Companies want to stay relevant and innovative and often look at other successful companies, hot industry trends or new shiny products for inspiration.
However, a vital component to growth is at every businesses' fingertips -- their customers.
Yes, customers are the ones with the ability to determine your business' longevity and progress.
"You've got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology,"Steve Jobs notably stated. "You cannot start with the technology and try to figure out where you are going to sell it."
Although the importance of being a customer-centric company is not a new concept, the right steps to achieve a customer service focus are still hazy.
How do you understand customers' needs? What can your company change? Do other departments need to change their goals?
Navigating this arena can be daunting and a steep learning curve if you haven't paid close attention to customers before. So to steer you in the right direction, here's a beginner's guide that defines customer needs, unpacks common barriers that prevent companies from fulfilling their customers' needs, and discloses solutions to start improving customer service.
What Is a Customer Need?
A customer need is amotive that prompts a customer to buy a product or service. Ultimately, the need is the driver of the customer's purchase decision. Companies often look at the customer need as an opportunity to resolve or contribute surplus value back to the original motive.
An example of customer need takes place every day around 12:00 p.m. This is when people begin to experience hunger (need) and decide to purchase lunch. The type of food, the location of the restaurant and the amount of time the service will take are all factors to how individuals decide to satisfy the need.
Below are the most common types of customer needs -- most of which work in tandem with one another to drive a purchasing decision.
15 Most Common Types of Customer Needs
Customers need your product or service to function the way they need in order to solve their problem or desire.
Customers have unique budgets with which they can purchase a product or service.
Your product or service needs to be a convenient solution to the function your customers are trying to meet.
The experience using your product or service needs to be easy -- or at least clear -- so as not to create more work for your customers.
Along the lines of experience, the product or service needs a slick design to make it relatively easy and intuitive to use.
The product or service needs to reliably function as advertised every time the customer wants to use it.
The product or service needs to perform correctly so the customer can achieve their goals.
The product or service needs to be efficient for the customer by streamlining an otherwise time-consuming process.
The product or service needs to be compatible with other products your customer is already using.
When your customers get in touch with customer service, they want empathy and understanding from the people assisting them.
From pricing to terms of service to contract length, customers expect fairness from a company.
Customers expect transparency from a company they're doing business with. Service outages, pricing changes, and things breaking happen, and customers deserve openness from the businesses they give money to.
Customers need to feel like they're in control of the business interaction from start to finish and beyond, and customer empowerment shouldn't end with the sale. Make it easy for them to return products, change subscriptions, adjust terms, etc.
Customers need options when they're getting ready to make a purchase from a company. Offer a variety of product, subscription, and payment options to provide that freedom of choice.
Customers need information, from the moment they start interacting with your brand to days and months after making a purchase. Business should invest in educational blog content, instructional knowledge base content, and regular communication so customers have the information they need to successfully use a product or service.
In this article, we're going to explore how to attract and sustain customers based on meeting their inherent needs and imposing value. For lunch, this could be a special promotion, a short wait time, or a post-dining thank-you email. If companies can begin to make changes before their customers' needs aren't fulfilled, this can ultimately lead to growth, innovation, and retention.
What is a customer needs analysis?
A customer needs analysis is used in product development and branding to provide an in-depth analysis of the customer to ensure that the product or message offers the benefits, attributes, and features needed to provide the customer with value.
To conduct a customer needs analysis successfully, you need to do the following:
1. Customer Needs Analysis Survey
The customer needs analysis is typically conducted by running surveys that help companies figure out their position in their respective competitive markets how they stack up in terms of meeting their target customers' needs.
The survey should primarily ask questions about your brand and competitors, as well as customers' product awareness and brand attitudes in general.
Questions can include:
Questions about positive and negative word associations with your brand
Questions asking customers to group your brand in with similar and/or competing brands
Questions comparing and sorting brands according to their preferences for usage
You can learn more about which questions to ask in this survey in our guide and this guide from dummies.
2. Means-End Analysis
Once you've conducted the customer needs analysis survey, you can use the answers to get a fuller picture of the reasons why your customers purchase from you, and what makes your product or service stand apart from your competitors'.
A means-end analysis analyzes those answers to determine the primary reasons why a customer would buy your product. Those buyer reasons can be divided into three main groups:
1. Features: A customer buys a product or service because of the features included in the purchase. If the customer were buying a computer, for example, they might buy it because it's smaller and more lightweight than other options.
2. Benefits: A customer buys a product or service because of a benefit, real or perceived, they believe it will offer them. The customer might also buy the computer because it syncs easily with their other devices wirelessly.
3. Values: A customer buys a product or service for unique, individual values, real or perceived, they believe it will help them fulfill. The customer might think the computer will help them to be more creative or artistic and unlock other personal or professional artistic opportunities.
As you might imagine, these reasons for purchasing something can vary from customer to customer, so it's important to conduct these customer surveys, collect the answers, and group them into these three categories. From there, you can identify which of those motivating factors you're solving for, and which you can improve on to make your product or service even more competitive in the market. (More on that next.)
How to Solve for Customer Needs
What stops customers from meeting their needs with your services or products? The first step to solve a problem is to put yourself in your customer's shoes: If you were the customer when we purchase your goods, use your technology, or sign up for your services, what would prevent you from achieving ultimate value?
Offer consistent company wide-messaging
Provide instructions for easy adoption
Ask customers for feedback
Nurture customer relationships
Solve for the right customer needs
This list includes common customer pain points and proactive steps to develop customer-first values.
1. Offer consistent company-wide messaging.
Too often customers, get caught up in the "he said, she said" game of being told a product can do one thing from sales and another from support and product. Ultimately, customers become confused and are left with the perception that the company is disorganized.
Consistent internal communications across all departments is one of the best steps towards a customer-focused mindset. If the entire company understands its goals, values, product, and service capabilities, then the messages will easily translate to meet the customer need.
To get everyone on the same page, organize sales and customer service meetings, send out new product emails, provide robust new employee onboarding, require quarterly trainings and seminars, or staff host webinars to share important projects.
2. Provide instructions for easy adoption.
Customers purchase a product because they believe it will meet their needs and solve their problem. However, adoption setup stages are not always clear. If best practices aren't specified at the start and they don't see value right away, it's an uphill battle to gain back their trust and undo bad habits.
A well-thought post-purchase strategy will enable your products or services to be usable and useful.
One way companies gain their customers' attention is providing in-product and email walkthroughs and instructions as soon as the customer receives a payment confirmation. This limits the confusion, technical questions, and distractions from the immediate post-purchase euphoria.
A customer education guide orknowledge base is essential to deliver proper customer adoption and avoid the ‘floundering effect' when customers are stuck. Other companies provide new customer onboarding services, host live demos and webinars and include event and promotions in theiremail signatures.
3. Ask customers for feedback.
Lean into customer complaints and suggestions and it will change the way you operate your business. Criticism often times has negative connotations, however, if you flip problems to opportunities you can easily improve your business to fit the customer's needs.
Take customer suggestions seriously and act on those recommendations to improve design, product and system glitches. Most customer support success metrics is paramount to the customer experience and this mentality should trickle down to every aspect of the organization.
When a customer buys a product or service, they want to use it right away and fulfill their immediate need. Whether they are delighted within the first hour, week, or a month, it's important to constantly think about their future needs.
Proactive relationship-building is essential to prevent customers from losing their post-purchase excitement and ultimately churning. If customers stop hearing from you and you don't hear from them this can be a bad sign that theirlifespan is in danger.
Companies solve for customer relationships with a combination of customer service structure and communication strategies. Solve for the long-term customer need and create a customer service team dedicated to check-ins and customer retention,show appreciation with rewards and gifts to loyal customers, host local events, highlight employees that go above and beyond and communicate product updates and new features.
5. Solve for the right customer needs.
Excluding customers from your cohort of business can seem counterintuitive to solve for your customers' needs. However, understanding whose needs you can fulfill and whose you cannot is a major step toward solving the right problems. All customers' needs can't be treated equally and a company must recognize which problems they can solve and ones that aren't aligned with their vision.
To find the right customer priorities, createbuyer personas and uncover consumer trends, look at customer's long-term retention patterns, establish a clear company vision, provide premier customer service to valuable customers and communicate with your ideal customer in their preferred social media space to capture questions, comments and suggestions.
Successful startups, brick and mortar shops, and Fortune 500 companies alike all solve and prioritize customer needs to stay ahead and establish industry trends.
How is your company solving for customer's needs? Share them with me on Twitter.