Understanding your customers is key to attracting them and building profitable relationships. Here are the essential things you need to know about understanding your customers.
A customer profile defines the type of person you’re trying to reach. Profiles are identified by researching a client base and segmenting customers into groups. These groups can be segmented down to include anything from age through to buying habits.
To start the process of defining your customers ask yourself the following:
There’s a range of customer research techniques that you can draw on.
Customers don’t always have the time or inclination to fill in surveys, but you should always provide them with opportunities to let you know what they think. You might want to offer an incentive to complete a questionnaire – be it to be filled in by hand or online – such as entry in a prize draw. And always thank them for completing a survey.
You can’t come up with questions that cover every single point a customer might have a view on (nor would you want to or else the questionnaire would take an eternity to complete!) so always have an area where people can leave comments and suggestions. You never know – you might get some suggestions for ‘killer’ products or services you could develop.
These have revolutionised customer feedback for consumer products. Perhaps more useful than the simple ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ indicators or emoticons, are the comments or reviews that people can add. These are a great way to get to know what customers think.
Contact your customers by calling, emailing or speaking to them face-to-face as part of your after sales process. For example, if a retailer recognises a customer they should ask them how they got on with the product they purchased. A car service business could phone the customer a few days later to check that they’re happy.
Questionnaires and suggestion boxes can get you so far, but to gain a more in-depth understanding of your customers you could run focus groups. These are facilitated meetings run over a couple of hours with invited customers, in which their needs and wants can be explored in some detail. Keeping things informal and providing lunch can incentivise customers to attend.
Businesses that serve other businesses should ask for an opportunity to have de-brief after a project has been completed. For example, a consultancy business that’s delivered a programme could meet with the key stakeholders from the client’s side a few months after implantation to find out how things are progressing. Doing this as webinar rather than face-to-face may boost participation.
No matter what method you use to seek customers’ views, always ask the most important question of all: 'Is there anything we could have done better or anything else we could be doing for you?'
Don’t give customers the impression that their feedback has disappeared into a void. Find ways to let them know how their comments were welcome and that they’ve been used constructively. Where anyone has said they are happy for you to contact them personally, make sure you follow up with an email or phone call as appropriate.
No business likes to get complaints from its customers, but negative feedback can be used to achieve positive results. Studies show that dissatisfied customers whose problems are resolved to their satisfaction can end up becoming more valuable than customers who never have problems.
Many dissatisfied customers never complain. Instead they moan to their friends and colleagues and simply take their custom elsewhere. So it pays for you to not only make it easy for someone to let you know when things go wrong, but also to actively check that they’re happy. You may get the occasional customer who makes an unjustified complaint in hope of a discount or to get something for nothing, but most people are genuine. Listening to what they have to say helps you to understand what customers expect in terms of quality, price and service.
Do all you can to encourage customers to contact you, whether they have an issue, a question, a suggestion, or even something they want to praise you for. Instead of hiding behind your website, clearly display a contact number and provide an email response facility.
Create opportunities to keep in contact with your customers and encourage them to communicate with you.
All of these are opportunities to ‘sell’ your business, but remember that your prime aim is to get to know your customers better – so make sure you do more listening than talking.
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