You don't know what your customers want, do you?

To stay relevant in a digital world, your organization needs to be resilient and always prepared for change. B2B buyers, who are researching business challenges, do their research 68.5% of the time exclusively online. Only 31.5% is using traditional channels.* It is therefore imperative that your digital channels need to be fully aligned with your customers’ goals and contexts. To stand out in today’s markets, organizations must show deep understanding of their customers’ needs and offer compelling digital services that cater to these needs. But where to start?

Mix customer input with your expertise

Whenever customer needs are discussed, Henry Ford’s (alleged) famous remark always comes up: "If I had asked customers what they wanted, they would have said: faster horses.". That quote implies that customers are not a good source of innovation. Customers are said not to know what they want until you show it to them. We’re not advocating exclusive focus on what customers say. We’re saying it is of absolute importance to understand customers’ real needs. Back in Ford’s days, people didn’t really want faster horses, but rather a faster mode of transportation in general.

True digital resilience comes from combining deep insights with the true needs of the customer. Through internal expertise, capabilities and knowledge we can deliver real solutions to customer needs.

To sum up: keep a short communication line with your customers. It is the fastest way to identify opportunities and find gaps in your offering.

Don’t rely on numbers only

Companies have a lot of customer data. Collecting data is relatively easy compared to using it to gain insights and drive decision-making.
We recently worked with a service provider who offers an online customer zone. Their data stated that only a quarter of their customers logged into the customer zone more than once. Based on those data alone, they asked themselves: “Do we still need a customer zone? And what do our customers expect from it? We want to up- and cross-sell via this channel, but if they’re not there, we’re just shouting into the void.”

Instead of closing the customer zone, which was a logical consequence based on the data alone,  they listened to their customers and discovered their real needs. Now they know what their customers really want, they adjusted the zone accordingly. Customers are visiting and using the zone on a regular base. 
In short, don’t rely on data alone. Add qualitative research to find out how you can provide value for your company and your customers. 

Apply the quality circle

At The Reference, we typically apply our ‘quality circle’. This circle exists of listening to the business, listening to the customer and finding a win-win solution for their expectations . This process is repeated over and over again to incrementally enhance the quality of the final outcome. The earlier you identify opportunities, problems and risks, the easier (and cheaper) it is to adjust the course of your project. This is what we call: an agile way of working.

When to get your customers’ insights

Listening to your customers can provide you with valuable insights. We recommend getting customer input at least during these phases of any digital roadmap:

- Requirement gathering: What does your customer really need? Don’t rely on internal assumptions and be ready to dismiss requirements that you thought were must-haves.
- Backlog prioritization: Prioritize based on what delivers the most value in the fastest way (for us and for the customer).
- Flow and navigation: When you’re designing any kind of flow (could be navigation through an app, but also service delivery flows), test them with real people. Don’tmake the assumption of knowing how a customer thinks about your service.
- Design: Do your digital initiatives (design, copy, imagery, etc.) match your brand image? Is your brand image aligned with how you want customers to see and interpret your brand? Find out by talking to potential customers.


6 tips for uncovering customer needs during face-to-face interviews

Our experience shows that you need to take the following thing into account when talking to customers:

1. You need to make sure that you select a representative group of customers. Think of parameters like age, gender, social status and the fact if they are a customer, a prospect or an ex-customer. You can work with a company that specializes in focus groups or you can just go out on the streets and talk to people (if you’re working on a B2C solution). 

2. Prepare the contextual interviews well. As with everything, a good preparation is key.

3. Write down your questions in a non-steering way. What do you really want to know? Separate the core from the side issues. If you have an ex-customer, ask them why they left. This is truly valuable info.

4. Limit the interview time. If you can gain your respondent’s trust, you can find out a lot in a half an hour.

5. Really listen to your customers. Remember that 93% of all communication is non-verbal. If the interviewee hesitates, try to find out why. If you see excitement about something, write it down. This is your gold. You cannot get this information from data.

6. Ask “why” five times if you need to, so that you understand the real needs of the customer.

You say what you want and you want what you say? 

Combine your business goals with customer needs to create a long-list of features and processes that deliver value to both you and your customers. This list is virtually endless backlog of crazy and less crazy ideas. 

We’ve experienced that using the Kano technique helps clean up and prioritize this list of ideas.

Moreover, it also helps to find out what ideas give your customers that warm, jumpy feeling inside. This is a step further than what most companies do. In the Kano model surprisingly, interesting features are called ‘delighters’. Any company that can cater to true customer needs and that can insert some delight at the same time is sure to be on the winning side of the market.

Your actions will prove your customer intimacy

This might seem a lot of work, but like with everything in life: start small, dream big! You can do even a tiny 10-minute colleague interview for your solution and already improve with a little tweak. Know that if you start implementing this, your business might even slow down before going up again. 

Really listening to customers and uncovering their needs, changing internal processes, attracting new customers and changing their believes about your company or brand takes time. These improvements will cost you and will probably not result in more clicks or another tangible KPI. However, the quality of your product or service will rise to the next level. Customers will see it and gradually this will show in your results too.

Changing a mindset or a habit takes a while and goes in ups and downs. Agile organizations try, fail fast, try again and learn every step of the way. We are convinced that in the long run, you will stand out from the crowd. So, start today! Go out, get to know your customers and make the difference.

Need a hand in finding out what your customers want?

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*Inside the Buyer’s Brain: Understand your buyers. Win more business. It details the perspectives of 1,475 buyers and 3,005 sellers in a changing marketplace.

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