Vending operators are always looking for new ways to retain customers and grow revenue, especially in this increasingly competitive economic environment. One way is to improve customer conveniences and improve the overall customer experience. To do this, many in the industry rely on knocking on doors, cold calling and standard selling strategies. One tactic that operators often overlook is surveys geared to their customer base.
Surveys are used frequently, if not constantly, by hundreds of large companies who sell consumer products and services. However smaller firms, like many in the vending industry, often overlook this fundamental component of market research or simply do not understand its effectiveness as a business tool. They may also believe surveys are too expensive when, in reality, survey programs can be tailored to be affordable for the small business owner.
A customer survey can provide real nuggets about business operation and areas for improvement. Operators may learn their sales approach is not as professional as those of their competitors or how a location rates the operation’s service response time compared to expectations. A survey would indicate whether micro markets or cashless readers would be well received, and ultimately increase revenues. The information gleaned can indicate overall strengths and weaknesses and help establish a baseline for better performance.
Customer surveys can also reveal the effectiveness of your marketing strategy. Do customers understand the operation’s marketing message? Do they visit the website and/or read the sales brochure? A survey can help direct or reinforce a marketing plan, such as whether an operator should add social media.
The Gen Y business owners and managers are technically savvy. They like to connect on social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others. Surveys can reveal which sites these executives not only visit but also value, and therefore which sites an operator should focus on building for successful promotions.
Many businesses conduct surveys to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of their competitors. For example, a more technologically advanced vending owner may be hurting another operators’ business and costing him or her opportunities by chatting-up advanced capabilities and, at the same time, making the other firm look old fashioned or out-of-touch with the needs of today’s businesses.
Surveys can reveal what other competitors are saying about an operation and if there is some measure of credibility in those statements.
Demand for new products and services
Surveys often reveal the need for new or additional products and services. New ideas are often hatched from suggestions or needs voiced by customers. A survey can indicate what these needs are. If the approach is truly novel and different it can help give the company the “first-in” sales and marketing advantage and a huge edge on the competition. Knowing what new products a location wants will lead to greater sales.
Developing a new business plan
Customer research can reveal more than what clients like and dislike about an operation. The information can be used to discard products and services that are not resonating with the location and make the appropriate changes immediately, or in the future. For example, should an operator improve office coffee service offerings? Do specialty or local brands have greater appeal for a certain location?
Survey responses gathered for a vending client in St. Louis revealed that their customers were willing to pay more for healthy foods as opposed to standard snack machine brands. The information helped the business determine that they could leverage the healthy foods to increase profit margins.
The research also indicated that the vending company could target larger firms, with 200 employees or more. The company began offering and creating micro markets with a few customers. Now the vending business has several micro markets in the works and the opportunity to capture larger clients and increase revenues.
Consider the costs of retaining a client versus those of replacing one. Finding a new client takes hours of work prospecting, attending sales meetings, generating requests for proposals (RFP)s and follow-up to secure a relationship. Instead, operators should focus on client retention, which involves a few telephone question and answer exchanges that can reveal a great amount of customer dissatisfaction, or satisfaction.
Customer surveys need not be expensive. The cost depends on whether the survey is done in-house or outsourced and the needs of the business and size of the database.
In-house surveys will cost anywhere from $50 to $150 per hour factoring in the manager or president’s time doing the survey in addition to standard work, as well as understanding the nuances of creating a survey or interpreting the results.
For an outsourced survey, operators can expect to pay $22 to $24 per hour with an established marketing company. This can include as little as 2.5 hours per week surveying new customers or up to 10 hours per week for research geared to the entire customer base.
Whether a company conducts surveys in-house or outsources them, they are an efficient way to connect with customers and allow operators to plot the next steps for increasing revenue in their business. In a highly competitive industry, the only way to give customers what they want is to ask them first.
Vicky Hudson is CEO/Founder of Hudson Management Services in St. Louis, Mo. She and her firm work with clients on a nationwide basis to help them with customer surveys, marketing research, teleprospecting and sales support. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.