How well do you know your customer?


One of business’ golden rules is to know your customer. What exactly does that mean? How well can you, or do you, really know anyone let alone a customer? How far do you go to know your customer? What can you ask or should you ask? What’s off-limits? How much information is too much?

Many businesses stop short of really understanding their customer. Perhaps that’s the key. To understand someone is often times different from “knowing” them. Think about it. Many relationships fail because one person can’t understand why the other says what they say or does what they do. Friendships, marriages, partnerships, and relationships often end, not because people didn’t know the other person, but because they could not understand why they did what they did.

If you have a customer who has done business with you for 10 years, do you really know them? Does the length of time you’ve known someone really mean anything? I’d propose, only if you’ve invested in getting to know them deeply enough to understand them. Many businesses lose customers who have been with them for years. They leave to go to competitors who cost less and, or, offer more. Perhaps if you understood them you’d still have them. So what’s the dividing line between knowing and understanding?

I’d propose that understanding someone requires far more work than knowing someone. How often do we say we “know” someone simply because we had the same class together, worked in the same building or department, or went to the same SPIN class for years? Think about how often you say the words “I know him/her”. But do you know them well enough to predict how they will act or behave? Having that level of insight requires a deep understanding of the person relative to a specific set of circumstances. How will they act if they can save a lot of money? How will they act if provided something for free? What will they do if presented with an opportunity to try something new and unproven but interesting?

Gaining customer insights is a tricky business. You need to ask enough of the right questions that provide you with the appropriate level of understanding but not too much where the customer feels exploited. So where’s the line?

Asking your customers’ how satisfied they are, or how willing they would be to recommend you is just a piece of understanding. Someone can be completely satisfied and recommend you within a given set of circumstances, but change those circumstances and their position shifts. So in addition to asking those questions, I would suggest adding the following:
1. If you lost your largest client what would you do?
2. If sales increased more than 15% in a year what actions would you likely have to take?
3. If overall sales dropped significantly what actions would you likely have to take?
4. What level of savings would interest you enough to perpetuate a change in vendors or partners?

These “what-if” questions will offer insight into how your customers may act when faced with certain situations. Of course no one knows for sure how they will act until they’re faced with specific challenges but these questions can provide insight into their possible actions. Beyond your employees, your customers are your most important asset. Take the time to get to know them…understand them. Make sure they know that you have their best interests in mind and at heart.

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