Know Your Business, Know Your Customers. Sure, some businesses survive on inherent advantages or national bulk reach, but for most of us who work in competitive industries where service matters, survival comes down to delivering the right goods at the right times and doing so on a consistent basis. So how do we grade our progress along the way?
The best way is rather obvious: ask your customers. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, but the cheapest and most direct method is by simply interacting with customers. Every time customers engage you for a service, take the extra time to see how your service is going to improve their lives or business.
Make certain that they are using your services correctly and purchasing the services that best match their needs. (After all, you're the expert in your industry.) Note, this is not about upselling-this is about controlling the perception of your business by making sure that customers employ you in the most favorable manner for all parties involved.
Other methods run the gamut from old school to new school. A suggestion box may seem a little antiquated, but it communicates the idea that your business is ready to listen and open to improvement. And frankly, some customers still feel more comfortable with pen and paper, and you don't want to exclude their feedback.
Social media, however, has changed the way businesses accumulate feedback from customers. Customers who follow your business on Facebook and Twitter have a direct and instant line of communication. When customers are encouraged to use that line through special events, discounts, and positive reinforcement, social media helps businesses gather useful information that can be applied to new products, sales, or other general changes in the business model.
All of this helps customers understand how much you value them and fosters a sense of loyalty desired by all long-term business owners.