How entrepreneurs can improve customer communication


Most entrepreneurs are not good at seeking customer feedback. Particularly during the early stages of their startups or when business leaders launch a new product or service, they are often so focused on developing this product or service that they overlook the importance of customer interaction.

While developing a product or service that stands out is undeniably essential, it is much more important to start with effectively communicating with customers to know their needs.

‘TTTC’: this is a magic acronym that every business leader should remember. It stands quite simply for ‘Talk To The Customer’. If you wonder what the root cause of a problem is, if you wonder if the solution fits the needs of customers, if you wonder if your product is still delivering sufficient value to customers after several years, …  TTTC will always come to the rescue.

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs and business leaders lack the skills to have meaningful conversations with their customers. They might excel in innovation, creativity, or technical skills, but when it comes to customer engagement, they often fall short. This gap in communication skills can lead to a disconnect between the product they develop and the actual needs and wants of their customers. Without an understanding of customers’ needs, entrepreneurs may end up building products or services that do not resonate with their target market or they might continue too long with delivering an outdated product or service. This will most likely lead to wasted resources and – in the end – lower the chances of success.

Engaging with customers effectively can yield valuable insights into their preferences, needs, and expectations, which can inform product development and increase the chances of business success. Customers are a gold mine of information. They can provide real-time feedback, suggestions for improvement, and even brand advocacy if they are satisfied with the product or service. Hence, communication with customers should never be an afterthought but rather an integral part of the business strategy.

This leaves us with one important question. How? How do you talk to the customer in an effective way? To start, the entrepreneur should first consult the first-line employees – those who are in direct contact with clients on a day-to-day basis – as they can give valuable information about what is going on in terms of customer feedback. With these insights, the entrepreneur can then identify which customer segments are the most crucial for him or her to start engaging with.

The biggest mistake that occurs when a business leader talks to customers is asking them the wrong questions. Many people tend to ask leading questions. These are questions that direct people to the desired answers. A classic example is: “Would you be interested in buying our brand-new innovative product?”. Chances are high that the vast majority of respondents will have answered positively as they are pushed towards a ‘yes’, giving the entrepreneur a false feeling of positivism about the product. The solution lies in asking so-called ‘Socratic’ questions. These types of questions involve a form of dialogue where the entrepreneurs will ask probing questions to stimulate critical thinking, uncover underlying assumptions, and encourage deeper understanding. In this way, the customer will give objective data and insights without introducing any bias.

When done correctly, entrepreneurs should even be able to get great and unbiased insights from talking to family and friends. This is what Rob Fitzpatrick described in his book ‘The Mom Test’. If you ask problem-focused questions that avoid bias, and listen effectively to the customer, you can even interview your mother, father, spouse, or best friend and still get reliable answers.

However, ‘talking to the customer’ is not a one-off thing. It should be a mindset where regular check-ins, surveys, and semi-structured interviews are done to get a large amount of customer feedback. Entrepreneurs should strive to create open channels of communication where customers feel heard and valued. Then, a two-way street is created. On the one hand, customers will feel heard and are likely to value the company more. A form of customer intimacy is created. The company, on the other hand, will use the information to create an even better experience for their customers by removing the elements that they do not appreciate about products and services and by trying to improve the reasons why customers value the company’s offering.

If every entrepreneur or business leader regularly talks to customers in the right way, they can use customer feedback to track the overall performance of the company. Because at the end of the day, happy clients are likely to lead to more turnover and profit.


Yannick Dillen

Yannick Dillen is a Professor of Management Practice in Entrepreneurship at Vlerick Business School. His research focuses on start-ups, SME growth and scale-ups, with a specific interest in high-growth firms. He has a number of advisory board seats. At Vlerick, Yannick coordinates the Impulse Centre Growth Management for Medium-sized Enterprises and teaches on the Masters, MBA and executive programmes.





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