Unbiased Customer Feedback

Alex Kraft
Sep 7, 2022

Customer surveys are all the rage these days. I wouldn’t be surprised if the kid’s lemonade stands down the street started texting a survey after each purchase made. I had a recent positive experience that caught my attention though and is the purpose of this blog. It isn’t necessarily about the frequency of surveys, its more about the employees’ communication to customers. It seems like in almost every instance, the consumer is told what scores are acceptable. It usually happens like this: “just to give you a head’s up, you’ll be getting a survey and it’s really important for us here. Anything less than 5’s across the board hurts us”. Of course, I don’t want this person negatively impacted by my answers. I understand that many companies use surveys as an incentive compensation opportunity, but doesn’t this practice contradict the entire purpose of surveying for customer feedback? Customer feedback is critical to understanding performance, market perception, and expectations. But this approach detailed above has become all too common and misses the mark. To me, identifying areas to improve is the most important part of customer feedback.

So, if customer surveys are largely pencil whipped, how can an equipment dealer get real critiques? What many do is go on a customer tour of their 10–20 largest accounts. I understand how important it is to stay close with your largest accounts, I’m not suggesting otherwise. But this won’t get you any closer to areas that you can improve. These customers get the best of everything from your dealership: best pricing, most attention, and best access to your senior level teams. When one of those 10 accounts has an issue, the fire alarm sounds and everyone within the dealership comes to the rescue. Funny enough, you don’t need to ask as almost everyone in the dealership knows exactly what these customers’ experiences are with your company!

I learned this lesson when I worked for a dealer and again once I started Heave. In my dealership days, I remember meeting a large account that rarely gave us business. We’d get the occasional rental and quote every purchase, but when it was time for them to sign the contract, the other dealer walked out with the signature. We had one of our top salesmen on the account and he was a true professional, calling on them weekly. I don’t remember what prompted us to ask the question, but I do remember the meeting when we just flat out asked, “what are we NOT doing that _______ dealer is doing?” The customer described their experience with one of our competitor’s service departments as the deciding factor. He mentioned that our competitor serviced their machines on the weekends and off-hours. When they showed up for work on Monday, their fleet was ready to go with invoice in hand and that is why they continued to buy from our competitor. He said, “no one else in the market has ever come close to this experience, and when we need service from the others it always interrupts our operation.” This was a great eye opener for me as a leader. I learned that day where the bar was for us if we wanted to earn, not only this customer’s business, but most likely many of the other top accounts in the area. This is not something I would have “learned” from reading customer surveys.

I visited many customers when launching Heave. We had a vision for what the platform could look like and how we could serve customers. There were two customer visits that stood out, as both customers told me that Heave ‘wasn’t for them’. If I was ten years younger, I probably would have gone into a pitch trying to convince them that they should use our marketplace. But the purpose of the visit wasn’t a sales call, it was an information gathering meeting. For me, this was an incredible learning experience to understand from their perspective why Heave didn’t provide value. These two meetings were pivotal in helping us shape our product and strategy. Without this feedback, we would’ve continued to struggle defining who Heave is built for and probably wasted a ton of time pursuing the wrong customers. I can’t thank those two individuals enough for the respect they paid me by being honest and unbiased.

Every dealership knows a group of customers who don’t really buy from them but that they know well. These are the customers who can be incredibly helpful if they’ll give you the time and be honest. One great quote I’ve learned years ago from an executive was, “customers vote with their wallet”. Maybe there’s a group of customers that have quietly shifted their buying behavior towards a competitor the past few years. We’ve all run through the list of customers parts sales- are there customers that buy parts from your dealership but don’t have corresponding service revenue? My point is that these are the perfect interview candidates. When you start losing business, the typical knee jerk reaction is always, ‘they must be solely buying on price’. Rarely is that the case. But it makes us feel better because our inner dialogue tells us that there was nothing we could do. Our job as leaders is to put the effort in and dig deeper to find out where we are falling short. The other thing worth mentioning is that it’s ok if you can’t put an immediate fix in to some of the issues that arise. For the example I gave above about servicing equipment on weekends and off-hours: our dealership didn’t have the manpower or expertise at the time to shift in this fashion. The point is that it’s much better to know where the bar is set than to make internal excuses or to simply not know what is driving market decisions. This feedback helps shape long term goals within the dealership. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised what people will tell you if you approach it in the right way and create an environment where customers feel that they can be open and that you’re asking for the right reasons.