Is the Customer always right?Aug 18, 2021
By Andrea Tartaglia – Co-Founder/Director @ The Marketing Leaders Ltd.
That is a simple question. Very direct with potentially 2 possible equally simple answers: yes or no.
The short answer is yes. The clue is in the question itself. I have written Customer with the capital C to indicate how important the Customer is. And, if important, it is likely to be considered or should be considered right. Always.
So, job done. I answered the question. Post over… But where is the fun with that?
In reality, it is a provocative question intended to make you think deeply about how to answer.
Of course, at The Marketing Leaders, we enjoy digging deeper. That is why I am going to unpack the question and go behind it to understand even why we would ask it.
The starting point is the same as mentioned above when I gave the short answer: the Customer is massively important in the life of any company. It is the very reason the company exists.
The challenge is to be in a position to never have to answer the question if the Customer is right or wrong. And the way to do that is to make sure you have a deep knowledge of your Customers and their needs. And use that knowledge to make the Customer happy. A happy Customer means good prospects for the business going forward!
Consequently, the knowledge about Customers should inform pretty much everything that happens in the company. And it should be the foundation of a process that prevents being in a position where the Customers are not happy.
In this blog and in the Knowledge House on The Marketing Leaders’ website, we talked in some depth about all the things that can help with the task in hand. I hope it is useful to bring them all together. And please feel free to navigate the website to find more information on each one of them.
With the overall goal of knowing deeply the Customers, generate insights and use them to serve the Customers well, here are some pointers:
Data and analysis
We discussed the importance of data, how to collect and analyze extensively over the past months. It is obvious but it is worth repeating: to know something (in this case the Customer) you need to gather information and extract insights from it, maintaining a curious and open mind.
We live in a data rich world and there are infinite data points available to us about our Customers. Think about the key pieces of information that can help with the basic understanding of your Customers and then add depth and sophistication as you go along.
In the process, you will find that your current and potential Customers are a varied group, often showing different interests and behaviors.
To manage the complexity is important to segment your Customers to create sub-groups (segments) that are bringing together Customers with similar needs, attitudes, behaviors or general characteristics (socio economic background, geographic location, etc. – whatever is important to help serving them in the best possible way).
Each group or segment can be represented by a ‘persona’, a single individual used as proxy for the group. Interact with each group as if you were ‘talking’ to each persona. It is the best way to humanize your Customers, relate to them and ultimately manage the complexity.
A clear, concise, focused and purposeful positioning statement demonstrates that you have investigated and understood your core Customers. The ones it is critically important to have on your side to reach your commercial goals.
If you then use the positioning to inform your strategies and tactics, everything flows seamlessly. And when it does not, you can go back and revisit where the disconnect is: is the positioning statement no longer relevant? Or the strategy and the activities deriving form it have diverged from the purpose stated in the positioning?
The marketing funnel is another great tool that helps with the understanding and management of the Customers’ interactions. Being aware of where the Customers are in their buyer’s journey and communicating with them accordingly allows to focus on actions and activities that are relevant to each Customer or segment, increasing the effectiveness of the activities and increasing Customer’s satisfaction.
All the above inform the brand and commercial strategies, which are focused on best serving the company’s Customers to generate commercial success.
If the approach is Customer centric (and it should be), then the strategies will consider and reflect what you have learnt on the Customers and turn it into focused activities that have high chances of being successful. If they are not, it is worth revisiting the insights to highlight where the disconnect is.
It is a never-ending process of continuous research and reiteration. The job is never done as the context within which a company operates is ever-changing, at times with drastic and unexpected twists (like the COVID-19 has painfully demonstrated). Therefore, our job of understanding the Customer is never over and requires on-going research, monitoring, tracking producing adjustments or even major reengineering.
Think about the set of brands you would have considered when buying a phone 10 years ago. It is significantly (if not completely) different from the buying options available nowadays. Sure, technology has evolved, but so have the Customers, their needs and requirements. A lack of understanding (coupled with the inability to keep up with the technology) has made Brands obsolete and caused their demise.
I am used to working in large companies with specific resources dedicated to research and insights. With so much data about the Customer it seems easy to keep a Customer centric approach.
More recently I have collaborated with a varied number of start-ups with little orno resources. Yet the needs are the same. And there are ways of gathering data and insights about the Customer even without investing huge amounts of funds and manpower. Here are some obvious examples:
- Social listening: this is the easiest way to interact with Customers. Pretty much any company manages one or more digital platforms, which can be analyzed and mined for useful data and insights about the Customer: views, likes, comments are all great source of information (quantitative and qualitative). Just a word of caution: make sure you understand the unwritten social rules. For example, there is a tendency to be more vocal about negative things than positive. So, pay attention to giving the right value to the negative in the context of the overall engagement produced by the social platforms.
- Front line staff: roles that are front line in terms of the interaction with the Customer are another unreplaceable and readily available source of knowledge. Think waiting staff, sales assistants and agents, customer center operatives and so on. They speak and interact with Customers extensively and have a pretty good sense of who they are, their needs, likes, dislikes, etc. Spend time with your front line staff and you will certainly improve your knowledge of your Customers.
- Ask! And then the easiest of all: asking for feedback. It’s free. It can happen anytime. And it is very powerful as not only you can gather great information but also you are showing your Customers you care about them. Just make sure you have a sound process for this so you can gather purposeful insights. And be careful about asking questions that are unbiased/non-leading and relevant.
There you go. As I said at the beginning: not a simple answer to what appears to be (deceivingly) a simple question.
I am curious to know what you think and how you would answer: ‘is the Customer always right?’