On Truly Understanding Your Customers

Business is a funny thing. No matter how much we talk about customer service, ultimately, we are bound to view everything that happens through our own company’s prism. If you manufacture a product, it is easy to assume that your customers know and appreciate every detail that you carefully engineered  into that product. If you work for a service company, it is easy to assume that your customers are thinking about your exact type of service all of the time. As marketers, it’s natural for us to focus on the marketing needs of our clients. That’s just the way it is.

Understandable though it may be, this myopic view of the world prevents us from truly understanding and connecting with our customers. Take, for example, the volatile political and economic market the United States is experiencing right now. We have clients who could be affected by the Affordable Care Act (a pending 2.3% tax on the medical device industry is included), who could see their business affected by the expiration of ethanol subsidies that happened in January 2012, and other factors well beyond our customers’ or our control. These governmental regulations have nothing to do with marketing. In fact, there often is not a lot a marketing department or firm can do in the face of changes like these. If your customers are being affected by similar issues, there is not much you can really do either. But that does not mean your customers are affected any less.

While you do not have the power to end the recession (or prevent another one) and while you do not have the power to repeal government acts on behalf of your customers, what you can do is let your customers know you understand what is impacting them. How can you do that? Here are some ideas.

1. Read: Keep up-to-date on issues that are going to be impacting your customers’ businesses. Showing you understand will show you care.

2. Be proactive: If you feel your customers may have to pull back on their budget, talk to them before the cuts come. Ask how you can help them get ready for the tougher times they are facing.

3. Offer credible, helpful information: If you know there are key issues affecting your customers, make a concerted effort to look for resources that could help them deal with that new wave of problems, whether it’s a petition to sign and share or an application for aid. Even if this assistance has nothing to do with you, offer it to your customers.

4. Ask questions: How is your customer preparing for the changes ahead? Is there any way you can assist in creating a strategy that would help prevent drastic repercussions? Even if the answer is no, asking is important.

5. Search for alternatives: Is there a new market your customer could target with his or her products? Are there ways to cut expenses without the trauma of laying off large portions of their workforce? Search for solutions, again, even if those solutions ultimately have nothing to do with what you offer.

Regardless of your political affiliation, most people would agree that these times are tenuous at best. A less than stellar second quarter fiscal report has the US nervous about what 2013 may bring. Election years are always unsettling, and this one seems to be particularly so. While your customers may be working with you in regards to one particular facet of their business, you can be assured, no matter what industry in which you work, that they have countless other concerns on their mind. Take the time to learn what those are. See what you can do to help relieve pressure from your customers’ every day lives. Who knows, you might even find that searching for solutions for your customers opens up new business doors for your own company.

Step outside your company’s walls. Step into the shoes of your customers. It will be worth your effort.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/highersights/6231641551/ via Creative Commons


5 comments on “On Truly Understanding Your Customers

  1. Excellent tips. It is so easy for everyone to speak in terms and use the language only those in that direct field even understand!

  2. Hi Marjorie,

    I really like this post. As you know, when I orginated buyer personas, it was a methodology to help businesses truly understand their customers. I like the points you offer and it is a reminder that for companies it pays to talk with customers proactively as opposed to talking to customers one-way only – to gain the understanding they need. Nice article.


    • Thanks Tony! I think we tend to skim the surface when it comes to understanding customers – sort of, “Understand why they want to buy from you.” But what the focus really needs to be is on what the customer needs for their own business. That’s what keeps *them* going.

  3. Great post! being proactive and knowledge about your customer’s business and field are necessary to success.

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