Clark is founder and CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop in St. Louis, which had $474 million in revenue last year.

Q Is the customer always right? What happens when your gut reaction is the opposite of what your customer survey says?

Joe Rooper
Hog Wild
Portland, Oregon

It's very easy to dismiss a customer survey or opinion. But your customers have a wealth of experience dealing with countless other companies -- and, most likely, with your competitors. It takes a huge burden off your shoulders if you can depend on your customers to give you the information you need to be successful. Answers that seem off base at first can sometimes provide you with important insights. Follow up with your customers; call some of the people who expressed opinions you didn't understand. You never know what a little extra research will turn up.

On the other hand, your gut feeling could be right. Perhaps, with your surveys, you are reaching out to the wrong type of customer. The most reliable customer survey responses generally come from a core group of passionate customers who have helped make your company successful. At Build-A-Bear (NYSE:BBW), we even have a board of advisers made up of these customers. Since our company opened its doors in 1997, we've used a board of advisers -- first in person, now online -- that we call our Cub Advisory Board. It's made up of children ages 5 to 16. At least once a quarter, they tell us about what kind of products they'd like to see, what animals we should add to our line. They pick out the little things that we just couldn't get anywhere else. One child told us that the color of our tabby cat doll was too close to the color of macaroni and cheese. So we changed it.

The bottom line is that you have to do more than just survey customers -- you have to talk to them directly. Members of our marketing team visit customers' homes. And I get hundreds of e-mails every day from kids. They send me complaints, compliments, or requests. One child told me the house next door was being torn down and asked if we could build a store there. In that case, we couldn't. But last year, a child's e-mail led us to open a store in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. We probably would never have considered that market unless a child had written to me and asked us to come to her area.