Think Like a Customer

Can We Really Live Happily Ever After?

You have revamped the golden rule, fallen in love with your customers and now wonder what’s next. Customers can still be fickle, even those who love us back. Will every day be full of butterflies and heartfelt emotions? In business, as in life, probably not. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still think like our customers, communicate more effectively and reap a healthy bottom line.

Loving the right types of customers and seeing the world from their points of view helps us make better communication decisions. Understanding their behaviors makes this a little easier. For example, think of a marketing communication concept called the hierarchy of effects (there are many examples of this model; however we will focus on just one).

There are six steps consumers usually go through before buying a product or service:

  • awareness of the product
  • knowledge of the product (preferably accurate)
  • liking the product (a possible desire to buy)
  • preference over competing options
  • conviction that buying is worthwhile
  • making the purchase

Ideally, this process is repeated over and over, allowing businesses to grow and relationships to deepen.

Consumers’ mind-sets heavily influence the results. For example, impulsive buyers might go through the steps very quickly or skip some altogether, then later have second thoughts, revisit them and create a different outcome (they return the product or don’t repeat the purchase). Understanding what consumers are thinking will help you decide what communication messages you should use, what benefits to focus on, and what values to tap into.

Benefits Just Don’t Cut it Anymore
How does a company get to know what its consumers values are? Think like them. Get to know them so it’s only a matter of time before their values become apparent. If the competition is still focusing on benefits (and probably congratulating themselves that they actually figured out what the benefits are), trump their efforts by focusing on the values your product or service taps into for your top customers.

Through a process called means-end chaining, it’s possible to take the attributes of products and services, tie them into benefits, and connect those benefits to values. Values such as security, self-worth and a sense of belonging might be part of your consumers’ mind-sets. They might value living outside the norm or creating something from nothing. As you develop your marketing messages, can you tap into these values? To effectively connect with consumers, this approach becomes a must.

Think about a potato chip. One of its attributes might be that it is low-fat. Marketing messages detailing this element are fine, but we can’t stop there. What are the benefits of this low-fat chip? It is fun to eat, satisfying and healthy. It’s possible the consumers who love this product value self-esteem (the desire to take care of oneself through healthy eating) and fitting in with others (being able to share in a social situation through eating, such as at a party). There can be any number of scenarios for each product out there and any number of benefits and values attached. The key is knowing what your consumers are thinking.

I’m Not a Mind Reader
You don’t need to be a mind reader in order to think like customers. By treating them the way they want to be treated, gathering as much information about them as possible and tapping into their values, you will be well on your way to knowing what they want from you.

Remember to keep up with your customers’ wants as trends and preferences change. What customers want today may not be high on their lists tomorrow. Fortunately, once this process is started it is easier to maintain. Along the way, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Developing effective relationships and the communications necessary to sustain them can be the fun part of any professional communicator’s job.

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.