Think of market research and you probably think of someone standing in the High Street with clipboards trying to accost you when you’re on your lunch break…. ‘Do you have a minute to answer some questions about butter/toothpaste/yoghurt, sir/madam?’ or similar.  Or perhaps you think of the MORI/IPSOS type surveys quoted on the news ‘Confidence in the government has dropped 3% in a poll of the public…’.   Both of these are very valid ways of getting and using market research data, but you may not see how they could be relevant to a busy small business owner or how you could ever use such techniques.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to. There are ways of getting really useful information and feedback from your customers that are simple, quick and cost effective.  There are of course also more complicated and expensive methods too, but let’s look at ‘horses for courses’ first.

Let’s dispel a myth to start with. You may be a little nervous to ask what customers think about your product or service, but almost always they like to be asked! People generally enjoy giving feedback about their experience of doing business with you and often want to tell you how you could do it better next time. They appreciate being asked. Just be prepared for honest feedback and be prepared to act on it – not everything you hear will be good, but that’s what it’s for isn’t it?

So how to ask them.  A simple questionnaire included in the invoice or handed over when you finish working with them is an easy way to start. It doesn’t have to be long – maybe five or six ‘golden ‘ questions are all you need.  Were they happy with the service/product? What suggestions would they make for improvements? Would they do business with you again? Would they recommend you?  This could either be completed face to face, or they could post it back to you. Bear in mind people may feel a little awkward giving their reply verbally directly to you so a written approach often elicits a more honest answer.

Asking the right questions is key. And deciding whether to use ‘closed’ or ‘open’ questions, or a mix of both. Closed are those that offer a ‘yes/no’ response or a tick box style approach, open questions allow the responder to elaborate in their answer eg. ‘What did you think of the service you received today?’.

There are broadly two types of research, qualitative and quantitative. The first seeks opinions and open feedback, the second is measurable numerically.

Here’s a similar question asked in the two different ways:

Can you make any suggestions to improve the service that you received today?

(Please add  your suggestions here) ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………


 How would you rate the service that you received today on a scale of 1 – 6 (6 being excellent, 1 being poor)?  1  2  3  4  5  6   (Circle the number that applies).


The next thing to consider is what channel you are going to use. The short postcard questionnaire approach is simple to produce, easy to hand out or mail, and reasonably cheap to print.

Another way is to call your customers after they have done business with you, but there are a few provisos here, including who is going to do it (they need the right approach), the time involved in the calls and compiling the information gathered. You also need to be aware of the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) and any data protection rules that may apply.  On line is another way to approach a customer, by emailing them the questionnaire to complete and return to you.

You may want to become more ambitious and hold a ‘focus group’ of your customers, inviting them along to a structured discussion where they can give their feedback. These usually need to be carefully facilitated by a market research professional, or at least someone familiar with how to run one effectively.

Also consider who you will be asking – existing recent customers, previous customers who haven’t come back to you (why didn’t they?) or potential new customers. Questions and methods will vary depending which group you ask.

So there’s some initial food for thought about how to gain valuable feedback from simple research. It’s important to invest some time in it on a regular basis if you decide to go ahead, and to be prepared to review and act on the findings, otherwise it will be a waste of time.

Here at Hixsons we do some of the above and have found it really helpful, We can also advise clients on how to approach it; simply ask us.