3 Methods to Help You Determine What Customers Really Want (and Really Don't Want) Successfully planning for the future of your product, service, or business as a whole depends on knowing the needs and wants of your customers. These practices will help you do just that.

By Sumit Aneja

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When it comes to building and sustaining a business, perhaps nothing is as important as listening to your customers. They are the ones you are meant to help and serve, so they are in the driver's seat, and hearing them well sets the stage for everything you'll decide and do. There are three simple methods you can use to do this every day, regardless of your industry, product, or service.

1. Layer your feedback streams

Direct feedback is arguably the most important type of feedback you can get in a business because it comes, as the saying goes, straight from the horse's mouth. People tell you themselves what they think with no middle man, so it's incredibly trustworthy information.

Surveys are an old standby way to get direct feedback from people. They can come in a lot of different forms, such as online questions, letters you mail, or even chatting with people face-to-face on their way out of the store. But they're so foundational that a lot of businesses turn to them almost by default.

In the broader omnichannel way of doing business today, though, surveys aren't the only feedback stream you have. For example, people can also communicate their experience through ratings and reviews. These additional feedback streams can be incredibly rich with all kinds of important, nuanced information. To make sure you're hearing and understanding everyone properly, layer all of the available streams on top of each other. Translate them collectively and don't let bias get in the way. This gives you a better, broader picture of what's happening, as well as more ways to respond.

Related: How to Really Hear and Use Customer Feedback

2. Think ahead of social media

Thanks to platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, people don't have many reservations about sharing what they think on a broad scale. For better or worse, they can tell others what you're doing or what their experience is in real-time, all with just a few taps or clicks. This is good for you in that, when things go well, it can mean a ton of free word-of-mouth advertising.

The bad news is that by the time a problem hits social media, it's already gone too far. It's already out in the wild, and you have no ability to control or contain it. So, you have to look at what happens before someone might post on social media and be aware of your other channels. There can be clues that trouble is brewing, for example, in initial surveys or the way someone talks to one of your customer support representatives in your online chat. Get out ahead of any complaints, even if they seem small. Respond right away in your other channels and think proactively about how to improve touchpoints to eliminate complaints in the first place.

Related: Your Net Promoter Score Is Vital to Your Business. Here's What It Is and How to Improve It.

3. Pay attention to (and actually apply) your KPIs

Evaluating the customer experience is multifaceted. For instance, you can look at whether they're personally satisfied as well as whether they're actually going out on a limb and telling someone about you. Those elements certainly are related (satisfaction tends to make people recommend you), but they are not the same.

Truly listening to the voice of your customer means that you see all of these sides of the experience and that you actually measure them. Different key performance indicators (KPIs), such as net promoter score, let you do this easily, and they're generally fairly simple to calculate once you collect your data. In fact, with technologies like AI, you might not even have to do these calculations yourself, or you might be able to get them continuously delivered in real-time for more consistent monitoring.

Build your measurement framework, whether your goals require analyzing just a few KPIs or dozens. The more solid this framework is, the simpler it will be for you to gather insights and turn them into action. Once customers see that you're really doing something based on what they experienced and said, they'll trust you more. With that boost in trust, they'll be more likely to buy again or refer you.

Customers always direct your operations, not the other way around. The more closely and accurately you can listen to their voice, the higher the odds are that you'll deliver to them well and stay relevant for the long haul. Although there are a lot of points that can make a positive difference, start with these three methods, as they are truly foundational. If you implement all of them well, then growth, a great reputation, and fantastic profits can all be within reach.

Sumit Aneja

Chief Executive Officer of Voxco

Sumit Aneja is the CEO of Voxco, an omnichannel software survey platform and a global market leader in the multi-modal survey software sector.

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