The three feedback questions printers must ask their customers – do YOU use them?

Posted by Matthew Parker

Did you fear the end of term report at school?  I used to hate seeing what my school teachers had written about me!

One teacher always used to write “Could do better”.  The trouble was that he never told me how I could do better.  And I never learned, because I never asked the right questions.

If printers want to do better, they need to ask the right customer questions

Printers must listen to what print buyers tell them to grow their businesses

Printers must listen to what print buyers tell them to grow their businesses

Printers who embrace customer feedback will create stronger partnerships with their clients.  This is because they will understand what is a potential problem for their clients.  And they will fix it.  So this means that they will be more in control of their sales pipeline.  And they will achieve their sales targets.

Printing companies that do not embrace customer feedback won’t achieve their sales targets so easily.  They will be constantly wondering why they are losing their clients.  And they will be losing their clients because they don’t listen to them.

Here are the three questions that mean you will keep your clients:

Question 1:  What could we do better?

This question allows you to understand where the weak points are in your company.  You will find out what might drive customers away.  Of course, knowing this isn’t enough.  You also have to do something about it.  You might consider asking customers “How can we fix that?”

Focussing on what can be fixed in a company is important.  But it is also important to think about how your company can change.  And that’s where question 2 comes in.

Question 2:  What else would you like us to do?

The answers to this question can be very surprising.  Often customers will come up with ideas that you would never have thought of.  Many of these will be focussed around the extra services you can offer.  And it’s these ideas that will make customers stay with you.

If a customer wants design, or data work, you should be delighted.  They are going to want to stay much longer with a supplier who offers them more than the manufacture of print.

And understanding why customers stay is important.  Which is why I have included question 3.

Question 3:  Why do you use us?

This is a really important area to understand.  It will tell you what sets you apart from the competition.  And it will tell you exactly what you should be telling prospects about your company.  It creates great sales copy for you!

After these three questions you may have a whole load more.  And that’s great.

Remember:  these questions are just the start of a dialogue

These questions are a way of kick-starting a more involved conversation with the client.  And a more involved conversation leads to better information.

Of course, you’ll be using this information at management and strategy meetings.  And this sometimes provokes a question from print companies with whom I am discussing feedback.

Do you really want to base so much strategy on customer feedback?

The answer to this question is a resounding yes!  You wouldn’t be in business without customers.  So it is vital to understand what they want.  And to achieve this it is vital to listen to what they say.

The best way to see this is in real life situations.

Here are two examples of how customer feedback has worked for me

The first example is based on the “What could we do better question”.  I had arranged a printer for one of my clients.  The printer rang the client soon after starting work with them to ask this question.  It turned out that the client wanted more file copies.  The client had never actually specified this, but it was only through asking this question that the issue came to light.

As the client had not communicated their frustration it was fortunate that the printer asked for feedback.  It prevented a dissatisfied client.  And it stopped the possibility of the printer losing the client through a simple misunderstanding.

Feedback also helped me when planning my business

It helped me create a new product.  I am about to launch The Print Industry Negotiation Handbook.  But I have only invested the time writing it after having feedback from clients that it would be worth my while.

So feedback helps you stop making errors. And it helps you create new business ideas as well.

Remember the three questions you need to ask your customers

Set a time in your diary once a week to ring a customer.  Ring one every week, and ask them the questions:

Question 1:  What could we do better?
Question 2:  What else would you like us to do?
Question 3:  Why do you use us?

You’ll find the information invaluable.  And it’s something you’ll end up looking forward to.  Unlike the school report!

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13 Responses to The three feedback questions printers must ask their customers – do YOU use them?

  • As a sort of extension on those questions you might ask why your client would choose an alternative supplier in some cases. We’d all like to believe we are the one stop shop to our clients but the reality is that many buyers use different suppliers for different types, qualities or budgets in projects. It’s as relevant to know our competitors strengths as it is our own.

    Would you suggest asking the questions in an open format individually or by way of an anonymous poll / questionnaire Matthew? Or I guess we should be doing both?

    • Matthew Parker says:

      Thanks for stopping by Francis. That’s a great extra question you’ve suggested.

      I would recommend that these questions are asked directly to customers. Then if there are any problems you can reassure them exactly what you are going to do to solve them.

      Matthew

      • Thanks Matthew. I agree and can see the logic as there is an instant opportunity to put right a grievance or specific tweek to our service to that particular client. I wonder though how many customers might be “afraid” to complain or sound negative. It shouldn’t be the way but I know a lot of people that would simply keep quiet, especially about minor issues where as with an anonymous survey they might speak a little more freely. I intend to implement both very soon so thanks for writing this article.

  • Matthew Parker says:

    Francis, you make a fair point about the anonimity of complaints. I think the questioning must always be done as a conversation. Another option is to use an independent questioner with good print industry knowledge (like Print & Procurement ;o) who can understand what the customer is saying. They will also be able to escalate issues to teh sales team straight away.

    Matthew

  • Geoff Balfour says:

    Francis, when encouraged to ask how a service could be improved, research shows that more most will respond honestly. Asking the follow up question “Would you be happy for an employee to call you to better understand your suggestion” usually gets a 90%+ positive response. Getting an operations person to speak to the customer in an enquiring and supportive way, not defensive, elicits outstanding feedback and uncovers opportunities for improvement and recovery, increases loyalty and boosts long term relationships and profits. Email questionnaires can get up to 60% response rate if used properly, telephone almost always gets 100% response rate. If you interested “The Ultimate Question” by Fred Reicheld” is an excellent book on the subject.

    • Matthew Parker says:

      Geoff, thanks for your input and suggesting Fred Reicheld. I was reading another book yesterday that suggests the tone of questioning will affect the answer. So in this case I believe that neutral tones would be usful, as long as there a sense of support from the questioner as well.

      Matthew

  • Asking customers these questions directly shows what I think is one of the
    main problem of our industry. We want our clients to tell us what to
    do.

    In my opinion we as a supplier must find the answers as we try to
    understand our customers needs, by listening and ask questions about
    their business. What problems are they facing, what’s the next step
    for them, whats their unique selling points, who are their competitors
    etc.

    After a meeting or a phone call with a customer we should know how we
    can do better for this client, we should know what more we can do for
    this client and we should know why they use us or why they should use
    us.

    Its three very good questions and the answers should be of high interest no matter what business your in. But focus must be on how we can help our client, not on how our client can help us.

    Carina Karlsson

    • Matthew Parker says:

      Carina,

      Thank you for your comments. I think the questions will help a printer to help their client more effectively. But my focus here was to make sure that printers knew how they were performing.

      But printers should also be asking their customers what problems they face and coming up with solutions for them.

      Best wishes

      Matthew

  • Like any other industry, success depends on a few basic principles which we all need to follow regardless of our company responsibilities. First, we must LISTEN to our customers so we can offer what they need, not what we think they need. I suppose I am guilty at times, but there are far too many employees who DO NOT want to listen becasue they are too busy trying to do all of the talking. Just take a deep breath and sit back and listen to your customer’s needs.

    Secondly, timely communication and follow up are critical to letting your customer know they are the most important lifeblood in your business life.

    Finally, providing consistent and complete customer service will pay many of your company’s bills and assure a long term partnership with your customers.

    Dick Anderson
    The Hubbard Company
    Defiance, OH

    • Matthew Parker says:

      Thank you Dick,
      Listening is vital. Ideally one should only talk for 30% of the time. But I rare;y succeed in this!
      Matthew

  • David Rosenthal says:

    The favorite question that I ask Clients/Creative Directors is “If you could have anything in the world relative to printed products/capabilities/services that will improve your business, what would that be? What would that look like? Those who truly understand that question have provided strategic direction and an array of new opportunities.

    When asking these questions, be sure to do the following:

    1. Ask the question. Then shut your mouth and wait for the answer. Do not speak until your client answers the question. 10 seconds of silence may feel like 10 hours.

    2. Do not proceed to your next question until the question on the table is answered.

    3. Listen carefully to the answers. Do not be argumentative. Remember, your aim is getting honest feedback from your Customer.

    This activity can enhance your relationship with your Customer, and provide you with powerful insights on weaknesses that you may be unaware of, and new opportunities that you may want to exploit. Removing the ‘can-do-betters’ enhances all of the positives.

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