Getting To Know Your Customers

The best businesses regularly collect information from their customers, and use that
information to improve their product and service offerings. These businesses realize
that the customer is king, and it is imperative to render unto the king what he wants,
when he wants it. Information collected from the customer is the blueprint for doing
just that.

A successful business must have a clear idea of what it hopes to accomplish with the
information it gathers from its customers, and it must view this process through the
customers’ eyes, not its own. If a business is collecting names, addresses, telephone
numbers, and email addresses simply for the purpose of barraging its customers with
marketing materials and telemarketing calls, then this accumulation of information is
really self-serving for that business. No hiding behind a wall of statements such as “We
want to keep you informed of useful new product offerings!” will change that.

And if you are collecting customer contact information with an eye toward selling that
information to other businesses, shame on you. There has got to be a better way for you
to make a buck than by selling out your customers! Again, simply view this action
through the customers’ eyes; put yourself in his or her shoes. Do any of us really need
more junk mail? More spam email? More dinnertime telemarketing calls? Frankly,
no. You can’t even watch a 30-minute television program without being hit with 12
minutes worth of commercial advertisements. Customers are constantly being
bombarded with useless information. Make it a point not to add to that mess!

The collection of customer information should be similar to the information you have
gathered over the years about your friends and family. Yes, you have their addresses
and phone numbers, but are you constantly showering them with calls and letters and
emails? If so, you probably are not going to be friends or close family for much
longer. You should strive to amass information in an unobtrusive manner, so the
customer doesn’t even notice. You discover their likes and dislikes. You recognize what
is special to them. You learn their birthday and what holidays they celebrate. You find
out if they have children and/or pets. Therefore, you understand when it’s appropriate
to contact them, to congratulate them, and you know what type of product or service
is likely to appeal to them.

Building customers profiles based on this kind of information allows you to better serve
individual customers as well as to spot large trends in your customer base. It allows
you to gear your message so that it speaks to the interests of your
customers. Remember, your business is not about your product or service – it is about
what your product or service can do to enhance the life of your customers. And your
customers are the lifeblood of your business, so it behooves you to treat them with the
same sensitivity that you would treat your friends and family.

So how do you get this valuable information from your customers? You pay attention
to them, and you ask them questions and listen to their answers, same as you would
your friends and family. You don’t ask them everything all at once. You don’t
interrogate your friends, do you? Over the course of time, you observe their buying
habits, and their preferences – a good CRM system will provide this information for
you – and every once in a while, you take the opportunity to ask some pertinent
questions about those preferences.

Once you have this information, what do you do with it? Well, you’d better do
something visible with it, or else customers are not going to be inclined to give you any
more of this valuable resource. More than likely, they’ll give it to one of your
competitors. If a large percentage of your customers think the small red widget is
pretty good, but just a little too small, then make one that’s a bit bigger. Then announce
that this development is due to consumer demand – hey customers, we heard what
you’re saying and we acted on it! Trumpet the fact that it’s because of them that new
options are available, and thank them for their input. They will be impressed by your
business’ capacity to ask the right questions and proactively respond to their answers.

Be forewarned: asking customers for information and opinions and not visibly using it
is a recipe for resentment. Frankly, it is better not to ask for any information at all from
your customers unless you have a well thought-out plan for using the information you
collect.

Many companies are great at asking its customers how they could improve their
product and service offerings, but not so great at actually implementing changes. If the
change requires significant time, effort, and resources, they trip over themselves with
internal meetings and discussions. What department will “own” the project? What people
will work on it, and who will cover those people’s regular duties while they
worked on this project? How can marketing best leverage this change for maximum
impact? How are we financing this project so it does not negatively impact our bottom
line? The paralysis of analysis!

Of course, none of these internal issues concerns the customer. It is up to businesses to
resolve these issues on the fly and get on with the important work, which is giving the
customer what he or she wants. If you don’t put the customers’ suggestions into action,
at least give them an honest reason why you haven’t. Otherwise, to them, it looks like
you are ignoring them. Studies have shown that feeling ignored is the primary reason
for customers moving on to different vendors. Before you know it, your plan for
gathering information to better serve your customers has, in fact, driven many of them
away.

Please, do not ignore your customers. Instead, get to know them. Don’t crowd them,
don’t overwhelm them, and, above all, do not betray their trust. Once trust is lost, it is
nearly impossible to regain. Never lose sight of the fact that you’re dealing with people
here, so treat them the way you treat your favorite people, with courtesy, respect, and
understanding. Use the information you gather from them to provide better products
and services for them. This is not a quick-fix strategy, but a strategy that will pay off for
you in the long run. Done correctly, it will pay off.

— Chuck Dennis
© Knowledgence Associates, 2011 / All Rights Reserved

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