself be distracted by other tasks, calls or work. Even if you're the CEO, this is a day you should set aside your normal duties so you can fully focus. If you're being pulled away every 30 minutes to address something else, you're not really going to learn anything.

Most managers, developers, designers and execs don't realize it, but they already have a group of experts in their company that can tell you exactly what the customers want, what's frustrating them, what they want to see improved. You're already paying them to research and gather this information. Why not make use of it? Spend time working the email and call queues.

Talk to your customers when they're at their most frustrated. Learn what it's like to have to live with the consequences of your business and product decisions. What seems brilliant in the sterile dev environment, or the board room as you devise grand plans, may not be so marvelous when it goes out into the world.

And most importantly, invite Customer Service to the damn meeting! They will surprise you.

Note: I haven't had a direct customer service job since I worked Tech Support in college. However, I've always worked closely with Customer Service teams and have spent a lot of time myself directly helping customers having issues with products and services I helped maintain. In the intervening years since that support job, I've worked with some brilliant CS agents and managers who desperately wanted to do a great job, to take what they were learning from the customers and help the company improve. Some companies have valued this, and others ignored it. The ones that valued that knowledge reaped great benefits, and enjoyed strong customer loyalty.

About the Author:

Michael Crassweller (see nl.linkedin.com/in/michaelcrassweller) is a veteran of the video games industry with 8 years' experience managing external relationships with global publishing and development partners, internal operational teams, and providing subject matter expertise & operational support across groups in both small and large corporations. Today he's the Head of Post-Production at Spil Games in the Netherlands where he oversees Game QA, Localization and Mobile Apps.

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