Whatever size business you work in, it’s likely that you’re a lot better placed to gain a deep understanding of your customers than you may at first think. Chances are, if you’re a smaller sized business you’ll be geographically or philosophically co-located, certainly more so than the big behemoths. If you’re a big player, then beware your size – it can create a sense of disconnection from the people you need the most, and that’s terrible for business.
In a rapidly changing world, how well do we really know our customers and how they prefer to engage with us? It can seem like a complex challenge, what with the apparent need to carry out detailed segmentation activities, build client “personas” and gain deep understandings into our “buyer’s journeys”.
First things first, let’s cut the terminology out. After all it’s just fluffed up management speak for strategically and systematically understanding our customers. Second, let’s put all the charts and apps and spread sheets away and get on with what is often the most under-utilised strategy of all:
1) Talk to them
Talking to your customers can take many forms, depending on the sort of business you’re in, but could be as simple as a conversation with regulars as they buy their morning coffee. We often hear how technology, designed to get us closer to each other, is actually alienating us from each other. Consider how, over the last 15 years, so many more people are walking around with earphones ‘protecting’ them from actually having to talk to anyone. What about those times when you find yourself waiting for a bus and, rather than strike up a conversation with someone you plunge straight into your mobile phone. The point is that although the temptation is to shy away, actually talking to our customers is a must-do. There are considerable benefits to be gained from getting up close and personal, besides the fact that it re-creates the sense of connectivity that we all actually long for. Firstly you’ll learn stuff, important and helpful stuff. Secondly, when striking up conversations for the first, then second and third occasions, customers will really begin to feel like you care about them and what they think, which of course you do. Not a bad result.
Get into the habit of asking questions, connecting with customers and then maybe bolster your learnings with more involved activity, like attending industry events or running voice-of-customer interviews with key opinion leaders. Whether you want to use a structured interview tool, or just have casual conversations is for you to decide; there are pros and cons of each approach. For example, structured interviews can provide better comparison from respondent to respondent, but might well lose some crucial detail of a customer’s experience compared with more open conversational interactions. If you run a B2B service or consulting business do you have a project review process? How do you go about keeping the conversation open with clients?
From here on, the information and data gathering is certainly more impersonal than physical interactions but it’s still simple enough to carry out :
2) Online engagement
There are so many different ways to interact with your customers online that we could never provide a comprehensive account of them here. Examples range from carefully coordinated (and enormous) social media campaigns like this one for Creme Egg , through to Il Forno Ciabbattaria, the Reservoir bakery that learnt very quickly, following a viral Facebook post from a customer, that people really like Nutella filled donuts. Then there are the simple yet clever uses of online technology, like the crowd-funding workshop from the Californian men’s clothing design company, Taylor Stitch, where customers are able to decide which shirts, or jackets, or pants they might make.
A great, straightforward option for businesses of many shapes and sizes, is to publish and share real, genuine and relevant content like Intrepid Travel’s blog, or The Pulse from MYOB, and then read the comments, engage with your customers and analyse the posts they like best (more on analytics later).
Whether accessed online, via an eDM, or in ‘real life’ (such as handing out forms at your local factory sale) the old-fashioned survey can be a great way to gather structured information from current (and potential) customers. There’s a plethora of online survey builders available, and now, with the almost ubiquitous use of social media, it’s never been easier to get a survey out there in front of your customers. However, a word of caution.. plan your survey carefully. Think about what it is you are trying to achieve with the survey, you might not get many chances to start the conversation. As the saying goes “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”. Our approach is to first establish some high-level “research questions” that line up with strategic objectives and then ensure we maintain focus on these objectives when designing the survey.
4) Smart apps
Another online method that has become popular is the use of branded apps. This may be a more resource intensive approach, but can certainly be a powerful tool, and with the emergence of DIY mobile app creators, need not break the bank. Take Powershop’s app for example, which directly engages the customer in a number of ways; not only can you manage your energy needs on the go but you can use the system to help reduce your usage and even dive further into the environmental issues at the heart of Powershop’s ethos. Not only are they educating customers through this route, but they can gather significant amounts of data about customers power usage patterns and preferences to help them optimise their service. AAMI’s safe driver app provides a different approach, where users compete against each other to be the safest driver; although this does have the potential to open a can of privacy worms as reported by the ABC.
The least personal of the options is the use of analytic data. Whether this is through the use of web analytics such as Google Analytics, premium offerings from the likes of Kissmetrics and SEM Rush, or social media analytics and insights, this sort of data can be a powerful source of information on customer behaviour and preferences, if (and that’s a BIG if) it’s used correctly.
Have you ever checked out your backlinks or the keywords people are using to find you in Google Webmaster Tools? Some strategic know-how goes a long way when you get to the analytics department so it’s worth considering investing a few hours hand-holding with someone who’s been there before, to show you the ropes.
Clearly, there are all sorts of options to hack your way to a greater understanding of your customers and we’ve really just skimmed the surface here. What we hope is that we’ve got you thinking about a few simple things to get you started. Examples of innovative customer research are a great resource to share and we’d love to hear what you’ve done, or are even considering doing, so we can comment, maybe help you refine the activity and spread the word. So feel free to connect through Facebook or Twitter.
Or you could just pick up the phone and talk to us… +61 (0) 481 313 993 … fancy that.