What Do Customers Want? (And What To Do About It)

It’s not the consumers’ job to figure out what they want.” – Steve Jobs

Next we consider the third component of your management system, which is all about customers. As we said in an earlier post, serving customers is the only reason a business exists. So the first step is creating compelling value that customers want to acquire. Then keep on adding value to keep them.

Sounds simple enough. But this is an area to sweat the details.

If it’s not the customers’ job to know what they want, how are you supposed to figure it out? Use every listening post you can for indicators of what customers may value. Signals from social media can be an important supplement to getting out there F2F. Asking customers what they want often produces statements to have something delivered perfectly, immediately, and free… they want everything. Why shouldn’t they? Don’t you want everything? Be aware that the customer may articulate a need tied to what they know, as Henry Ford expected they would just ask for a faster horse. The challenge is to reframe want they want and generate a product or service that would meet the need in the context of what’s possible that you (and ideally, only you) can do well. Beyond listening to what customers say, watch what they do, especially when it comes to making choices among available options. That tells you what they are really committed to among the perfect/fast/free dimensions. Remember to consider the right level of customer support to ensure that customers get the most value from your products and services.

Once you’ve got the right product or service fit, how can you tell how much customers like the offering? Repeat business will surely tell you, but that is a lagging indicator: you either can’t do much if the sales don’t come in, or if the product is a hit, can’t scale quickly enough to satisfy the demand. You need to measure customer satisfaction (the preferred goal is customer delight) soon after the delivery. We strongly favor research validated models. Our favorites for customer sat are SERVQUAL and NPS, with the latter being widely adopted these days. The things you measure have to be consistent over time or you won’t be able to tell if you’re getting better or worse. It’s important to track the current level as well as the trend over time. Look for other places to learn about customers especially where things didn’t work out: lost deals, lost accounts, and especially complaints: see every complaint or objection as an opportunity to connect with a customer and reinforce the relationship.

Engagement sounds like a squishy term, but it means the commitment of customers to work with you, partnering with them to develop new products or features. Your top customers can often lead the way. If they are not inclined to play such a role, you need to do more to raise your commitment and outreach to them.

People too often use the terms Customer and Market interchangeably. They’re not. Markets don’t buy anything… customers do. While there could be many common traits among customers, it’s often valuable to segment groups by expectation. It’s always valuable to stay aware of changes affecting your customer base, as well as staying up to date on the competition. But don’t focus all your energy there. Netscape veterans would say they would have been better off had they engaged existing marquee customers rather than obsess over what Microsoft was doing with Internet Explorer.

Most B2B business have a customer relationship management system, and if you don’t you’re bringing a knife to a gunfight. CRM will assist in acquiring customers, keeping those you’ve already won, and support your effort to build your brand and market share.