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When your business finds customers — whether they’re new or regulars — your relationship isn’t a “one and done” deal. Your business and customers are now on a journey together, one that goes beyond sales. The business is working to build rapport with customers and tap into their needs. Understanding your customers means trust has been established, and the business can give its customer base what they want, right now, and further enhance their experience — and start anticipating their future needs.
However, meeting a customer where they are isn’t always that easy. Many entrepreneurs struggle to figure out where to start. Do you send them a bunch of surveys? Start the conversation on social media? Beyond the internet, what should ‘treps with brick-and-mortar storefronts do?
4 tactics for understanding your customers
If you’re feeling clueless on connecting, these strategies will get you on your customer’s wavelength.
Be a genuine listener and respond to feedback.
“Watch them be.”
Make the most out of optimizing customer data.
Understanding your customers doesn’t have to be a difficult process. Use these tactics to get a better grip on their perspective.
1. Ask questions
How can you start understanding your customers if you haven’t spoken to them? Fiona Adler, CEO of Actioned, says that during a startup’s early days, many entrepreneurs are much more inclined to converse with their customers through phone calls and emails.
As a startup grows, behavior tends to shift. The business will seek out customer insights using approaches like market reports and behavior-tracking tools that operate on a much larger scale than a one-on-one chat.
Adler recommends having actual conversations to start understanding your customers. Chat with them in the store or over the phone (if they provide their phone number and allow you to contact them). Introduce yourself first, and then get down to business by letting the customer know that you’re seeking their advice.
Ask strategic questions as conversation prompts. Here are a few to get you started:
- How did you find us and come to use our products/services in the first place?
- What were the circumstances? Were you looking for a business like ours?
- What is the best thing about our products/services?
- If you could change something about our products/services, what would it be? (Rather than let your customers say “nothing,” use prompts such as hours of operation, pricing or quality.)
- What could we add or change to make us the best business you deal with?
Once you’ve wrapped up the discussion, thank them for their time and move on to talk to another customer.
“You can gain insights with a real conversation,” Adler says, noting the objective is not to interrogate, but to get inside their mind and explore the subject fully. “Compliment the customer a bit so that they are able to warm up and understand that you have a genuine desire to connect and get insights into your business.”
2. Be a genuine listener and respond to feedback
While the customer is talking, the entrepreneur should be listening in a sincere manner. Expressing genuine interest in the needs of your customers is what allows them to build trust in your business — and a key to understanding your customers.
As you listen to and receive feedback, respond to both positive and negative opportunities. For positive opportunities, focus on what you are doing right and identify more areas where you can expand to fulfill customer needs.
Establishing mutually beneficial partnerships with other like-minded companies, for example, tend to work to the advantage of each company and its customer base. If you receive negative feedback, look at it as a chance to improve. Take the time to explore how you can deepen relationships there and expand your business as a result of solving problems.
3. “Watch them be”
According to Keri Lindenmuth, Marketing Manager at KDG, this is one of the simplest ways to start understanding your customers better. For startups with brick-and-mortar storefronts, especially, meeting customers where they are starts by watching them in their natural habitat.
Once a customer enters your store, Lindenmuth advises keeping an eye on how they engage with your products or services. What’s the first thing they do when they enter and what’s the last thing they do before leaving? Do you notice anything that hampers with their experience?
“Simply observe the process without interfering,” Lindenmuth says,” Try to understand why customers are turning to your product or service.”
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4. Make the most out of optimizing customer data
Earlier, we mentioned that as your startup grows, it will ultimately move toward utilizing sophisticated tools to grasp understanding your customers. While this might not be as personal as a one-on-one phone call, it’s still a necessary strategy.
Robb Hecht, adjunct marketing professor at Baruch College in New York, says the best way to connect to customers is getting a handle on the data they provide through interactions with your brand’s touchpoints. Think visitors to your website, clicks on your Facebook posts, and phone calls to your customer service line — all intent data left along a customer’s trail.
“Try to database this data and draw insights, not only at an individual level, but through segmentation and persona analysis in order to build ongoing content to provide them along their customer journey,” Hecht says.
Once that content that has been created, provide it to customers and see where they interact and where they don’t. Hecht notes this strategy of seeing how content performs — while continually optimizing it — will lead to you better understanding your customers.
Start building relationships
With these four tactics, you’re well on your way to better understanding your customers. As your business grows, your methods of communication might shift, but that doesn’t mean you have to lose contact with the people who helped make it a success.