Logs provide a step toward knowing your customer, but more can be done:
Survey says: In this morning's e-mail, I got a discount coupon from Amazon . . . with a string attached. If I answered a half-dozen multiple-choice questions, I would earn a $15 credit good on any electronics item sold by the company. Through highly specific questions about competitors and Amazon's own product offerings, prices and service, Amazon picks up valuable insight into the thinking of customers and competition. Why aren't you doing likewise?
Don't wait to put a survey on your site-do it as soon as your site is up and running. Keep it short and offer a tangible reward. Choose, say, 10 or 100 customers. Then-and this is crucial-read every answer that comes in. If you want to find ways to run your business better, look at it the way customers do.
Mail time: Read and respond to as much customer e-mail as possible, because it too opens a real window on customers and their motivations. Sure, for every customer who has good things to say about you, nine will write with complaints, but read it, absorb it and stay alert to trends. If one person complains about your packaging materials, it's no big deal. If 10 do and you only sent out 12 orders last week, you have a problem-but the great thing is that now you also have the opportunity to fix it.