The job of any business is to create a customer. In other words, we need to select a group of people, learn about them, figure out what they want, and deliver it better than anyone else. That is business and the basis for all branding and management.
THE FIRST STEP
The first step is to use whatever experience, research, hypothesis, and intuition, we have in order to approximate an understanding of our target customer. Armed with imperfect knowledge we introduce our product or service and start observing and validating her reaction.
THE FIRST MISSTEP
Rarely will our first offering be perfect—or even good enough. The first misstep many companies make is to look inward to understand why customers aren’t completely satisfied with their products or services. It is tempting. After all, “Who knows more about our offering than us?” The answer is obvious but often overlooked: “Our customers.”
THE SECOND STEP
Once someone buys our product or service we have the potential to develop a relationship with her. Any relationship persists when the needs of both parties are satisfied. Our job is twofold:
- Continually clarify our needs, values, purpose, and vision
- Find ways to establish direct communication with our customer to verify what she values.
In other words, in step one we make very educated guesses about what she wants. In step two, we ask her what she really wants, why she wants it, and how she wants it delivered.
Every business is different but, with persistence, every business can establish a direct line of communication with their customers. Once communication exists a relationship is possible. The trick is to establish an actual relationship and not a transaction. A relationship feels like a conversation and mutual experiences. A transaction feels like a questionnaire, a form, and customers conforming to our process.
KNOWLEDGE OVER TIME
Like any relationship, a certain level of trust has to exist before we share certain things. Think about your own experience. Are you comfortable in these situations?
- Telling a door-to-door sales person your first and last name.
- Listening to a blind date tell you about his ex.
- Explaining to a bank teller why you’re withdrawing $2,000 from your account.
Customer knowledge is something we cultivate over time. Not only do we have to stay focused on it, we also have to earn the right to ask certain questions based on a level of trust. We can’t try to make everything happen all at once and ask our customers for information they aren’t ready to share.
I believe customer research plans should be reimagined as customer relationship plans. Just like we strive to make customers for life, and to calculate their lifetime value, so too must we subject customer knowledge to a lifetime of learning.