Think Like a Customer

What’s Love Got to Do with It?
by Morgan Leu Parkhurst
People claim to love their customers. Very few would openly admit they don’t. But liking customers and appreciating what they mean to you isn’t the same as loving them. And to reap the full benefits of the customer relationship, there needs to be a little love.

Keep in mind this love isn’t the same love you have for your significant other, children or childhood friends. It is, in context, a deep connection based on a mutual desire to please one another. I wish I could claim this eureka moment for myself. However, I first heard it from Mike Wagner of the White Rabbit Group. And he’s right. If we are to think like our customers in spite of the need for a healthy bottom line, we have to develop a love relationship.

Can I Call You Sometime?
This love relationship starts out with getting to know your customers as well as possible. Wagner suggests writing down everything you know about your customers or customer groups (if your clientele base is large). Grab a few sheets of paper and write down the names of your top customers or customer groups (perhaps the 20 percent who give you 80 percent of your business) leaving significant space between each name to write your findings. As a professional communicator, start writing what you know about them. Don’t forget to include the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly. How do you get the best response out of them? What modes of communication do they prefer? Do the payment terms of the company you represent line up with their needs? What do you know about them personally? When have they been happiest? What frustrates them? Do they ever stall over signing on the dotted line? Knowing the answers to these questions will help your bottom line as you reorganize your messaging efforts.

As you gather these pieces of information, look for commonalities across groups or individuals. Also, look for areas where you can improve your outreach. Perhaps you can be a little more flexible with customers suffering from cash flow issues and develop materials to let them know this. Or maybe the next time you take a call from one of them, you can ask how the kids are doing. Identifying what makes them happy allows you to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. Do you have clients who respond to e-mail but never return a phone call? Keep details like these in mind the next time you need to contact them.

If you are missing pieces, then consider contacting a few people from each group to ask them questions about their experiences with your company, product or service. The process doesn’t have to be formal. Healthy conversations will do. If you still feel you have gaps in the details, keep listening. Customers will tell you their preferences if you listen closely. By listening, you further your ability to think like they do and better tap into their preferences, thereby building love and loyalty both ways.

May I Have This Dance?
Does this mean you have to give in to every desire your clients have? Should you become a pushover in an attempt to keep customers happy? Certainly not. You still have a say in how the relationship develops. What the idea of loving your customers suggests is to focus on the customers who make the most sense to your business and those you can actually help. As in personal relationships, it’s a dance based on give and take. As you identify preferences, you can seek ways to provide give-and-take opportunities with customers who are equally willing to participate.

Believe it or not, this approach also allows you to identify areas where you are investing in sinking ships—customers who will never be satisfied or happy with what you do, no matter how you try to communicate with them. In those cases, stop losing sleep and refocus on those customers who make great dance partners.

Think about it like this—the people at Crocs know that not everyone loves their shoes. And they don’t care. They reach out to those who do love them and have built a very successful following as a result. The people of Harley-Davidson aren’t sleepless at night wondering why I don’t own a motorcycle. They instead focus on making my brother-in-law, a proud Harley-Davidson motorcycle owner, very happy. As a communicator, it’s time to do the same thing.

But I Want Everyone to Love Me
If you’re worried about losing a few customers, it’s time to stop. The idea behind this concept is to love those who will love you in return. Customers who are in love with you, your company or your brand will be more likely to share with the world their newfound relationship status, offsetting those you give up. They will do the communicating to new audiences for you, and likely be more effective at it. Getting someone else to provide a testimonial is considerably better than any amount of marketing you can ever do. In reality, this mutual connection allows both company and customer to think more like each other, providing a harmonious long-term business experience.

This series will conclude with a look at how to tie these connections and mind-sets to what customers value.