Customers: Knowing is Growing

Not knowing customers is messy business

Not knowing customers is messy business. Photo by Phad Pichetbovornkul on Unsplash

You may be thinking; “Of course you know your customers or you wouldn’t be in business.” Now, if your business is consistently growing, you could be right. If growth isn’t happening, let me share some advice.

Many businesses assume they know customers and no longer take time to learn from or study them. In the book Design a Better Business the authors write, “Ultimately, the most important thing to understand is your customers. If you don’t know what value means to them, you can’t stay relevant to them. Assuming you know your customers is really dangerous.” So what can you do to better understand your customers? Here are three ways:

Start with customer expectations

The internet, age of information and mobility mean the customer is in charge. As I stated in an article I did for Archery Business magazine;

Customers now expect you to know more about them because it’s so easy to find information about you and your business. Mobile devices and the evolution of social media have put the consumer in the driver’s seat. Study them the way they study you.

Besides having information about you and the products you carry at their fingertips, they expect personalization. They want a relationship. Servers know this better than most. I recall my friend, Melissa, who worked with me at Applebee’s many years ago. She always carried around a notebook. It was filled with information about customers she saw regularly. Not only did she have service skills in the moment but people asked for her table because they knew oftentimes they wouldn’t even have to state their order. They could just say “the usual” and she’d have every detail. She’d also ask about Aunt Mary, their children and other topics she had at her disposal in her portable Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. Those of us who weren’t smart enough to develop a similar system, I’m certain, didn’t make as much money (in tips) as she did.

As time passes and the ways of purchasing evolve, so does customer expectation. When you exceed a customer’s expectations people remember and talk about you to others. However, if expectations are high and you fail completely, you can create a dissuader; someone that takes every opportunity to speak about their bad experience. “People’s expectations are set in part by their previous experiences with a company’s offerings. Customers instinctively compare each new experience, positive or otherwise, with their previous ones and judge it accordingly. Expectations can also be shaped by market conditions, the competition, and the customer’s personal situation” writes Chris Meyer (author and entrepreneur) and Andre Schwager (customer experience consultant) in a 2007 Harvard Business Review article. For a great primer on understanding customer expectations, LinkedIn Learning offers a great resource.

As a part of evolving your business, you must stay on top of customer expectations so that you can exceed them. The good news is, if you know you can’t meet general expectations, you can spend time letting customers know this upfront. Post signs, make advertising clear and just talk to them about what you aren’t able to provide and why. Honestly communicating with customers to help set realistic expectations ahead of time is just as important.

Understand and study customer expectations. Develop relationships. Be authentic. 

Use your data

Do you utilize all of the information in your Point of Sale (POS) or CRM system? If your system doesn’t track customer information well, you might want to consider an upgrade. Even if you don’t have an electronic system of some kind, you have data somewhere. Start utilizing it.

I’ve had my hair cut at the same place for, well, more years than I care to mention here. As many of us have, I’ve developed a personal relationship with the woman who cuts my hair. We have so much history together. We almost know what the other is thinking and feeling.

The company doesn’t have an electronic system and uses 3×5 cards to note things like date, cut, style and color so that any one of the stylists could do the work if the usual stylist is unavailable. It is unlikely that when they add a system to better manage the business that they will individually input all of this old data. But they might be able to add the year of the first cut and most recent style so they have the basics of how long each individual has been a customer and their latest products or services. I often let my color go much longer than I should. Imagine if I got a reminder with maybe a question about if I intend to keep the same style or color. That’s helpful for me and great for business.

Other ways to know your customers are through online review sites. You probably have a review out there even if you are unaware that it exists. What are your customers saying about you online? Who is saying it? Is there any pattern? Every day you should be making notes (like my friend, Melissa) about customers.

“Download” the data stored in memory. Start putting the information you’ve come to know personally in a place where all of your staff can access it. Have a conversation with your staff about typical, most profitable customers. Who is your most valuable customer now? What do you know about them? What would you like to know about them? How do I get that information? Then, go through the same series of questions with customers you and your staff consider outliers. They may provide insights that can serve all of your customers. In any case, you have and should be using your data.

Use data to develop personal relationships not pigeonhole.

Make direct contact

Pick up the phone and have a conversation with a few customers. Tell them you’re working hard to invigorate and innovate your business and are approaching select customers for help.

If you aren’t up to calling, consider sending out a personal invitation for a small customer gathering for dinner. Let them know how many you’ve invited (make sure it’s a small number). Then, be prepared with questions. Begin with broad questions like what they like about your store. What wants or needs usually bring you into the store? Are there any special occasions or triggers that make you think about our store? What do you consider a “success” with regard to our products and services?

Getting to the “why” of interacting with your company will help you identify if your brand is doing what it says it will and show places where you might need to adjust to meet more customer needs. Ask them about where else they shop and what products or services they wish you carried. For the products they do purchase from you, ask them to describe what they use the product for (if it’s not always obvious) and what other items they use with it that you might not carry. Or, have them tell you a story about the last time they used the product. Ask for details about what else they did, where they were, and so on.

For instance, maybe you sell bikes and users talk about forgetting their sunscreen and coming back burned. If you hear this enough, consider carrying a few bottles of sunscreen. The more you listen for additional “problems” the better you’ll be at solving them. The more you solve problems for customers, the more they’ll come back for “solutions”. Listen for things they say that would make their lives easier and there is where you will find growth for your company.

Interact on a more personal level. Ask questions. Listen to understand. 

Parting thoughts

Every day should be a day of studying your customers. What they want one day might not be what they want or need the next. If you pay attention every day, ask continuous questions and provide solutions for the problems they’re expressing, the more likely these customers are going to choose your business for their needs If you identify a want or need that is related to your products or services but isn’t a good fit for your company, be prepared to point them in the right direction. They’ll know you are listening and providing ways to make their life better. For that, they will be appreciative and they’ll remember next time. They’ll probably even remember your authenticity the most.

Ask good questions and listen to feedback. Knowing your customer means being constantly curious. Challenge your assumptions about your customers. Stay out of the danger zone of thinking you know through continuous learning. Know your customers in new ways each day and you won’t regret making the effort.

“Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets” – Leonardo Da Vinci

This is one of several follow-ups to the article: Plan now for a successful 2018

Tags: #customer data #customer expectations #know your customers #understanding customers
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