When companies want to know something about their market or customers, they usually first think about running a market research study.
Whilst it is true that market research can provide data and information, it is only when this is integrated with other knowledge, both internal and external, that deep understanding and insight can be developed.
Therefore, next time you need to know and understand something, before dashing off to run another survey, stop and consider all the sources of information that you have readily available to you, and which are often also free of charge.
Many organisations already connect with their customers in many different ways and these can also be used to collect information and understanding. However in order to make the most use of these contacts, there are three things you need to keep in mind.
#1. How: There are numerous ways that you already connect with your customers if you think about it; these include CRM (customer relationship management), call centers, websites, demonstrations, sampling, promotions, events and sponsoring. Every contact you make with a customer can provide you with information to improve your understanding of them. You can also use these connections to invite your customers to help in the development of new products, advertising, promotions or line extensions. For instance, you can ask their advice on your draft advertising, your ideas for improving your packaging designs or get their reactions to new product ideas before well before their completion.
Co-creation as it is sometimes called, also has the valuable advantage of valorising your customers’ opinions and will thus positively impact their image of you, their loyalty to your brand and their advocacy of your company within their social networks. They are also more likely to tell you the things that excite or annoy them much more readily than in a survey or group discussion. The Nespresso Club is a great example of this. Nespresso regularly asks its members to vote on new flavors they are thinking of launching and gives their customers a chance to preview new advertising on which they can react, long before it is aired in public. This makes their members feel special and provoledged, as well as important for the success of the company, which they take almost personally.
#2. Where: Another reason to resist the temptation to first run more market research when you need to know something, is that you may not be asking the real questions that matter or are of interest to your customers. Connecting with them as described above, will be on their terms, and thus will help you to identify the areas that concern, interest or excite them. This will then enable you to ask the right questions, should you still need to conduct a survey to quantify your findings.
A further advantage of using the connections you already make with your customers, is that it makes everyone in the company more sensitive to their needs on a regular basis, rather than just at times when market research surveys are run or presented. Ideally, everyone in the company should have objectives that include connecting with customers on a regular basis. They should also be encouraged to share what they have heard or seen with others, to stimulate everyone’s thinking about how to satisfy these needs and desires of the customer.
#3. When: Some of the connections mentioned above can also provide opportunities to ask questions as well or to provide information back to your customers, as long as they are willing to answer or listen. It is vital that you understand your customer well enough, that you understand when to just listen and observe and when you can ask questions or clarifications. In some cases, you may not be able to ask anything and you must accept this, as the connection should always be on the customer’s terms, not yours. Treating each of your customers as an individual, can also produce positive buzz about your company or brand online; today’s world is socially networked so don’t forget that mistakes and lack of respect will no longer go unnoticed.
Deeply understanding your customers takes a lot more than just carrying out market research. It takes true openness and transparency on behalf of the company and a real desire by all employees to get closer to their customers, to understand them, both their rational desires and emotional needs. It is the only way to truly satisfy them in the long term.
Do you have a question or challenge about connecting with your customers? I am sure I can help; just contact me here and I’ll respond personally.
Do you have other ways you use to support your employees in getting closer to your customers? If so we would love to hear about them below.
Find out more about customer connection and understanding: http://www.c3centricity.com/customer/connect/how/
This post was first published on C3Centricity Comments page on September 15th 2011
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