What Customers Want

Having attended an interesting Marketing/CRM conference in the City last week held by a well known open source CRM platform, it became apparent how many buzzwords are being thrown into marketing presentations across the country.

I am sure you would have heard a lot of these before; Customer Experience; Customer Retention; 360-degree Customer View.  As frequently as these are used I feel it’s important to bring it back to basics and review what all this really means.

Customer-centric strategy is nothing new and is usually the basis of any marketing strategy.  After all, without the customer, the business would fail to exist – but it is often easily overlooked with a growing business where other factors come into play that can all affect business performance.  IT infrastructure, operational efficiency, human resources; this list grows with any business and in a micro-sense, form a kind of diseconomy of scale – primarily as an opportunity cost from losing sight of the customer needs as more resources are focussed around other areas of the business.

So, what do our customers need?  Well, as is often taught in business or marketing school, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a good place to start as this helps to understand, psychologically, how the human brain works and essentially, what any customer wants.  What we would want as a customer.  However, being a slight sceptic of formal education in such a fast-moving field as marketing, I think the secret to understanding your customers’ needs is simple.  Ask them.

Firstly, enhance communications between the marketing department and customer services.  The customer service team spend hours and hours everyday communicating with the customers and of all the people employed across the business, should know better than anyone what the customers are thinking.  The problems I have seen working in large global, multi-billion pound/dollar companies is the distinct lack of convergence between different departments.  Often Sales and Marketing will have a fairly tight relationship, with a healthy feedback loop, and marketing efforts will support the needs of the sales staff, but the customer service team is more often than not exiled to a different floor, if not a different building or even a different country.  Regular feedback reports should be as much a part of the marketing process as sales reporting.

A more current method to deal with customer feedback, is to look at technology solutions which can automate a lot of this feedback.  Websites are often used as an online storefront or a company business card, but with the rapid uptake in internet usage (11% up to 62% between 1997 and 2007 in the developed world), this feedback loop simply cannot be ignored anymore.  Methods such as online surveys, customer browsing and ordering behaviour and online account tracking are beyond the scope of this post, but should all be considered in picking up cheap and easy feedback information.

An interesting method I recently came across was that of a BMW Mini Car Dealership in the UK who actively involve themselves on a dedicated online Mini forum.  Here they listen to what their customers are saying about the product, the customer service and the whole value proposition and quickly respond to their needs by communicating with them directly via this platform, whilst boosting the relationship by offering exclusive offers on parts and accessories.

I think there really aren’t any secrets when it comes to understanding what our customers want.  As marketers we just need to take a step back from the jargon and business politics and simply open our eyes, as the answers are really there in front of us.