What do your customers really want? What are your customers' needs? These are the questions that many business owners keep asking themselves, and there's one way to know the answer for sure: ask them. Read on to see why listening closely to your customers should be a major part of your strategy for success. 

Businesses routinely spend a great deal of time, money, and effort in researching their strategies. Any sound business plan will address a range of factors such as:

  • Patterns in the market
  • Product research
  • Competitor analysis
  • And much more

However, even the most successful companies can sometimes overlook one of the best sources of information available to them: their own customers. And why is customer feedback important to an organization? Customers are not only a rich source of information; they can also provide the kinds of insight you simply cannot get anywhere else.

There is much to be said about the benefits of customer feedback. A study carried out by Moz in 2015 found that 67% of customers were influenced by online reviews, while a 2014 Bright Local survey found “88% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations”.

online Review Importance GraphImage Source: Moz Survey

Dorota Rewinska, writing at GreenBook, sums up the value of customers to any business succinctly: “customers make profit possible”. Therefore, it is vital that you understand what makes your customers tick.

It is significant that you need to understand your customers. Not your competitors’ customers, or customers in your field, or even customers in general - your customers, specifically.

Although you should be asking for, reading, and sharing customer reviews for your products and services, this goes much deeper than that. If you want to succeed in any sphere of business, you really need to understand your customers.

There are a number of customer feedback tools you can use to get this information, including:

  • Conducting polls and surveys
  • Asking for and reading product reviews
  • Engaging with your customers on social media
  • Keeping track of complaints via email
  • Your customers can educate you

Richard Branson at Virgin put it best when he said that “your education really begins on the day that you open the doors to customers”. In other words, customer feedback can allow you to steer, mould, and fine-tune your products, your services and your marketing to meet the needs, and the expectations of your audience.

As Ross Beard at Client Heartbeat points out, there are a number of useful metrics that you can study in order to understand how satisfied (or otherwise) your clients and customers are. This can provide you with an insight into the customer experience you are providing, from their perspective.

Customer feedback can also offer a unique look at what your audience expects from you, how likely they are to purchase from you again, or even recommend you to their friends. This is useful information, as it will help you to understand what your audience wants from you.

There are a lot of useful metrics of customer response to be aware of. These are best expressed in the forms of questions that you can ask your customers. Beard lists a number of the questions you should ask your customers, including:

  • Does our service live up to your expectations?
  • How likely would you be to recommend our company’s service to a friend?
  • How does our service compare to your ‘ideal’ service?
  • Overall, how satisfied are you with our company?
  • Do you intend to renew your contract when it ends?

Obviously, you would ask slightly different questions if you offer products, rather than services. For example, ‘do you intend to renew your contract when it ends?’ could be replaced with ‘how likely are you to buy from us again?’ In both cases, you are getting access to useful information with regards to customer retention.

Of course, with a number of metrics to keep track of, it does take a level of time and effort to source information from your customers. However, so long as you get the information you need and you are able to use it effectively to develop your business strategy going forward, you will find that it is well worth making the investment.

You know what happens when you assume

Angus Murray of Foxy’s, writing for LinkedIn, tells a compelling story of how “not listening almost killed [his] business”. His narrative is compelling, and well worth a read. He explains how he “made assumptions” about what “our target market of middle America grocery Moms” wanted from his company’s products, which led to marketing failure.

At the heart of it, Murray’s cautionary tale comes down to the simple fact:

“by trying to imagine what customers wanted, [he] had thought [he] could escape actually ASKING them.”

Simply put, while you can use data and other information to have an idea of what your customers might want, you cannot be sure unless you ask them. Attempting to guess, no matter how much data you base it on, can lead to false assumptions, which are bad for business.

When it comes down to it, almost every business is ultimately about giving your clients or customers what they want. You might be an expert in everything that you do; however, if you’re not able to turn that expertise into products or services that your target audience actually wants, and is willing to pay for, then it will all be for nothing.

Murray’s story deals largely with a marketing misstep. Foxy’s had designed the packaging (and thus the overall marketing presence) of its brand of Pash Frozen Yogurt, based on those assumptions:

“71% of consumers who I asked didn't like our Pash Frozen Yogurt packaging when we held it up as a design idea”

You are not your customers

In his story about Foxy’s Pash Frozen Yogurt, Murray ran into problems when he made assumptions about what “middle America grocery Moms” would want. Based on his own preconceived notions and demographic research, his company launched a product that almost a quarter of his target market didn’t like!

Let’s start by reviewing Murray’s assumption that many of his customers were “turned off by the retro, cutesy vibe” of his product’s packaging and marketing materials . So, if the customers didn’t like that vibe – why did the product have it? Because of those assumptions, we keep coming back to it. We’re dealing with a gap between the target audience and the person attempting to sell to them:

  • Murray is English; his audience is American.
  • Murray is male; his target audience is female.
  • Murray is engaged with marketing and business; his target audience isn’t.

All of these differences obviously made it difficult for Murray to accurately assess what his target audience liked.

The same applies to most businesses and their audiences, especially medium to large sized businesses. Even if you are a small business, chances are that your perceptions will be different to that of your target audience. For example, even if you are one of Murray’s “middle America grocery Moms” and your products are aimed at mothers in Middle America, you will still have more insight into your products than your typical audience member.

The more different you are from your customers, the harder it will be for you to accurately gauge what they want, and what they expect, from you. This is why you need to ask them, and listen to what they tell you.

Improving your end-user experience

The value of customer research almost goes without saying. Writing in Effectiveness Week in 2016, Jane Frost, the CEO of MRS, argued that

“There is an unambiguous connection between commercial success and customer-centricity.”

Businesses thrive when they are built with their customers in mind. After all, even the best products and services will go to waste if no customers choose to buy or hire them.

Here at TradeGecko, we spend hours and hours on customer research. We measure every conceivable metric, and pore over mountains of data, in order to fully understand both our customers and their customers.

Knowing what our customers want from our online inventory and order management software helps us develop our products and services. It also makes it easier for us to figure out how to market our products, and who to market them to.

All of this is done with one end goal in mind: to provide all of our customers with the best possible end user experience.

Knowing is half the battle

Let’s look at what Foxy’s was able to do when Angus Murray finally started listening to his customers:

To do this Murray personally went into stores, asked customers what they thought of his products and found out that 71% of them didn’t like the current product designs.

From this feedback, Murray was able to recall, redesign, and relaunch his products with the following results:

After 6 months, 2 dodgy production false starts, a completely unwarranted recall, a restructure, and a lot of sweat including a rather somber moment of me curled on the floor in the kitchen rocking backwards and forwards like a mad man I am glad to say Foxy's Thoughtful Ice Cream lives.

Foxy’s completely rebranded their frozen yogurt, removed the “cutesy” aesthetic they had previously and gave their products a look and feel that their customers actually wanted.

In a trial of 40 targeted consumers, 97% preferred our new Thoughtful Ice Cream blend compared to our 0% fat frozen yogurt, and 90% of those people said they would buy it.

How to find out what your customers want

Of course, if you want to listen to your customers, you first need to get them to talk to you. If your goal is to find out what you really want, there are a number of strategies you can use to get them to tell you.

As Shep Hyken at Forbes suggests, sometimes your audience will simply tell you what is wrong. However, he found that “96% of customers who have a complaint won’t tell you” about their issues, but will – instead – “broadcast [it] to the world through social media”.

To avoid this problem, and to get your hands on as much useful data as possible, Hyken suggests, “asking customers ‘How are we doing?’”.

A request for general feedback, or a targeted satisfaction survey, is a great way to start connecting with your audience. This approach has the added benefit of capturing a larger subsection of your customer base, and collating responses from happy and unhappy customers alike.

Like Angus Murray, you could actually go out and interview your customers directly. Of course, this only works if it is possible to get face to face with them. As Matthew Guay at Zapier points out, this is easier for some businesses than it is for others:

Whereas a coffee shop owner can easily connect with customers on a personal level and establish a rapport with regulars, an engineer at a small software company isn’t afforded the same luxury.

Fortunately, Kissmetrics provides us with a useful list of alternative methods you can use. These include:

  • Long form surveys
  • Short surveys and polls on your site
  • Feedback boxes
  • Reaching out directly to your customers
  • User activity from your analytics
  • Usability tests

Kissmetrics makes a number of other useful points about how to get the most useful data from your audience. For instance, they point out that even long form surveys should be kept as short as possible, and that you should “ask only the questions that you’ll use”. In other words, you only want to ask questions that are relevant to your business strategy.

In summary

If you know what your customers want, by conducting a survey, reading product reviews, or engaging with your audience on social media, you are able to provide products and services that meet their needs and expectations. Perhaps even more importantly, you can target your marketing and drive sales in a way that provides a better end-user experience, and ultimately improve your bottom line.


See Also:

Retail trends and predictions for 2017

Customer relationship management: 8 reasons every wholesaler needs CRM

Using order management software to exceed customer expectations