Identifying customer needs: why it matters

Andrew_Cook19 March 2015 – Andrew Cook

It’s been a while since we discussed the importance of addressing customer needs and requirements. Your customers not only want great products and services, they also want to know that your business understands their needs and wants. Identifying customer needs allows you to build your business on a strong foundation of customer-centricity.

The problem is most established companies that have been in the game for decades aren’t looking at building their foundations. They often rely on legacy and dominance in their market to attract and retain customers. Identifying customer needs, however, is no longer optional – the customer is no longer the metaphorical king; he’s now your boss.

That may sound bold, but your customers are the experts on their pain points. They know what it’s like to deal with your frontline employees and they are looking at you to understand their requirements.

Identifying customer needs means listening to and understanding your market. Your business needs to understand why your customers need the products or services you provide, but you also need to know how they want to engage with you and what they want from your brand experience. This means you need to see through your customers’ eyes and discover what your business looks like from the outside in.

Brand experience isn’t only about the hard sell, it’s also about the emotional connection that makes customers choose to engage with your business – even if your products are more expensive or they have to wait a little longer to receive your services. Customers treat brands in much the same way they treat personal relationships. Their loyalty grows with each positive experience, but they will walk away when their values have been compromised.

You need to learn about what will cultivate loyalty from your customers and what they value most. While your business is designed to cater for a specific need that you identified as a gap in the market, identifying customer needs from an emotional perspective entails learning what makes your customers feel welcomed. This also includes what they need to feel important and what it takes to build a solid understanding of their values.

Listening to the voice of the customer

The quickest way to start focusing on identifying customer needs is to conduct tailored surveys – whether online, via email, SMS or post-call IVR. There are at least 14 channels through which you can obtain feedback from your customers and the first step is to learn how they would prefer to hear from you.

While more businesses are using surveys as the most convenient way to obtain feedback, customers on the other hand often feel that nothing ever comes from their responses. Customers need to feel that the feedback they are sending is being correctly received, interpreted, and that you will respond to their concerns. Creating a survey that is relevant to your customers is no easy task, but it does sit at the heart of identifying customer needs.

Surveys can also be used to inform business analytics, but that is an entirely different discussion (you can read more about it here).

Why should you be identifying customer needs?

Here are three fundamental reasons that should convince you that your customers’ needs are critical to your business:

  1. William McEwen notes in his book, Married to the Brand: “Whether a company is marketing hamburgers or microprocessors, there’s an impressive financial return that results from emotionally engaging consumers – and there’s a substantial cost that results from disengaging them.” Correctly identifying customer needs leads to customer satisfaction. If you are indifferent to their needs, they will take their business to the nearest competitor.
  2. Customers have unique needs and these needs change with the advent of new technology, as industry trends change and their lifestyles change. Making assumptions is a sure-fire way to drive them away.
  3. Respect builds loyalty. Identifying customer needs is one way of demonstrating respect for your customers. In turn, they will reward you with their continued support and advocacy.