Want to know what your customers really think of you? Sometimes, the easiest way to find out is to just ask! In many cases, market research is really that simple, though it helps to go in with a list of questions to ask your customers.

Over the last two weeks, we’ve focused heavily on market research for small business. Our first article provides a crash course in market research and our second provides a list of ways for you to inexpensively get started.

In both articles, we extol the virtues of asking your customers for their opinions. For that reason, we’ve made a list of 23 questions that you can ask your customers. You can use these questions for one-on-one interviews and surveys alike!

1. What are your most important goals?

Whether you’re selling a product or a service, you need to fill a need for your customer. For that reason, it helps to know what their goals are. There’s always at least one thing they need help with, otherwise they wouldn’t need your product or service at all.

If it helps, you can also break this question into two questions. You can ask about both short-term and long-term goals.

2. What are your desired outcomes?

Sometimes customers will freeze up when you ask them directly about their goals. That’s fine, since many customers don’t necessary think of meeting their needs and meeting their goals as being one and the same.

So how can you figure out what your customers are trying do in that case? Ask about outcomes instead! What do they want to happen when they buy your product or service (or one like it)?

3. How can we improve?

Often the most straightforward, open-ended questions will receive the most meaningful feedback. By asking this question, you open the door to all kinds of constructive criticism which you can use to make your business better.

This is the kind of question that often results in a lot of answers, so be sure to take notes. You will then want to review your notes later and see what the underlying themes are.

4. Was our staff friendly and helpful?

This is an especially important question if you’re selling a service. A bad customer service experience can turn customers away forever. If you are having problems with staff – poor training, a rude employee, etc. – this question will help you find the root of the problem so you can address it.

5. How satisfied are you with our products (or services?)

If you’re asking questions on a survey, I recommend that you ask customers to rate your products (or services) on a scale of 1 to 10 or 1 to 5. There is a benefit to asking this question in a way that requires a quantitative response. If you’re looking for positive feedback, you can filter surveys where the answer to this question is 8 of 10 (4 of 5) or better. Otherwise, if you’re looking for constructive criticism, you can filter reviews in the opposite way.

6. Did we meet your expectations?

Your customers’ experiences are inevitably filtered through their expectations. You can do phenomenal work and still fall short of expectations that are too high to be met. By asking your customers what they expect, you can do a few things:

  1. If customers routinely expect too much, you can find better ways to set expectations from the start.
  2. You can find unexpected ways to delight your customers by giving them things that exceed their expectations (but don’t cost much extra).
  3. You can modify your products or services to better meet their expectations in general.
On purpose or not, customers compare what they get to what they expect. Therefore, it’s very important to take their expectations into account!

7. How could we have exceeded your expectations?

This question is similar to the last but is worded in such a way where you are more likely to receive direct, actionable feedback.

8. Was it easy to purchase?

One of the most important lessons from the field of user experience sounds simple: don’t make me think!

If your website is complicated, your store has a confusing layout, or your pricing is unclear, you will lose business. It is really that simple.

By asking your existing customers if it was easy to purchase, you can identify any roadblocks that keep people from buying from you. Correcting them may help you turn otherwise lost leads into conversions.

9. How likely are you to purchase again?

Steady revenue is the lifeblood of a business. By asking your customers if they are likely to purchase again, you can better forecast revenues. Perhaps more importantly, if the answer is no, it gives you a chance to ask why and figure out what to improve.

10. What is the reason you purchased from us?

If you want to draw more customers to your business, sometimes it helps to ask your customers why they reached out to you in the first place. Your customers’ answers to this question may reveal a pattern and help you find (or refine) your niche!

11. What was the most memorable thing from your experience with us?

No matter how good or bad your customer’s experience was, the memory will eventually fade. The details will slip away and only a handful of things will remain. Asking your customers what the most memorable experience they had with your company will give you insight into how people will see you a year, two years, or five years down the road.

12. What are your biggest challenges?

This is very similar to the “goals” question above, but by focusing on challenges instead of goals or outcomes, you will find out what is annoying or worrying your customers. When you find that out, you’ve identified a need. If you can adequately address that need, then people will be more likely to work with your business in the future.

In essence, by asking about challenges, you can figure out their goals (i.e. “eliminating the challenge”).

What do your customers want to accomplish? Asking them about their challenges can help you figure out their goals (even when they don’t know what their goals are).

13. What features could you not live without?

Whether you’re providing a product or a service, certain basic needs will have to be met. They might be what makes your company’s offerings unique, but they might not be. Sometimes they’re just basic qualities that you have to provide.

14. Which features could you live without?

This is the negative version of the above question. It can help you identify what is not worth spending money on. While it is tempting to make products or provide services with all the bells and whistles, it’s often expensive and distracts from what’s really important. Knowing what you can stop focusing on will make your life a lot easier!

15. Would you rather cut costs or increase productivity?

This is a variant of a question I found in a HubSpot article. This question doesn’t apply to every business, but it’s good for B2B businesses. By asking whether costs or productivity is more important, you can focus more on what matters most to your client. Plus, this question will give you a sense of how your company’s performance will be evaluated in a B2B relationship.

16. Why did you choose us over the competition?

In order to find your niche, you need to do at least one thing better than your competition for a given market. For those who choose to do business with you, asking them why they chose your business is very insightful. This allows you to identify your strengths so you can market them.

17. What would you say about your experience?

This open-ended question gives customers a chance to talk about their experiences – both positive and negative. Like asking “how can we improve,” this gives customers a chance to say what they really think without prompting.

18. What is your favorite thing about our (product or service)?

Asking your customers directly about what they like the most about your service gives you a sense of what your unique value proposition is. Much like “why did you choose us over the competition,” this is a question that can help you find your niche or tweak your messaging if you find your actual strengths are not what you’ve been advertising the most.

Finding out what your customers love about your business helps you find your unique value proposition!

19. What is your least favorite thing about our (product or service)?

On the flip side, asking customers what they do not like about your business gives you a chance to identify issues that are either stopping people from purchasing or causing them not to purchase again.

20. Where do you look for information about our industry?

If you want to promote your business more effectively, you need to figure out how to be seen by more people. One of the best ways to do this is to ask your current customers how they are doing their research. This lets you identify where people with intent to purchase are already looking. You can then direct your efforts toward being featured on those websites (or social media channels, trade publications, and so on).

21. How did you find us?

Similar to the previous question, asking customers how they found you (as opposed to where they do their research) will help you find specific places that people are using to find your business. This can help you figure out how to spend your marketing budget or which channels you need to be featured on.

22. What were you using before you found us?

There are basically two possible responses to this question. The first is “I wasn’t using anything” and the second is “I was using someone else’s product or service.” Knowing the answer to this question will help you identify whether you are pulling people into your market for the first time or whether you are pulling people away from your competition.

23. How likely would you be to recommend this business to a friend?

This is another question that goes great on a survey on a scale of 1 to 10 or 1 to 5. If customers rate your business 8 or higher (4 or higher), then they are very likely to recommend your business to a friend. By pleasing customers to this degree, you are likely to benefit from word-of-mouth – the cheapest, hardest-to-fake, and one of the most effective marketing types of all!

Final Thoughts on Questions to Ask Your Customers

Your customers have a wealth of information to share with you. By asking for their opinion, you can find opportunities to improve and issues to resolve. From then, you can rapidly improve, grow your business, and meet even more customers’ needs!