Know Thy Customer

How well do you really know your customer? Let me put this as simply as I can. If you want to succeed in business you must be in touch with the demands of the marketplace. While many businesses think they understand their customers, few of them really do. What most companies view as an understanding of their customer’s wants, needs, and desires more often reflects their own internal biases, perceptions, and judgments. In this week’s column I’ll share a few tips that will help your business succeed by achieving a better understanding of your customer’s needs. If you desire to possess a true understanding your customer’s needs, it is essential that you interact with them as often as possible. Moreover these interactions should be deep, broad, and come via a number of different inputs and touch points. If you want to get inside the heads of your customers, I would suggest implementing any or all of the following tactics: 1. Customer Surveys: Whether conducted via the phone, internet, or direct mail, a properly structured survey will allow you to elicit answers to your most important questions. What better way to find out what your customers are thinking than to ask them. Surveys today are relatively inexpensive and easy to implement. Surveys also provide quick feedback in that many tools allow for real-time feedback. More in depth analysis for more complex surveys can still typically be completed inside of 60 days. 2. Focus Groups: Again, whether conducted online or in person, there is no substitute for getting your information straight from the horses mouth. As with surveys, the key to success is selecting your groups and structuring your questions. Select the wrong participants and/or ask the wrong questions and you’ll receive information of little use. 3. Customer Reviews: Reviews can be done either one-on-one, or in group venues such as an annual client summit. If you incorporate reviews into your business process you can close the loop on any knowledge gaps on a regularly planned basis. When your customers understand that you not only value their feedback, but that you also provide them an efficient and entertaining venue in which they can have input into decisions, you will collaboratively maximize customer relationship value. 4. Gather Intelligence: Whether it is competitive intelligence, market research, or other forms of business intelligence, the more you know about your customers the better you will be able to meet their needs. If you don’t regularly conduct market research and participate in business intelligence initiatives you are missing a tremendous opportunity to gain insight into your marketplace. 5. Web 2.0: Use Blogs, social networks and other social media platforms to interact with your customers. Encourage user generated content and real-time input from your customers. You can also use these channels to address conflict or misperceptions when the inevitable corporate faux pas occurs. Bottom line: If your company can meet or exceed the demands of the marketplace it will increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. On the flip side of the coin, if you’re not meeting your customer’s needs someone else will.