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August 2011
Cropped 2011 head shotThe Dog Days 

What's that about global warming being a myth? Let's see... ridiculously cold winters followed by dangerously hot summers... something is afoot. Could it be "climate change?" Well isn't that special! 
Thank goodness for air conditioning, which has been with us for nearly 90 years. If not for that great invention, cities like Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and Miami would still be minor backwaters, uninhabitable in the summer with serious threats from cholera, maleria and other dreadful maladies.

This month I am pleased to offer the wisdom of a guest contributor--Randi Busse of Workforce Development Group, who specializes in customer service training. Thanks, Randi!
New Product Development

Patience and Planning May Avert Failure!Unbranded 


We all know that new product development is the lifeblood of nearly all companies. In some cases that can mean launching a completely new brand. In others, it is a line extension. However, 65% of new products fail, costing companies about $260 billion, according to Inc. magazine. And that is just among established companies. If we include start-ups, the failure rate jumps to a breathtaking 90%. I think we can agree that no one wants to be on that side of the line.


To me, finding out what your customers want, need and will spend money on seems like a blinding flash of the obvious, but when you look at these failure rates, it becomes apparent that not everyone takes the time to investigate, or they don't do it well enough. Why? It takes time, patience, money, and an open mind. I often think it is the last thing that is the most difficult. When someone--whether a product manager in a big company or an entrepreneur--gets a "brilliant" idea, or champions an idea from R&D, it is very difficult to admit that he or she is wrong. But think of the savings in time and resources if you do. Even if you spent $100,000 on research and market testing, you could save millions on manufacturing and advertising, alone; not to mention the attention and resources that could have been spent on a better idea.


So, as I often ask, what's a marketer to do?

  • Make sure you know who your target audience is. It might not be the same as the one you are currently serving, or the one you THINK this product will attract.
  • Look for secondary or tertiary markets--they might make the difference between a product that doesn't grow fast enough to "make it" and one that builds steadily.
  • Make sure this is a product that fills a need or solves a problem among your audience. If it is a brand new category, you may have to educate the market about why they need it or the problem it will solve. They probably won't "get it" right away. This is where patience and a promotional budget can help.
  • I am not a fan of "purchase intent" questions. They can be very misleading, especially on the positive side of the scale. However, if ratings are very low, it may be time to go back to the drawing board--either for further product refinement or marketing strategies, or both.
  • Sometimes it is important to determine volume usage in order to obtain corporate support for the launch. How do people expect to use it and how often?
  • A new kind of product--like Post-It Notes, when they were introduced--can benefit from sampling. When 3M came out with Post-It Notes, initial research was not encouraging, but the product had a champion who would not give up. They sent samples to Executive Secretaries in major companies who not only loved the product, but came up with uses that the R&D team hadn't thought of. Brilliant.
  • In some categories, customer service or technical support can spell success or failure. If these are issues, make sure there are procedures in place to handle them. This is particularly important in the early stages, when problems and bugs tend to emerge.

Branding is often an issue, as well as the product itself. If this is a line extension, make sure the brand can support it; make sure it is not diluting the brand. In many cases, a well-known brand can spur initial trial--but what will happen next? All the more reason for market testing in its various forms.


Communications--in all its forms--can make or break a new product. Do the communications resonate with your audience? Are they believable? Overstatement can be a killer.


There are few short-cuts to creating a successful new product introduction. Those who try are often disappointed, as the data show. It is better to delay the launch to fix the bugs than to rush to market and create negative "buzz." That has never been more true than now, with the potential of social media in creating a tsunami--either for you or against you.


Your Feedback Is Important

Listen to Your CustomersRandi Busse


When it comes to taking care of your customers, you might think you are doing a great job. But what your customers think is much more important. We all know that taking care of customers is essential to the survival of our businesses. We can't assume they are happy just because they haven't told us otherwise.


 When you conduct a customer satisfaction survey, the questions you ask your customers are important. How, when, and how often you ask these questions are also important. However, the most important thing about conducting a customer satisfaction survey is what you do with the answers. If you say, "I'm not sure," or "We don't really do anything with the answers," please don't bother doing the survey.


 Over the course of the last few weeks, I have received no fewer than five customer satisfaction surveys by snail mail or email. Some have been four-page questionnaires that would probably take me twenty minutes to complete. I counted 75 questions to answer on one of them. Some "suggested" that I score all of my answers "5" and another demanded that I send the survey back immediately. One survey--received two weeks after my experience with the company--stated that my comments would be confidentially reviewed and addressed by their management team, located on Long Island, yet the survey was to be returned to South Bend, Indiana.

If you are considering a survey, there are many ways to ask your customers whether or not they are satisfied with your company, your products, and the service they received.

  • You can ask them face-to-face, following a purchase or service provision.
  • You can send them a survey by mail or online.
  • You can ask them to fill out a comment card.
  • You can call them following an interaction.

No matter which method you chose, keep the following in mind: your customers are busy and you are asking them to take time to help YOU. They don't have, and don't want to spend time filling out a survey for YOU that will take twenty minutes to complete. Your customers can't remember what happened three weeks ago. Make sure the survey is timely. The best time to conduct a customer satisfaction survey is when the experience is fresh in their minds. If you wait to conduct a survey, the customer's responses may be less accurate. They may have forgotten some of the details. Their answers may be colored because of confusion with other visits. They may confuse you with another company providing the same product or service.


Some experts think that you need to ask only one question: "Will you refer others to us?" While this is a tempting proposition, you may miss a lot of valuable information and you can be easily misled. It can be very valuable to find out what you should change and what you should not change; what to emphasize and what to scale back.

If you take the time to listen to them, whether through a formal survey or an informal conversation, they will give you insight into what they want, and maybe more importantly, what they don't want. The question is: are you listening?


The next time you want to send a survey to your customers, think about why you are doing it and what you plan on doing with the answers. You need to act on the information you get from customers through the survey. You need to fix the things the customers have complained about. You need to keep those things that they like. You need to consider their suggestions. You need to improve your products and services in those areas that mean the most to your customers. Most importantly, you need to let THEM know that their answers were appreciated and being acted upon. Let them know that their opinions count!

Randi Busse, the founder and President of Workforce Development Group, Inc., is widely recognized as a Customer Service Expert. Since her company's inception, Randi has become a trusted resource for many organizations that have relied on her guidance to help improve their customer service and increase their customer retention.

Upcoming Events

August 17, 6 pm


New York Women In Communications is offering a social event for Young Professionals--women who have entered the workplace in the past five years, and a Twitter Chat Series on August 9th. You can find out more about these and other events at

IABC/LI and a number of other organizations are taking this month to plan for the Fall. Please check IABC's Facebook page--and "like" it--for information on upcoming events.  
This practice is dedicated to helping companies become knowledge-driven, rather than assumption driven about strategic and tactical decisions concerning lines of business, branding, communications, and various marketing activities. For more information about how we do this, case studies, frequently asked questions about marketing research, and testimonials, please visit our web site:

Ann Middleman