Identifying specific areas where improvement is necessary.

The two common methods seem to be either creating surveys (for customers and staff) or setting up Web 2.0 forums for users to post and discuss issues collectively.

The benefit for surveys is that you get to ask the questions that you want to focus on and that you don't have the risk of wide-spread dissatisfaction being made public. However, with forums, you have the possibilities of finding issues that you may not have previously been aware of.

Which ever method (or combination) you choose, none of them matter if they aren't followed up and/or don't have real buy-in and commitment from senior management, down.

Sage has recently adopted BOTH approaches for their ACT! product. There is now a survey that is automatically fired up 60-days after installation of the current products and David van Toor (GM of Sage CRM for North America) has also implemented a Community site incorporating both management blogs and peer-supported forums with an entry in the Forrester Research Groundswell Award

He decided to address a problem that had been compounding for a few years... the perception that no-one at the company was listening. He set up a Community Site for people to air their issues and, hopefully assist each other.

At first, there was a lot of negative comments due largely from the pent up frustrations that could finally vent. But, to many long-time users' surprise and contrary to the original stated goal of just being a peer-assisted community, the involvement from the staff was extraordinary... with senior management and support staff taking a fully active roll. Even David personally emailed or called a large number of those most upset to organise solutions for them, myself included.

Not only that, but the proof that they actually listened and followed up was evident in the expanding of the beta programs culminating in the vastly improved release last September and the planned 11.1 releases due early 2009.

Consequently, the general attitude in the forums has become positive, friendly and has even been the reason for a number of users who had switched to a competitor over the past years to return.

To contrast this, I worked for a company some years ago, where the owner spent a large amount on management consultants, didn't implement any of their ideas... then blamed them for not achieving a return.

The point of this is that it is important for a company to not only actively listen to their users, but also to be seen to listen and, most importantly, to be seen to follow up on any identified issues.

How many of you actively try to find out how your customers perceive your products and service? How many of you reward your staff based on positive client experiences in addition to actual sales?

In these tough financial times, do you think that price is the only thing clients will use to decide on their suppliers, or will good service and reliability ensure a level of loyalty to enable you not just to survive but also thrive in the market?