There are many ways of learning what is essential in your business. However probably the most powerful and least practiced is that of Customer Feedback. Having the greatest widget in the world is useless if your customers don't want to buy it and if it doesn't resolve a perceived need. Getting that information from your customers can be accomplished in a variety of ways though and it pays to ensure that you are doing as many of them as possible. (One point to note - conducting a survey is important, but if you don't actually do anything with those results, then you shouldn't have wasted the time or the money in gathering that information!)
Customer Feedback Is Critical
In order to drive continual customer service improvements, companies need to focus on obtaining the information from their clients, analyzing that information and acting on that information. Remember, as stated earlier ... if no action is taken - don't bother!
Capturing customer feedback
Capturing what your customers want can be done via a variety of different means now a days. Web and phone based surveys are common as are physical paper based surveys that are mailed out to customers. Depending on the size of your business and your customer base, there are many large organizations that can assist in gathering, collating and analyzing this information for you, but if you are just starting out a simple spreadsheet with the feedback that you've received from your customers is a great starting point! Listen to them NOT just in your surveys but also in your daily interactions with them via your support and customer service teams.
Another great way to get information from customers is via focus groups. Often used at the beginning of a product stage to determine WHAT customers want, it is just as effective afterwards to determine HOW you are performing and if you are meeting or exceeding expectations.
Another point to note - DO NOT over survey your customers. It is quite common for different parts of the same company to send out different surveys to the SAME customer. While it is obviously important to that division, the information that is returned will not be as useful as the customer will NOT be providing an unbiased response.
It is best if all survey's are done via a centralized team or department and then the results of that survey shared among the company as a whole. Customer feedback collected through surveys, e-mails, phone calls, online chat and other channels can be combined into a single instance, integrating both structured and unstructured data into a central platform and enabling companies to extract maximum insight from the information collected in a cost-effective and timely manner.
Analyzing the Data
Customer feedback is subjective. It always will be and this needs to be understood by the group running the survey and appropriate steps taken. Another very significant point is that when survey's are sent out it, it is essential that steps are taken to "tie" the response to a specific issue so that you are able to make the most use of this information. In addition, decisions via survey should never be taken unless the sample size is large enough.
Solving the Issues
Once you've determined what your customers want, prioritize those issues based on the 80/20 rule (Pareto principle) and let your clients know what you are doing to resolve the issues. What your plan is, how soon you expect to have the issue resolved and what the benefits to them would be. There is no harm in sharing a commonly perceived error with your existing users ... THEY ALREADY KNOW IT'S THERE! ... and if they see that you are going to take steps to resolve the problems they will understand that their best interests are in remaining with you. Remember that these are already your customers - you just want to treat them the right way and sharing information with them is a simple and effective way of doing this.