Many research projects are driven by tactical needs: do they like my new product concept, or do they understand the messages in my new ad campaign? However, one of the most important and valuable benefits of customer research is simply to get to know your customer better. A company that leverages customer knowledge throughout the organization will be more effective because everyone knows the customer well and is working off the same set of assumptions. There will be less miscommunication about the customer, and far fewer arguments because one part of the organization believes they know what customers want better than others.
What does it mean to really know your customer? Benyamin Elias identifies five areas of information that are critical to customer understanding:
- Basic Information. Demographic information is your first step to knowing your customer. Age, income, household composition, education, ethnicity, gender – you’re looking for facts about your customer’s life. Is this person the purchaser, the user, the influencer – or some combination of those? How do they purchase, where, how often, and what other products do they use with your product?
- Questions that Uncover Pain Points. Whether you call them customer needs or pain points, it all comes down to the same thing: what can you do to deliver valuable benefits to your customer? What’s the hardest thing about purchasing and using your product? What emotions are associated with purchasing and using your product? How does your customer feel about purchasing and using your product?
- Questions about Customers’ Market Experience and Behavior. Your customer was not born yesterday – their experience comes with them to the marketplace. How much research do they do before they purchase your product, and what information sources do they use? What have they already tried to address their pain points? How well did that work? How satisfied or dissatisfied have they been with what they’ve tried and why? What have they thought about, but not tried to solve the problem, and why haven’t they tried it?
- Questions about Customer Satisfaction. Customers who have purchased your product are undoubtedly your most valuable information source. You know they are qualified – because they bought! But in addition to cross- and up-selling, existing customers can tell you a lot about your product, and how you can refine your approach to the market with better products, more targeted communications, alternative distribution channels, and ways to increase customer loyalty. How well did your product meet their expectations and solve their problem? Do they have questions about your product? Do they want you to change something about the product or the way you market it?
While marketing research solely for the sake of learning about your customer probably isn’t cost effective, adding some of these questions to existing projects will deliver more return for your research investment. The key is to communicate throughout your organization so that everyone has the same understanding of the customer. Moreover, of course, this understanding will result in its own pay-off, including increased sales through better marketing.
Often, especially if you have a lot of customer interaction under your belt already, you’ll find that your audience confirms what you already suspected. And there is nothing wrong with validation! After all, the rate of change in the marketplace is only increasing, and it is important to stay on top of your customers to ensure your understanding is current. And even if it turns out that you really do know everything there is to know about your customers, they are totally satisfied and there are no improvement opportunities, however unlikely, that gives you the confidence to focus on other parts of your business, such as cost control, operational improvements, and employee development. There’s always something that can be improved!
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