It’s no secret: the industry is changing. How and where we work, the resources needed to complete a job, the complex regulatory landscape that dictates tools and processes.
As business evolves, it’s more important than ever that industry stakeholders continue to build and engage in a dialogue that frames the path forward and ensures mutual success. How can manufacturers better meet the changing needs of contractors and wholesalers? What in-the-field insights can contractors and wholesalers relay to manufacturers?
Even if they can’t stop the frequency of change, these conversations can yield invaluable information, align expectations and even uncover solutions that address some of today’s hurdles.
Building a dialogue begins by opening up and listening to what your customers have to say — and there are a number of ways to gain these important customer insights.
The most common, especially for those in customer facing roles, are routine interactions. These tend to highlight the most pressing customer concerns. While critical, however, this information leaves many gaps. Customers can be quick to note their immediate concerns, but may not provide you with all of the information to drive long-term success.
Likewise, we all rely on the information published in the industry trade press. This information may come from surveys, discussions with industry leaders, government data or a variety of other sources.
This brings excellent insights — emerging trends, regulatory shifts and behavioral changes in the different generations employed by the industry — but tends to paint one picture across the country. Most of these sources cannot provide the information on your local market needs or the specific customer segments you serve or intend to serve, and otherwise lacks granularity.
Ultimately, it is in your best interest to combine these two common information sources with a structured system of gathering insights from your customers.
While it is challenging to turn focus away from day-to-day activities to do this, doing so will provide you with the information such as your customers’ most pressing needs, the shifts they see coming, how they intend to respond and, most importantly, what they want from your company.
A combination of surveys, customer insight panels and one-on-one interviews is needed to build this understanding.
With today’s digital options, surveys can be conducted with minimal cost and distributed in a way that ensures responses reflect your specific firms’ unique customer base. You can choose to work with a vendor capable of providing analysis and support in identifying participants and questions, or there are an abundant number of free tools available on the Internet for firms with a lower budget or the confidence to take this on independently.
Depending on the ultimate objective, the keys to a successful survey include identifying the right respondents, deciding what topics the survey should cover and phrasing the questions to minimize ambiguity. This last one is a key point — different people with different roles may all interpret and respond to the same question differently.
While surveys do an excellent job of painting a broad picture, getting the granular information needed to act requires structured customer insight panels or one-on-one interviews. These tools enable you to engage in a back-and-forth discussion to really understand customer challenges, taking the discussion several layers deeper than a survey would permit.
Carefully structuring an insight panel ensures the right individuals are included and the material is relevant. It’s wise to first step back and reflect carefully on the information gained in the sources previously addressed to develop a list of discussion points.
Boiling these points down into an agenda with specific questions leads to a discussion that is beneficial not only for you, but also the participants.
Ultimately, it is unlikely that a robust customer insight program will change everything your company does, but it can help you identify opportunities, better meet customer needs and act with greater confidence.
Using a multi-layered program ensures you’ll be able to identify the major issues facing your customers and translate those issues into what you need to do to remain competitive and grow in rapidly changing environment.
At Danfoss, we established a formal voice of the customer program a few years ago to focus specifically on how we can better meet our customers’ needs and make it easier for them to do business with us.
Our surveys paint a picture of what our customers are experiencing broadly, as well as track our performance on a periodic basis. By asking the same questions with every iteration of the survey, we are able to track how we are performing on a continual basis.
Using these surveys, customer interactions and industry information compiled by third parties, Danfoss develops content to convene an annual insight panel that provides a fine level of detail on what our customers are seeing in the market and where they see the industry going.
On an ongoing basis, we conduct one-on-one interviews (or conversations) to fill in gaps or provide additional insights in a focused area. Particularly with the insight panel, Danfoss works to provide maximum benefit for both parties.
We want participants to know they have an important voice within our business and, at the same time, gain market insights, both from us and other panel participants.
These discussions tend to focus on the critical issues facing the industry — including the skills gap, challenge of finding and developing qualified technicians and regulatory issues — but also generate product development ideas that help us provide solutions and services tailored to meet their needs, greater clarity for how activities in which we engage affect them and other needs, such as testing our marketing communications material.
For contractors, using similar principles and bringing the customer to the table can provide a greater level of insight about customers’ wants, needs and behaviors that can help firms position and market themselves precisely to their unique customer base.
Nicholas Morosoff is the regional segment manager for wholesale within the Cooling Segment of Danfoss in North America. He has been with Danfoss for eight years. Nicholas earned his BA from the College of William and Mary and an MBA from the University of Maryland. Visit danfoss.us for additional information.
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