Screen Shot 2013-01-08 at 12.12.18 AMYou might think you know what your customers really want.

You may think you really know how they feel about you.

But do you really know?

Keep reading if you want to know sure-fire ways to find out.

Assume, Ask or Observe?

Which of these 3 are you?

Do you assume that you know what your customers want because you’ve moved a few units or heard one or two anecdotal stories?  Do you regularly poll your customers about new products, current promotions or ongoing consulting?  Are you in the position to covertly listen in on what your customers say about you, your products or your service?

Well, the truth is, there is value in all three, here’s why…

The value of assumptions

It’s been said that when you assume, you make an “ass of u & me.”  Get it?  Ass-u-me.  However, there are plenty of times where your gut is worth trusting.  Like when you’ve got that customer that you just KNOW deep in the cockles of your soul, is really unhappy, no matter how much they insist that everything is fine.  If you’ve got one of those gut feelings, it might be worth trusting, unless of course your gut stinks at reading people.  If that’s the case or you don’t have a clear feeling, then you might want to go a more scientific route.

Maybe you should just ask?

You know it sounds crazy but maybe just blurt out the question next time you’re sitting with a client.  Maybe you could put together a short survey or have one of your front line employees gather intelligence on the ground level.   Perhaps it’s time to dust off the Facebook question feature, pose a question to your Twitter audience or drop by your “clients” or “customers” circles on Google+ and ask specific questions.  Asking is one direct way to find out what people think, BUT depending on how you word your question, the mood someone is in, the format or design of the survey, the positioning of the moon relative to Jupiter, or any number of other factors, the results can be influenced.  This is why it’s good to supplement the ask with…

Observations

Congratulations, you’ve made it this far in the post, now here’s the pay-off.  What makes Social Media so different than the forms of media that preceded it, is that there’s no permission needed to broadcast.  Any dummy or scholar with a smartphone, tablet, or computer can post their opinions online.  This is both good and bad.  The good news is that in many cases, you can listen in.  So to start supplementing your asking process, first identify where your audience is.  A good way to do this might be…to ask.  If you find that many of your clients are on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, set up shop there and find as many of your customers as possible.  Friend them, follow them and watch from a far when the opportunity presents itself.

You can build a custom listening engine using Google Reader and RSS feeds.  This will allow you to monitor social sites, forums, blogs and news sites.  Listen in for your company name, employee and executive names, product names, branded service offerings, etc.

If you take the approach of asking and observing, while still reserving the option to fall back on your gut instinct, you may just get to know what your customers are really thinking.  But once you know, what’s next?

What is your approach to gaining customer insight?  Do you do anything to gather actionable information…or do you just assume?  Add your comments below.