What do my customers want? This question is on the minds of most CEOs and managers who think about innovating and growing their companies.
But sometimes this question makes us get ahead of ourselves.
We obsess over how users and buyers could behave in the future instead of looking at what is in front of us now. What we should be asking is: What do my customers need and how can I help them?
Needs describe customer requirement, at a minimum, from a product, service or interaction with support staff. This is not the same as expectations, which describe how your customers feel about you, your products, and your support.
To anticipate your customers’ wants and expectations is a boon for business—creating loyal brand advocates, reducing churn and increasing revenues. But before you can exceed the customer’s expectations, you’ve got meet their needs first.
Exceeding customer needs can be your competitive advantage
Customer service and customer needs go hand-in-hand. According to management consulting firm, CX Solutions (formerly known as TARP Worldwide), the formula for achieving satisfaction is:
This first part — doing the job right from the start — can only be achieved when you know exactly what your customers desire in the first place.
To begin to figure this out, you need to proactively reach out to customers. Send them surveys, to get feedback on what’s working for them, and what isn’t, and what they want from your company/product.
This gives you broader insight that can be used to identify common problems and areas to improve.
But customer needs also have to be addressed on a small scale — the everyday interactions users have with your support staff.
According to CX Solutions’ research, when support staff pinpoint customers’ needs and then provide useful information or recommendations for new products and services, this has a huge impact on their overall service experience.
Needs have a huge effect on your bottom line, not least because it costs a business more money to bring on new customers than to keep old ones.
You may provide support that delights your customers and exceeds expectations. But if your products aren’t working out for your clients and your support team doesn’t understand what problems they’re facing, customers won’t stick around.
Identify customer needs for your business speedily
To become more needs-focused, start by listing the basic customer desires you know your support team can meet. Then you can work on exceeding them.
For an ecommerce business, here is a set of customer needs you should meet:
- Ship products as quickly as possible and without damages. If your customer didn’t receive your product or it arrived broken, he immediately needs a new product.
- Provide clear information on your website—whether it’s about clothing sizes or colors — ensure customers can easily find everything they need to make a buying decision.
- Give fast, informative, and efficient customer service. Your customers should be able to troubleshoot a problem on their own or call/email/chat for help and get a satisfactory answer.
For a SaaS company you should:
- Deliver software that is free from bugs and glitches and make your clients’ jobs and lives easier.
- Release updates and new products that make your clients’ jobs easier. Identify what customers want to see from your software and make it happen.
- Give fast, informative and efficient customer service. Your customers should be able to troubleshoot a problem on their own or call/email/chat for help and get a satisfactory answer.
These are simple strategies you can use to meet customer needs, but they illustrate how you should step back and think about what your unique customers want and how your company can ease troubles in their lives.
If you can do that, you’ll gain customers who would never even think about dropping your software or buying somewhere else.
Remember, customer needs are not expectations
Needs and expectations are often confused (and both certainly should be identified and exceeded). But they are different.
Take your software. If your customer is trying to perform a task, but your software can’t do it, his need is this missing function.
On the other hand, if your software is the only one on the market that can’t perform this function—and you’re charging the same fee as platforms that can—customers will set low expectations for your company. They’ll believe it’s less valuable and should be cheaper.
Look at your customer service through a hierarchy of happiness
Your support staff members are on the frontline when it comes to addressing customer needs. They troubleshoot problems to get products and solutions to customers as quickly as possible.
But they can also be a tremendous resource to find ways to surprise and delight customers through unrecognized needs — that they might not even know they wanted.
In his book Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow, hotelier Chip Conley describes how he used Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory to create his own framework for customer happiness. (Maslow said that Humans must first meet their basic needs like shelter and safety before reaching for higher needs such as love, esteem and self-actualization.
He suggests that the customer hierarchy of needs begin with meeting expectations, then meeting desires, and finally, meeting unrecognized needs.
It’s a framework that was used by Conley in his company, and also by Tony Hsieh at Zappos. Here’s how Zappos applies the model to their business:
- Meets Expectations: Sends the correct shoes that the customer ordered.
- Meets Desires: Sends those shoes with free shipping both ways.
- Meets Unexpected Needs: Surprises the customer with an upgrade to overnight shipping.
Find ways to meet unrecognized needs
A lot of shoe companies meet expectations and desires, but what made Zappos standout was the third factor: the unexpected needs.
The chance to get free shipping, random upgrades, complimentary trials of new products and other unexpected surprises keep customers coming back to a company over and over. So as a company, how do you do this? By empowering your support staff to do what it takes to make your customers happy.
This starts with hiring a team that is customer-focused and who get satisfaction through helping others. Then managers should give them tools and freedom to address customers’ needs.
At Zappos, customer support and experience teams can identify loyal customers and give surprise upgrades. When products are out of stock on Zappos’ website, representatives are also trained to search three competitors’ websites to direct customers to find exactly what they’re looking for.
By allowing your team to focus on doing whatever it takes to make customers happy and satisfied, they will easily address unexpected needs.
This might inspire you to immediately adopt a service strategy to include customer happiness. However, it’s vital that you meet basic customer needs first (and consistently) before you scale up your happiness.
Analyze how well you’re currently meeting basic customer needs
Conducting customer voice surveys, like customer satisfaction or NPS polls, will give you an indicator of the current experience you’re giving customers. Talking with your customers directly and hosting focus groups are great strategies for identifying what your customers need from your products and service.
But successful firms don’t stop there. They dig into their performance metrics and focus their efforts on getting the customer to a solution to their problem in the quickest time possible and then mitigate future problems through next issue avoidance.
To see if you’re meeting customer needs at all levels with your support, assess these three key metrics:
This is the time it takes for your support reps to get back to a customer’s first call, email or chat. (You might not provide a full reply right away or you might acknowledge that a complaint has been received and will be answered in 24 hours).
When your customer has a problem, they want it to be fixed right away.
If you notice that your FRTs are longer than usual or have increased over time, you’ll never meet customer needs. Long FRTs might mean you should add staff, because your current volume of service requests is more than your team can reasonably handle.
Like FRTs, average reply times measure how long it takes for your support reps to get back to clients. Again, the shorter the average, the higher the likelihood that you’re meeting clients’ needs. Make sure you have adequate staff to manage demand.
When your support reps anticipate customers’ future questions and concerns and proactively address these needs, they decrease the chance that customers call again. As a metric, next issue avoidance looks at how many customers call multiple times in a given period of time (usually over a week or a month).
Exceeding customer needs gets your business ahead
Once you understand what your customers require from your company and products, you can start to far exceed their basic needs.
When your support staff can provide service that is fast, consistent and proactive, your business will see gains in retention and create devoted customers for life.