If you run a business, I can safely assume that you’ve had the feeling of not being understood by your customers. Sometimes, it appears that they think your business is a charity organization; how else could you possibly explain them insisting on buying your product for a fraction of its production cost? It doesn’t seem fair that they want you to organize some sort of bonanza every other holiday, even when you’re battling to keep your business’s finances above red. If only they knew.
It’s true that the customer isn’t always right, and that you’ll have to stand your ground against the unrealistic demands some of them will make. However, you do know that in the end, you’re in business because of them. You may occasionally (or often) find their expectations outlandish and even irksome, but you’ll be wise to not respond by becoming combative. Your first resort should be empathy.
Being empathetic- or putting yourself in your customers’ shoes -doesn’t have to be a mode you only slide into when you’re trying to calm an unreasonably irate customer. It should underpin your whole approach to business. Think what you could achieve if you are able to get into your customers’ minds and know what causes them to buy certain products instead of others, and react to prices the way they do. That’s the point of trying to understand your customers.
Maybe you’ve actually been advised to ‘put yourself in your customers’ shoes,’ and you’re wondering if there’s more to this than just imagining yourself as a buyer of your products. Here are six ways to find out what your customers actually think of your business.
Critique your business’s external image
Take a step back and imagine that you are a customer looking at your business. What would be your first impressions of it? Does its packaging and advertising make you want to try it out? Do its logo, colours and tagline catch your attention as a typical buyer of the type of product it produces? Would you want to buy its products given its reputation?
Examine your product as a dispassionate consumer. Is it good enough for you? Are there better alternatives you’d rather use (and if there are, what makes them better)?
Simulate visitors’ experience
This, like the first step, also requires you to shift your thinking from seller mode to the (potential) customers’ mindset.
Picture yourself walking through the doors of your business office. What signs are there of the experience that awaits inside? Do the signboards or other forms of notice of the business’s presence impress you much? And when you go in, do you feel that the atmosphere is comfortable and welcoming? What does the environment say about the business, to your mind? Are the employees courteous and ready to help with the right information? Is the customer care service able to handle your inquiries promptly and decisively?
If you have a website or social media page, what’s its user experience like? Is the layout professional, pleasing to the eyes and suitable for the business that it represents or enables? How easy is it for you to identify it with its parent company? Can you get all the relevant information about the company from it? Does it have a feedback system?
Perhaps, the best way to simulate a customer experience is to actually act the customer for a short while (anywhere from an hour to a day). Test out your whole system and see how it looks to the people, who come through your doors or visit your website every other day.
Talk to your customers
This is really the most straightforward route to knowing what your customers think of your business. You can ask them what they think of your offerings, and what they would like to see improved.
In fact, you might learn more about your customers’ purchasing motivations if you develop a cordial relationship with them. The lighter conversations you (or your front desk attendant) have with your clients may reveal more about them than the one-off sessions of direct inquiry. This applies as much to digital communication channels as it does to physical talk. Correspondences with customers via email and social media could help you get a picture of their motivations and preferences.
Study your industry
The trends in your industry might give you some insight into your customers’ evolving product preferences. Sometimes, industries move with customers’ changing tastes; at other times, the customers seek the newest offerings and chase novelty. Whatever the market tendencies are, you might be able to decipher your typical customer’s attitudes by examining the direction in which the market is moving. One thing to watch is consumers’ reaction to pricing in the short and long term. Try to find out what informs their responses to the price and product changes you observe.
You can have a survey of your customer base or the wider market for your product if you’re looking for more specific information about their motivating sentiments and buying decisions. Once upon a time, surveys were about handing out questionnaires to tons of strangers and hoping they would fill and return the papers. Today, thanks to online survey platforms, you can carry out a properly targeted survey and get the results from respondents without sweating it out on the streets. You just need to set up a survey page with the questions you’d like your respondents to answer, and distribute the link to that page via email or social media. You could also embed the survey on your website (if you have one), so visitors to the site don’t have to leave it in order to fill the survey form.
Use web analytics
This works specifically for businesses that operate primarily through their websites. If yours is one of such businesses, you’ll find web analytics quite useful.
Web analytics reveal such things as the number of visitors your website gets over a period of time (real time, days, weeks, months, years), the number of times pages on your site have been viewed, clicks on links displayed on the site, and how the site is doing compared to similar (competing) sites. What’s more, you could even get a good idea of the kind of people who visit (and are likely to visit) your website- down to such details as their genders and preferences based on their online habits. Such information could help you create content and marketing campaigns targeted specifically at your typical audience.
Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.