4 Strategies for Understanding What Your Customers Actually Want

The following is a guest post by Kenny Kline, a serial entrepreneur. His ventures are primarily focused on media and digital marketing. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisBeKenny.


Today’s consumers are more discerning than ever before. A less diplomatic way of saying that is: Modern customers are significantly less willing to trust a company and remain loyal to it over the long haul.

There are several factors that help explain this trend. Consumers have access to more information than ever before, so they’re able to thoroughly investigate a company before giving it their business. If they aren’t satisfied with the brand’s ethics, business practices, and/or reviews, they’re likely to take their business elsewhere. Meanwhile, customers are becoming increasingly diverse in a variety of ways, which makes micro-segmentation both more challenging and more important than it’s ever been. When companies fail to speak to the needs and lifestyles of their customers, those customers are likely to go elsewhere.

Here’s the kicker: While customers are growing increasingly disloyal to brands, the success of said brands continues to depend on repeat customers. That means companies that want to survive need to get clear about what it is their customers actually want so they have a chance to deliver it. Here are four strategies for diving deep into your customers’ psyches in order to create products or services that effectively appeal to the customers you want.

Distinguish between prospective and current customers.

Too many businesses make the mistake of lumping all customers—both prospective and active—into the same category. But the reality is that customers who are considering your product are going to be operating from a different set of needs and preferences than customers who have already purchased your product and are looking to maximize its role in their lives and/or upgrade to the next best thing.

Thus, any efforts to collect customer data and feedback need to distinguish between prospects and active customers. Devote most of your time to understanding your active customer base, because they’re the people who are most likely to stick around if you serve them right. Try to understand not only their relationship to your product, but also who they are as people—where they live, what they do, how they spend their free time, what their values are, and so on. The more you understand about your customers, the more you’ll be able to ensure that your products seamlessly integrate with and enhance their lifestyles.

Identify the problem you’re trying to solve.

This is gospel advice in the startup world, and yet so many companies continue to get it wrong. It all goes back to that famous line from Henry Ford, in which he said that if he’d given his customers exactly what they wanted, he would have devoted all his time and resources to building a faster horse.

The lesson here is that it’s important to look beyond the specs of an existing product to understand what role that product is playing in people’s lives—and then design future upgrades and products around serving that need. It’s only by understanding exactly what problem you’re solving for your customers that you’ll be able to continue innovating on behalf of your consumer base as industry trends evolve.

Speaking of evolution: Don’t be afraid to shift your focus based on feedback from customers. For example, at my fitness content company, BarBend, we learned by listening to our customers that even non-Strongman athletes are interested in Strongman-style deadlift straps. So we changed our deadlift straps coverage to appeal to a broader demographic than we originally thought would be interested in this content. In this way, we were able to more effectively cater to the needs of our readers.

Walk a mile in your customers’ shoes.

You know that CBS show “Undercover Boss,” in which employers go undercover to get a feel for lower-level roles within their own companies? Well, one of the best ways to understand your customers is to do something like that.

In as many ways as possible, try to directly experience what it’s like to be a consumer of your own brand: Purchase a product online, call the customer support team with a question, leave a review, interact with the brand’s social media accounts, and so on. By walking through these processes, you’ll get a sense for the customer experience and will have a chance to identify areas where customers might desire improvements.

Actively solicit feedback across multiple channels.

Social media, phone calls, email, in-person conversations, on-site and off-site reviews, customer surveys—all of these platforms can provide a wealth of data about your customers’ personas, needs, likes, and dislikes. Because every person prefers to connect with brands in different ways, it’s important to make yourself available to customers across a wide array of channels if you want them to provide you with valuable feedback.

Once you start soliciting feedback, the key is to consolidate this data so you can derive meaningful insights. You can do this by training all of your team members to log any and all customer feedback in a database and then regularly analyzing that data for patterns and trends.

Together, these four strategies should provide you with a solid understanding of who your customers are and what they’re all about. Of course, having this information isn’t enough on its own: Ultimately, it’s how you respond to demographic data and customer feedback that will determine whether you deliver on what your customers want.

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