Clueless About Customers?

/Meeting with Customer

By Jaynie L. Smith

What customers value most changes constantly – and the pace of change has increased exponentially with the economic recession. Businesses become relevant by addressing what customers really value. And they’ll be the first ones out of the recession.

Learning why customers buy certain products or services from particular companies is essential practice for any business owner during any economic cycle, but most don’t do it. They are often shocked to learn what is at the top of the customers’ value list.

Customers look for “how” things are sold, not just “what.” For most products, there are a number of suppliers. If someone wants to buy a camera, a doorknob or a car, they can drive to the nearest store or order from the first company that pops up on Google. But they don’t. Why? Because there’s something they value more than the product itself. It may be product durability, the company’s reputation for customer service or safety features. If you don’t value what you bring to the customer, they won’t value it either. Very few companies know how to effectively articulate what differentiates them, so price often becomes the tiebreaker.

Existing customers and new prospects often have different values. My company’s research analysis shows that 70 percent of the time, customers and prospective customers differ in what they value most. Thus, messaging to customers should differ from your message to prospects. Very few companies make this distinction in sales and marketing messaging. Existing customers may depend on your top-notch help desk. It’s what they’ve grown to value about your company. But prospective customers haven’t yet used your help desk so they don’t know how essential this benefit is.

Use what you learn. If you find customers most value speedy responses when they have a problem, and your customer service department is slow, customer service needs to be fixed. Make sure to tell the customer service employees that customers have rated fast response time as their top priority. When you’ve got stats you can brag about – brag away: “98 percent of customer calls are returned within 30 minutes; 2 percent within 1 hour.” Now you’ve used that information in two valuable ways: to make your company more relevant to customers, and to let customers know you’ve got what they want.

Invest in disciplined customer research. Research data collection costs have gone down 30 to 35 percent in the past few years and can now be affordable to smaller companies. Double-blind customer market research is the gold standard and well worth the expense. But it’s not feasible for all companies. However, even a small investment in research can reap huge returns. Some less expensive and free alternatives to find out what your customers want include sharing the expense with an industry association; partnering with an organization that needs the same information or a peer who doesn’t compete with you, hiring a college intern or creating an online survey using a free basic service, such as Survey Monkey.

Jaynie L. Smith is CEO of Smart Advantage, Inc , a marketing/management consultancy whose clients range from mid-sized to Fortune 500 companies. She’s also author of the book, Creating Competitive Advantage .

Share this Article