Having 4Q Conversations
If you are serious about providing outstanding customer service and increasing your competitive advantage, it is vital that all executives and middle managers have a 4 Questions (4Q) conversation with at least one end-user customer each week. You should ask your customers the following four questions in a direct communication, such as face-to-face or by phone. They should not be asked in a survey format however, as it loses the intimacy of the conversation.
The 4Q Questions:
- How are you doing?
- What’s going on in your industry/region/neighborhood?
- What do you hear about our competitors?
- How are we doing?
This simple, straightforward intel will cut through the clutter and provide actionable insights. Start the conversation by asking about the customer’s general state of affairs. This will help you understand how things are going for them—the good, the bad, and the ugly. It will affirm that you care about them as people, not just customers. Their answer will also help you determine their priorities and understand how your products and services can help them reach their goals.
The second question is all about industry and regional developments, and if you are in a direct-toconsumer business, it will address what their neighbors and peers are talking about. This question helps you identify trends in your customers’ locales so you can target your products, offers, and messaging.
The third question that asks about competitors is important because it often debunks some urban myths coming from the sales team—often for the need to discount price to win deals. When the leadership team asks the customer point-blank what they think of the competition without focusing directly on questions of price, the feedback is often positive regarding critical issues such as service and delivery, and this serves as a valuable counterbalance for those in your organization too eager to discount.
Most of our clients usually outpace their rivals, so we recommend not obsessing on your competition. But this question also serves as a means to gather vital intel on product launches, organizational shakeups, and personnel moves that can be useful to you.
The final question, of course, gives you unfiltered insight into your own performance from the customer’s point of view. We recommend that each member of your executive and mid-level team forge relationships with their counterparts at your customers’ organizations (e.g., CEO to CEO, CFO to CFO, Sales to Sales, Operations with Operations, and so on). Communicating at this functional level will allow you to pick up specialized insights that a more generalized conversation will miss.
This direct “voice of the customer” feedback is an investment in customer retention. Oftentimes as firms grow, they are so busy chasing net-new opportunities that existing customers can feel ignored and neglected. By retaining your valuable base, it allows growth to compound more rapidly.
Discuss at the Weekly Meeting
A key element of the weekly meeting is sharing insights from these conversations with customers. Don’t get bogged down by writing written reports, as the intent is to be agile, but instead, capture the insights in the meeting notes. To avoid the proverbial “sample size of one,” look for correlations and validations from your teammate’s findings to ensure an insight is indeed an insight.
Fred Reichheld, the loyalty practice founder of global consulting firm Bain & Co., found that high growth companies spent approximately 20% of their leadership team’s meeting time discussing customer feedback. These firms were growing revenue more than twice as fast as other companies in the same sector because the slower growing firms spent almost no time proactively discussing customer feedback.
Involve All Employees – Particularly the Salespeople
Who are the winners? Those companies that obtain the most market intelligence and take action on that information. Consider the fastest-growing companies of this century—Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple. Their business models are based on being able to gather and garner more input from customers than anybody else. They turn this input into insights that drive product development, offers, and advertising placement. It’s well known that consumers are guided by ratings and comments from “the crowd” more than large institutions. These companies know that their customers want to see what someone who has already bought a product or service thinks about their purchase. Customer ratings directly influence future sales.
Likewise, turn your organization into a customer and market intelligence machine. While this has traditionally been the purview of the sales team, it really comes alive when everyone in your organization becomes engaged in collecting, sharing, and acting on valuable intel. Appletree Answers provides call center services to its customers. The company built an app that worked with its CRM to collect suggestions from its frontline call-center people. As a result, each quarter, employees offer
3,000-5,000 ideas, and one of these ideas generated a $17,000-per-month profit idea for a client.
Customers hold the ideas that can drive your business growth. Successful Scale Ups have the processes that systematically collect, share, and implement these insights into growth and profit.
Be Sure to Close the Loop on Ideas
As with employee feedback, it is critical to close the loop on customer insights. Assign your middle management team to make sure these ideas come alive, and track progress in your weekly, monthly, and quarterly meetings. Of course, not every idea will be able to be implemented, so be sure to thank customers for their input and keep the conversation open. They will appreciate that they are being heard. Sometimes it’s not a matter of “if,” but “when” on the implementation.