24 successful entrepreneurs and brand managers share the 10 most important questions that businesses should be asking their customers.
If you had a direct line to your customers, what would you ask them? Market research offers the opportunity to uncover a wealth of insights – information you can use to enhance your product or service, improve your marketing or gain a competitive advantage.
However, to obtain the most useful intel, it’s critical to ask the right questions. As such, we asked several respected brand managers to identify the top 10 questions to include in a customer survey and explain why they’re important.
“Have you purchased/used [XYZ] before?”
Bret Bonnet, Quality Logo Products: “It’s important that you qualify all prospects before considering their results for your study. You want to make sure you’re talking to the right audience, so obtaining demographic information is important too.
These questions tend to significantly reduce your audience size, but if you’re performing market research for, let’s say estate planning, do you really want to include a 16-year-old student in your test group? Probably not.”
“Would you recommend us to a friend?”
If a customer makes a personal referral to someone they care about, it is very likely they are a loyal customer and promoter of your business. It encompasses not only what a customer thinks, but what they feel too. NPS is a customer experience metric that holds value to any company.”
Tom Smith, Insights from Analytics: “The reason this question is so important is it lets you know where you stand with the customer and where to begin the conversation.
If someone’s a “detractor,” you need to fix their concern or be prepared to lose their business and have them vent about you on social media.
If someone’s a “passive,” you need to determine what you can do to move them to “promoter” versus letting them slide back to a “detractor.”
Finally, if someone is a “promoter,” you want to get a testimonial, referral, or them talking about you on social media.”
“What problem/s are you trying to solve?”
Kenneth Burke, Text Request: “When you know the problem, you can address it. And as you figure out more of your customers’ problems, you can build a more robust (and valuable) product or service that solves everything.”
Kay Nordenbrock, KN – Consulting & Copywriting: “I work in inbound marketing so creating accurate buyer personas is crucial to creating targeted content. When asking this question, often people are willing to talk about what obstacles are in their way to reach a certain goal. With that information, I am able to create content that helps these people or businesses get to the core of their problems and eventually solve them.”
Paige Arnof-Fenn, Mavens & Moguls: “If you can help customers fix their biggest problems then you will always be a partner, not just a vendor. I have customers who have come back many times looking for help over the 16 years since I started a global branding firm. It’s because they know we care and that we love solving their problems so they can sleep well at night.”
“Can our product or service improve your life?”
Dylan Macdonald, Organised Health Technologies: “Regardless of how good you think your idea is, if your customers or a potential market are not interested, it simply won’t work. Organised Health asked this very question and, based on the results, we slightly pivoted our target audience.
You have to listen to what people are saying. If that means changing your idea or perhaps completely discarding it, it has to be done. Give your customer base what they want and rewards will come your way.”
Dan Salganik, Visual Fizz: “At the end of the day, unless you are able to make your customer’s life a little easier/better/more efficient, you are probably not providing them with something they should spend their money on.”
Kelley Lauginiger, American Freight: “Based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, or even our own individual experience as consumers, we know products are purchased based on a level of safety and comfort the consumer is feeling. If a consumer doesn’t feel the product solves a need, they won’t feel pushed to make a purchase.”
“What are your biggest pain points with the current market offerings?”
Sophie Knowles, PDF Pro: “Asking this question highlighted the functionalities that were lacking in my competitor’s’ products and allowed me to conduct further tightly-focused market research targeting these gaps. By doing so, I eventually succeeded in building a platform with functional features that were otherwise missing in the market, thus solving a problem for users and differentiating my product from a sea of competitors.”
Britney Kolodziej, JAM Marketing Group: “The answer to this question can be game-changing. For instance, my client who is a life coach originally thought that her clients were craving someone to talk to, someone that would listen.
But after asking this crucial question, she found her clients were frustrated with previous coaches and therapists that only allowed them to talk and air out their feelings. In fact, her clients wanted her to not only listen, but also provide a structured game plan of what they should do at each turn.”
Adam Pearce, Blend Commerce: “The reason this question is important is that unless your product is truly 100% unique, your product will be compared to how the need you are fulfilling is met by other businesses.
When we started our business to provide Shopify store design and marketing, we asked this question. By far, the biggest finding was that customers hated the poor communication and lack of ability to discuss a project over the phone before committing. Based on this, we made this one of our key USPs, and use this in all of our branding and marketing.”
Dr. Ameerzeb Pirzada, Z Dental Studio: “We run a dental clinic and we’ve had huge success by asking this question. We tend to bring the change they want to see, whether it’s lowering our rates or changing the environment. Not only does this give our firm a huge boost in clientele but this enables us to evolve for the better.”
“Why do you buy from us?”
Adam Watson, Hollywood Mirrors: “I survey all our customers twice a year and this is the most important question I ask. Whatever reasons they give, you no longer need to guess what your customer wants. You can then make these important points and USPs more obvious in your marketing and communications. This should result in increased sales and customer loyalty.”
Mike Wolfe, Delgado Stone Distributors: “When we asked this question in 2016, we expected price to be the number one reason people bought from us. It turns out 74.3% of the responses were related to service and communication.
This prompted us to invest more into technology that helps our team communicate with customers in a timely manner. We believe it is why we have expanded into new markets in 2017 and experienced excellent year-over-year growth.”
James Nowlin, Excel Global Partners: “Answers to this question give us data about how our marketing is performing. We can separate which messages reach consumers and which ones do not. The data also tells us which features of our product or service appeal most to consumers. When we launched a new integrated accounting solution, we used the data to further improve the features that have the most impact on consumers. We made our software completely seamless and automatic and marketed it as such and it was a huge hit.”
Cristian Rennella, oMelhorTrato.com: “When we did our first market research, this question allowed us to understand how a potential customer would search for our service on the internet and this is the way we have generated millions of dollars in revenue positioning us in search engines with the same exact keywords that the users really use for search.”
“Which competitors, if any, did you consider when shopping for [XYZ]?”
Danielle Kunkle, Boomer Benefits: “This questions yields so much data. Sometimes you think you know who your competitors are, but answers to this question will often surprise you.
We’ve uncovered competitors we didn’t know we had. We then use the answers to investigate those competitors online and see how their brand and their website compare to ours i.e., what are their search engine rankings, how successful are they on social media, where else do they appear online and ultimately, the big question, what can we learn from this competitor?”
“Thinking about companies that provide X, what companies come to mind?”
Neal Kreitman, ABN Partners: “This question is for unaided recall and can be followed by a second question for aided recall, “Are you aware if any of the following companies provide X?”
The combination of these two questions, explains how well you are known by your target market. It should be analysed by looking at current customers and potential customers, separately. The responses to these questions tell us how much marketing we need to do and whether it should be mass marketing or specifically targeted.
It is also often used to determine the effect of advertising. For one client, I administered a survey prior to and after running television advertising, we saw a significant increase in awareness after the TV advertising campaign.
As time went on, the advertising was stopped. As we continued to administer the survey, we watched brand awareness significantly decline. Senior management began discussing the need for TV advertising.”
“Where, on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being high) would you rate us on the following attributes?”
Linda Pophal, Strategic Communications: “The most important thing for businesses to know about their brands is how well aligned their *desired* brand attributes are with audience (prospect, customer, employee) perspectives. The way we’ve done this is by asking this question. We provide a list of desired brand attributes – generally between 5-10, which would include things like “high quality,” “innovation,” “customer service,” etc.
This type of feedback is very important because, as we all know, companies don’t define their brands – consumers do. Knowing how consumers are currently defining your brand, and comparing those perceptions to your desired brand identity, can help you spot opportunities for improvement as well as areas of strength that you can capitalise on through your communications.”
“How can we do better?”
Kimmie Marek, 7 Charming Sisters: “Every brand should ask their customers how they can further meet their needs. This can be tricky in a non-service based industry. For our e-commerce jewelry business, we segmented our email list to our VIP customers (as defined by frequency of purchases) and sent an opened-ended survey.
We came back with some great suggestions including a more robust rewards program, early access to sales and promotions, and suggestions on content they would like to see more of. This not only gave us valuable insight to better serve our loyal customers but it also increased engagement with our VIP customers and they felt a part of the process to better their experience.”
Jameson Slattery, Colorescience: “This is a great open-ended question. Consumers, especially those that purchase your products, each are connected to your brand in different ways. By asking what they want to see, you are able to get a sense of the way your consumers connect with your brand.
Do they want to see more communication? Products? Support? Without asking this question it is difficult to get a feel for this type of thing. A company doesn’t always need to churn out new products to grow their brand. If your consumers want to see something other than products, make it happen.”
Natasha Kvitka, Gift Baskets Overseas: “This question lets us improve customer retention by making the process of buying and using the product continuously smoother. It is also beneficial for content, social media, and promotional efforts: we know (after developing the features and services requested by the customers) what benefits to communicate to the audience, and in what words.
Using this approach, we learned that in some locations users were primarily looking for free shipping for their international gifts and were willing to compromise on other aspects of the delivery service. So we knew how to develop the service in these locations and what to advertise to the customers.”
Perryn Olson, My IT: “This open-ended question gives me honest feedback if nothing should change, if the brand isn’t delivering on promises, and potential new features/services. I’ve used answers to this question to build marketing messages to educate clients about offerings they didn’t know the brand offered.”
And 5 bonus questions to get even more in-depth:
“Where do you buy our products/services from?”
Do you know which customers are most likely to buy from which distribution channels? Are you matching the needs of your target customer? This question helps you figure out if your brand marketing activities are aligning with where your customers are actually spending their money.
“Is it obvious what our brand’s purpose is?”
Brand purpose is increasingly important to consumers when making a purchasing decision. Having a strong brand purpose that aligns with the views of your target customer can strongly increase the likelihood that they’ll buy from you – so it’s important that if your brand has a purpose, it’s immediately obvious what that purpose is.
“How much would you expect to pay for [XYZ]?”
Price testing is an important part of launching a new product, but it’s never too late to consider whether your product or service is meeting price expectations in the current market. You could be losing potential customers by making your product too expensive, or missing out on profit margin if you’ve massively undervalued your service. Check out our full price testing survey template for in an even more thorough analysis of whether the price is right.
“How would you feel if you could no longer use our product/service?”
Let’s get into some qualitative data on how people feel about what you do – specifically, how they’d feel if they couldn’t use it anymore. The answer to this question will give you valuable insight into how important your product or service is to your customers, how much they value it, and how easy it would be for them to replace.
“If you were in charge of this brand/product/service, what’s the first thing you’d change?”
Nobody’s perfect. Your customers will very likely have things they’d change about your brand if they were in charge, whether it’s a small tweak to a product description through to a complete brand refresh. By asking them to tell you the first thing they’d change, they’ll prioritise and tell you the thing they feel is most important.
So there you have it; the 15 burning questions brand managers and business owners want answers to! It just goes to show that you don’t have to ask hundreds of questions to get key data for your business.
With a decent sample size, the responses to these 10 questions can give you reliable insight into everything from how you’re currently performing and what you could be doing better to who your competitors are and how you compare.
This is invaluable information for developing your business strategy and, with an online customer survey, it can be at your fingers in next to no time.
Want to keep tabs on your brand health? Check out our guide to bringing brand tracking in-house: