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Why Collect Customer Feedback on Product Quality (and How)

Hardware quality affects the perceived value of your IT services. Without surveying your customers, you might overlook product frustrations leading to high churn rates and… continue below

Why Collect Customer Feedback on Product Quality (and How)

Hardware quality affects the perceived value of your IT services. Without surveying your customers, you might overlook product frustrations leading to high churn rates and more support tickets.

As an IT provider, consumers turn to you for expertise and experience. Voice and data networks, for example, are complex environments that comprise various components, each meticulously configured for high performance and security. Your customers trust in your ability to select the best hardware and connect said pieces optimally.

Unfortunately, the products you choose do not always satisfy your users as expected. Although easily remedied, failing to recognize product frustration is detrimental to your business. To catch problems early, you need to collect feedback from your customers and explore new avenues for improving the user experience.

Usability: A Key Criterion When Assessing IT Services

Product frustration typically arises when users interface directly with the hardware. This is because the average consumer cannot distinguish between hardware and service quality.

Dan Jenkins and Nick Mival from DCA Design International observe, “Some people judge [quality] almost exclusively on a single measure…for others, quality is less about the artefact itself and more about the brand.” In other words, your consumers will likely boil down the complexity of your offering to one or two measures of quality—likely something tangible. For instance, a user might judge a Unified Communications (UC) platform based on its voice quality. With a non-HD VOIP phone, he or she might mistake the solution itself as low quality.

Conversely, if you pair products too advanced for your user base, then you’ll encounter usability problems. When users cannot overcome the learning curve associated with your hardware, it prevents them from deriving full value from the solution.

You must always remember the technical abilities of the user rather than how a product’s specifications stack up. A neat feature to you, the expert, might be superfluous and hard to use for others. This is called the curse of knowledge—a bias that arises from an inability to see past your own skills or intellect and recognize such in others.

Collecting user data is the best way to lift the curse of knowledge and discover the right products for your users.

Continuity: Products That Maximize User Investments and Ensure Service Performance

For accessing a network, users need only a computer and its peripherals. All other components—routers, switches, gateways, hubs, etc.—go untouched after configuration. Thus, the only metric gaugeable on quality is performance, and hardware certainly affects this.

For example, a cheap router might be incapable of handling heavy workloads. What’s perhaps suitable in a home would only throttle an office network. It might even limit the reach of data to one floor or a block of rooms. Alternatively, a premium router would not impose such limitations on the service.

Likewise, the more expensive router might offer greater durability. Even if the materials used in a product do not immediately affect the quality of service, flimsiness will lead to more repair requests over time. For claiming warranties and ordering parts, the problem becomes external. Unlike a service-level issue that your technicians can troubleshoot, hardware problems involve third-parties, putting your user experience at the mercy of another company.

Returning to the quote above—“Quality is [sometimes] less about the artefact itself and more about the brand”—it raises an interesting point about how the products you select represent your brand. If your customers perceive the hardware you select as inferior, then it gives the competition an edge. As well, if the majority of your customers feel dissatisfied with your product selection, then that unhappiness taints the rest of your user experience.

Methods of Gleaning Customer Feedback

Caroline Ernest astutely describes the value of customer feedback in her article Five Ways to Become a Reseller Customers Love:

Listening to real customer concerns and experiences can help you fine tune your selling process and improve the experience for the next batch of buyers. Change is necessary and important. Your customer base is constantly growing and evolving, so your business practices must follow suit.

This concept of “fine-tuning” applies to product selection, too. You should constantly look for those products that create friction or limitations, while also identifying those that do most good.

Interestingly, refining your product selection and/or recommendation strategies is difficult because most businesses cater to multiple customer types. What frustrates one customer type may please another; grouping your data together would only skew the results. Therefore, when conducting customer interviews or surveys, you must segment your audience. The more you learn about each segment, the better you will be at selling to and supporting your clients.

Survey Forms

The most common method of generating product feedback is an online survey. The best surveys comprise no more than ten questions, taking little time for the user to complete. Of those questions, each must serve one of three purposes:

  1. Discover how your products and services compare to others on the market;
  2. Identify existing pain points within your customer experience;
  3. Define your customers and their segments (i.e. business type, job position, application, etc.).

Regardless how well-structured or brief your form is, you need to establish speed assurance for customers to engage your survey. Speed assurance is two-fold: it means demonstrating an interest in your customers’ opinions and actively respond to their comments.

According to a UK-based customer experience group, 43 percent of consumers hesitate filling out satisfaction forms because they think the business doesn’t actually care. Similarly, 81 percent admit that they would fill out a survey if they knew the company would follow-up.

Customer Outreach

Surveys are great for gathering quantifiable data, but you really can’t get a feel for the customer through a series of yes/no or multiple choice questions. The only way to get to know your customers more personally is to talk to them.

Managed service providers likely maintain closer relationships that hosted resellers; however, it’s important for all IT-based businesses to open regular channels for communication. Whether this means email, social, phone or in-person, it’s essential that you maintain a presence so that any product frustrations can be promptly addressed.

It’s worth noting, too, that phone surveys receive the highest response rate. That said, they are also the most expensive to carry out as there is no way to automate the process. Nevertheless, only through talking with your customers will you glean contextual information about your product usage.

Usage Tracking

A subtle method of gathering feedback is by monitoring usage statistics on your system. If you know the median usage per customer type, you can identify new clients who’ve failed to adopt your solution or existing customers who are tapering off. Low usage often indicates dissatisfaction or lack of need—two things that contribute to churn.

Similarly, setting up the proper reporting solutions for each client can help notify you of issues before your users report them. For instance, if you detect abnormal data-loss on a voice network, you can launch an investigation before the customer assumes choppiness is just a quirk of your VOIP service.

While parsing the data, it’s worthwhile to look for commonalities in the ticket system. For example, if there’s a high number of tickets concerning a particular product, it might suggest usability or continuity problems, as previously explained.

Recommended read: The Importance of Personalized Customer Service in Distribution

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