How Well Do You Really Know Your Customers?

We marketers are a proud and stubborn bunch. If someone were to ask me, “how well do you know your customer?” of course my natural response would be, “like the back of my hand.” My entire marketing strategy is presumably built around my customer—of course I know them well.

But deep down I know that’s not necessarily true. There’s always more that I could learn about my customers. My strategy could always be formulated to meet their needs more efficiently and effectively. There’s really no such thing as being too empathetic when it comes to us marketers understanding our customers and their needs, right? So why is it that we don’t always take adequate time in really getting to know them? Why do we continue to rely on assumptions, conjectures, and “market research,” none of which typically involve actually speaking with them?

I don’t have an easy answer for that. But I do have a solution—and a few tips to help you improve what you definitively know about your customer and steps you can implement starting today to get to know them better.

Step 1: Acknowledge Your Own Personal Bias

Acknowledging you have a problem is such a difficult thing to do. We have our own personal biases toward our customers, usually without even realizing it, and that realization is difficult. If you’ve ever built a customer journey, you’ve likely formed a bias. You may not think it’s biased, but how can you create customer groupings (personas) without generalizing? And how can you generalize without interjecting your own bias and assumptions?

You can, but it’s difficult. Tools and research can each help you not project your own needs onto your customer. Marketing platforms like Sitecore allow you to deliver a completely custom experience to each and every customer. While that may not be practical in a practical sense—there can be no “Daniel’s landing page” vs. “Simon’s landing page”—you can build business processes around real life customers that provide custom experiences (or the impression of it) to each customer. I’ve seen this in action, and I’ve even been a party to it. I bet you have, too.

Have you ever visited a website, and after a third or fourth visit, received a phone call from a business development representative within the organization? This happened to me recently. Was the call simply coincidence? Not likely—I don’t believe in chance like this in marketing. They knew I had just visited their website, “converting” from an unknown, anonymous user to a known user, and the individual I spoke with didn’t make the call feel sales-y. The first words out of the account rep’s mouth were simply, “I was just thinking I hadn’t heard from you since January and wanted to touch base.” We had been communicating fairly regularly and it had been a while since I last spoke to them.

It felt like a connection; it felt like more than just another touch point along my conversion funnel. I didn’t buy anything, nor did we even set up a follow-up call to discuss that new service they just launched last month. They know I’m not there yet, but they’ll be ready for me when I am.

Hotel Atrium in Winter Park – The Web

Step 2: Take on a Truly Customer-Centric Marketing Strategy

Being customer-centric shouldn’t just be something you add to your LinkedIn profile—it’s more than that, and it’s not easy to do. If it were easy, wouldn’t everyone be doing it and not just talking about how customer-focused they are?

In order to take this step, though, you need to first perform a bit of introspection and acknowledge if you are truly customer-focused. Is the content you’re producing meeting their needs? Do the customer journeys you’ve developed reflect their actual paths? If you haven’t actually confirmed them with your customers, then you’re guessing.

Next, you need to move beyond just saying you’re customer-centric and actually focusing on—and more importantly—empathizing with the customer. Acknowledge there are gaps in your knowledge of your customer; nobody’s perfect, and that’s okay. There’s real value in confirming your assumptions are true or disproving them as false. We learn more from our mistakes. Wouldn’t you rather know what you’ve been doing the past quarter is wrong so that you can swallow your pride and correct it than continue to waste valuable resources on something that’s not providing the value that it could? I would think the answer is a resounding “yes.”

You also need to understand that your personal bias impacts your customer directly. It can pigeonhole them into experiences that aren’t optimized (at best) or aren’t even relevant (at worst) and should be corrected. A true understanding of your customer’s needs will be a serious competitive advantage that can help elevate you above your competition. But the servant marketer isn’t coming from a completely selfless perspective. The servant marketer knows that by catering to the customers’ needs, he intrinsically serves his own as well.
So how do you remove the bias?

Talk to Your CustomersStep 3: Go Beyond Market Research (and Talk to Your Customers)

I was an awkward boy when I was in sixth grade. I remember my first middle school dance—it was in the school gymnasium. I wore a tie. I wanted to ask an eighth grader to dance more than anything else in the world, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her. Direct interaction frightened the daylights out of me. I wasn’t afraid to ask her friends if she liked me. I wasn’t afraid to pass her notes between classes. But I was scared to death about the prospects of talking to her—I was scared of being rejected.

Why do we treat our customers the same way? Are we scared of what our customers will tell us if given the opportunity? Why do we hide behind our personas and journeys without actually talking to our customers? Market research isn’t always just number crunching, data mining, and generalizations. There are other methods to learn more about what our customer really wants. To name a few:

Surveys (online, phone, and in person)

Focus group discussions

Go into the community with field support personnel (undercover boss style).

The bottom line here is to interact directly with customers whenever possible and go beyond a reliance on data. Data is important and necessary, but it’s not the Holy Grail. Data can lie to us and can tell us the story we choose to hear. A conversation with a customer about their needs and what we’re doing right or wrong is far more difficult to misinterpret.

Getting to know your customer means making customer “touch points” actual communication with them, not just digital conversions and shuffling them through your funnel. When it comes down to it, customers are still people and they deserve to be treated as such. Treat them like the individuals they are and truly get to know what’s important to them.

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