Here's something that is quite valuable to do once in a while. Create a focus group. So many extremely successful companies have made excellent use of this effective activity and it has helped and continues to help them develop the best products, services and customer interaction.
A focus group is easy to put together. Invite a few customers (some large, medium, small--a cross section is best). Then invite some vendors too--people from companies that are suppliers to assist your business in its success. Then, you might also consider inviting a few people who are not now your customers but who could be if they chose to. Gather them together for a meeting that will last between 1 and 3 hours depending on how much you want to go over. I recommend keeping it shorter than longer and focused on a few objectives than trying to cover too many things. Better to have a little depth.
How do you gather them? Food is a common denominator. I recommend inviting them to dinner. Lunch can work also, but you won't be allowed as much time typically as you would in the evening. Spend a little money and make it special. I've rented a room at a hotel and had dinner served and then the meeting can flow from the food to the discussion very smoothly and effectively while people are still seated at their tables.
It is also good to tape the session so you don't miss anything. You can also hire a stenographer to take notes. You don't want to miss any little comments that may not hit you at the meeting but may be profound later.
It depends on your company, but a group of ten people plus your team would be a good size and give you a cross section of input. If it is too large, it can be hard to manage, and if too small, will not yield the desired results.
To get people from a good cross section of customers, you may have to fly them in and put them up at a hotel for a night. I spent about $2,000 on one of these and flew several people in and it was really worth it. As expenses go, this can be an investment that pays substantial dividends. Don't look at it as a hit to the bottom line. What you learn should increase your bottom line.
Make sure everyone is introduced around the room so there is some comfort in the group. Then, insure that you have well thought out questions to ask. Lead the discussion with your questions and encourage a dialog with others on that subject. At some point, you may need to direct the discussion back to the topic. Make the time and expense of your money and time and their money and time well worth it. Focus on the objective and get the feedback you need, record it and review it at length.
As much as we think we know, it is often quite valuable to find what others think and then mix that with what we are thinking to see if any changes would be of benefit and what kind of changes they might be. Sometimes those changes can be pretty small, yet create a massive change in the bottom line. An example of this I heard many years ago in a focus group put together by Stew Leonard's (www.stewleonards.com). They sold fish in packages like a typical store and asked about how people felt about the way they did that. There were several who said they liked the old way of having the fresh fish on crushed ice. Stew Leonard kept the fish in packages and added a section of fish on crushed ice and doubled their fish sales or maybe it was more than double, but the bottom line was positively impacted by that input from the focus group.
If you're a growing business, chances are you are almost constantly making changes, improving products and so on. Consider a focus group as a great way to get some valuable input that can move your bottom line on an upward trend.