What customers value most changes constantly, and the pace of change has increased exponentially with the economic recession.
One year ago people were looking at the financial stability of a company before purchasing its products, according to surveys conducted by my company, Smart Advantage. No one wants to discover that the appliance store has gone out of business when her washing machine breaks down. Now, on-time delivery outranks financial stability. So many businesses cut back their inventory during the worst of the recession that customers have found it’s difficult to get what they want on time.
Ascertaining why customers buy particular products or services from particular companies should be an essential practice for any business owner during any economic cycle, but most don’t do it. My analysis of 10 years of double-blind customer market research for more than 100 businesses revealed that 90 percent of the time, most businesses don’t know their customers’ top values. They are often shocked to learn what is at the top of the customer’s value list.
Here are some tips for getting to know your customers—and potential customers—so you can deliver what they want and adjust your sales and marketing message to become more relevant.
For most products, there is any number of suppliers. If someone wants to buy a camera, a doorknob, a car, he can drive to the nearest store or order from the first company that pops up on Google. But he doesn’t. Why? Because there’s something else he values more than the product itself. It may be product durability, the company’s reputation for customer service, or safety features.
If you don’t value what you bring to your customers, they won’t value it, either. Few companies know how to effectively articulate what differentiates them from their competitors, so price often becomes the tiebreaker.
The research analysis at my company shows that 70 percent of the time, customers and prospective customers differ in what they most value. When that’s the case, your message to your customers should be different than your message to prospects. Very few companies make this distinction in sales and marketing messaging. Existing customers may have come to depend on your top-notch help desk; it’s what they’ve grown to value most about your company. Prospective customers haven’t used your help desk, so they don’t know how essential this benefit is.
If you find customers value speedy responses the most when they have a problem, and your customer service department is slow, then fix customer service. Make sure to tell the customer service employees that customers have rated fast response time as their top priority.
When you’ve got stats you can brag about—brag away. For example: “Since implementing the new procedures, 98 percent of customer calls are returned within 30 minutes; 2 percent within one hour.” Now you’ve used that information in two valuable ways: to make your company more relevant to customers, and to let customers know you’ve got what they want.
Research data collection costs have gone down 30 to 35 percent during the past few years and is now affordable for smaller companies. Double-blind customer market research is the gold standard and well worth the expense, but it’s not feasible for all companies. However, even a small investment in research can reap huge returns. Some less expensive and free alternatives to find out what your customers want include sharing the expense with an industry association; partnering with an organization that needs the same information or a peer that doesn’t compete with you; hiring a college intern; or creating an online survey using a free basic service, such as Survey Monkey.