Don’t forget your business fundamentals, warns our resident reseller, who reminds us about the benefits of good customer service and word-of-mouth marketing.

An amazing thing happens when you ask people a question. You get an answer. Sometimes it is not the answer you want but you find out information.

Apart from Vincent Van Gogh, we all have an ear to mouth ratio of 2:1 – so we should listen twice as much as we talk.

A strategy that we have employed over many years is to regularly survey our clients.

This is certainly not rocket science and an area that most progressive businesses participate in.

This has taken various forms over the years but there are some great online survey sites now and we have used two over the past couple of years, namely Survey Monkey and Survey Console.

With all the talk of the global financial crisis (GFC) and doom and gloom we decided we should survey our clients more.

We want to be really sure we know what our clients want and make sure that we are addressing their needs.

A tip that I learnt from a Microsoft staffer at one of its conferences many years ago was not just to survey what a client thought of our performance but also to survey what was important to a client.

So we have two blocks of questions – the first asks the client to rate the importance of each of the things we do.

The second block asks questions related to the first and asks how our business has performed in these areas. It is quite a clever way of analysing areas that need to be addressed.

What you are looking for is a significant gap between importance and performance. So as an example, we might ask a question such as, “How important is a staff presentation to you?”

And then on the second block the question might be, “How well presented did you find the staff member who served you?” Feel free to have a look at one of our actual surveys at

One thing that we have noticed a significant change in over the past year has been the question that relates to value for money.

We ask our clients to rate the importance of price and a separate question on value for money.

While the sentiment from clients in relation to price has remained fairly constant, the importance of value for money has increased over recent times. Logic would say that this seems obvious but there is nothing like a graph in front of you to drive home the ‘obvious’ point to all of your staff.

What does this sort of information do to your business and your processes?

Once you realise what is really important to your clients you can start to make sure your business is delivering what they want.

If clients are saying they place value for money above other areas, then you need to make sure you are focusing on this.

This doesn’t mean lower your prices. On the contrary, sometimes the best value for money is the dearest solution.

In the famous value statement from John Ruskin (who passed away 109 years ago) he talks about ‘cheap’ prices:

“The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot. It can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it’s well to add something for the risk you run. And if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better!”

So not only do you need to provide real value to your clients, you probably need to talk more about that value.

Sometimes that will mean that you don’t need to change your prices or change your products – you might just need to change your sales pitch and manage client expectations. I also find that doing an ROI calculation for a client can demonstrate the incredible value that computers provide.

When you combine the concept of the real value provided by IT and then talk to a client about the concept of leasing that equipment – which some businesses haven’t worried about during recent times of strong positive cash flow – then a small weekly cost can deliver great value to their business.

Of course the other aspect of surveying your clients is that it gives them every opportunity to complain about poor service or poor value for money.

You need to roll out the red carpet on complaints because the stats are scary. On average, only four percent of dissatisfied clients complain.

Eighty percent of the rest of your dissatisfied clients tell 10 people and the other 20 percent tell 20 people.

So, if your business only had four complaints last year, and assuming you ended up with a satisfactory resolution for those four people, that means 96 people were dissatisfied who you aren’t aware of – and they told another 1152 people.

The good point from this is that research shows almost all clients who experience a problem and had it resolved efficiently will use that business again and will tell people about the positive experience.

The upshot is that if you can give people an easy way to bring a complaint to your attention, and you are committed to dealing with it, it will make a significant difference to the reputation of your business.

Imagine if your survey process encouraged unhappy clients to complain at the rate of 20 percent instead of the average four percent. Not a huge jump – but it would result in 192 fewer people hearing about dissatisfaction with your business in a year.

From what I am seeing in the business world, the struggling businesses are talking about how bad it is – and the good businesses are keeping their mouths closed and working on increasing sales.

I would love to hear your strategies. The reader who sends me the best strategy will win a copy of my latest book, CRN From the Coal Face 2008.

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