Despite talk this week of tax cuts and federal stimulus, the U.S. economy will face severe challenges for some time to come. Small businesses have been especially hard hit by the difficulties imposed by the current economic climate and many small business owners are trying to figure out how to help their businesses grow by using technology in creative ways.
Conference calling represents one such creative way. More specifically, our small business users are using conference calling to better understand customer requirements and applying these insights to build more revenue.
As small business owners ourselves, we deal with customers all day long. Yet, too often, the nature of these conversations is reactive and based on the immediate challenge of putting out the fire for that day or that moment. Inviting a group of six to eight customers to participate in a 45-minute conference call is a powerful way of creating a dialogue.
During that 45 to 60 minute group discussion, you’ll want to invite feedback on how customers (present or potential) see your product or service. Start with the general and descriptive. How are they using your product or service? How frequently are they using it? How did they first see/hear about your product? How do they typically acquire the product? What competitive products do they also use?
As you listen, listen for possible surprises. You might hear about unexpected or unanticipated uses of your product. If that happens, draw out the speaker and invite him or her to expand. Invite other customers on the conference call to chime in with their experiences to see if there are any overlapping experiences.
From there, you can move to more specific and opinion-focused feedback. Where do they see scope for possible improvement? What new features or additions are they interested in seeing you put forth? Are they recommending you to other companies and if not, why not?
As you listen during this phase, be attentive to what your customers are saying or not saying. Are you hearing agreement, disagreement, or silence from the others? Folks on a conference call are normally reluctant to publicly disagree, so you may need to actively encourage and engage them in voicing contrary opinions.
Once you get an active dialogue going, you’ll occasionally need to step in and redirect the conversation if one topic is becoming a time hog. The goal is not to shut down a lively part of the session but merely recognize that time is limited and that you’ve got several topics to cover.
In the past decade, many conference calling services have changed to a free model. Participants pay only for the cost of making a long-distance phone call (the cost of which might be zero on account of unlimited mobile phone calling plans). Therefore, the real cost is that of time: Your time in doing the scheduling and organizing and the time of your customers in participating.
Done right, the return on investment from a customer conference call can be substantial. All it can take is one good piece of feedback from a customer to help you generate more business.