Have you ever invested heavily in developing and launching a new product or service, only to see revenues fall far short of expectations?
We think we’re delivering exactly what the customer has asked for, but it turns out that we didn’t really understand what our customers were willing to buy.
We’ve all been there. McDonald’s introduced chicken wraps and other menu items to satisfy the demands of health-conscious diners, only to find that customers don’t actually want to eat healthy food at McDonald’s. The fries are just too tempting.
Especially in fast-changing markets, companies often get so busy running the business, they fail to understand their customers’ experience and needs. They are blind to what actually goes on when customers use their products.
If you are a CMO, this is even more crucial. No matter whose idea it was to pursue a certain opportunity, your department is often blamed if the product doesn’t sell.
Let me suggest a few ways to break out of this cycle, so that you understand what your customers value and how they think. And, more important, so that your peers across the company have their own visceral feel for what will delight or dismay the customer.
1) Use Your Own Product
It’s basic, but often neglected: use your own product or service, just as a customer would. And, make sure other key decision makers in your company do the same. When Delta Air Lines was working to improve the customer experience, its senior team made a point of “flying like a customer.” They booked and paid for their flights just as a customer would. Rather than bypassing security lines as they were entitled to, they waited like the rest of us. They didn’t reveal to gate agents and flight attendants that they were company executives. As a result, they came to understand how customers were experiencing their service, and set about to improve it.
What can you do to build an expectation, and a routine, for decision makers to use your own products, as a customer would?
2) Fall in Love with the Competition
I’m amazed when I encounter companies who discourage employees from using the competitors’ products. As a result, they begin to believe their company is invulnerable, and they miss market signals.
Too often, we look for reasons to hate the competitors’ product. Instead, we need to try to fall in love with their product or service. Understand not just the cut-and-dried advantages the competitors’ products provide, but how they appeal to customers’ emotions.
3) Observe and Spend Time with Customers
When Arby’s wanted to come out with new ideas for their food products, they spent time in their customers’ homes. They observed what was in their cupboards, their daily routines, how they decided where to eat dinner, and what loyalty cards were on their keychains. They sought to understand their customers’ lives and values. As a result, they outperformed the quick-serve-restaurant industry on same store sales growth for 13 consecutive quarters.
Especially if you are serving a business-to-business market, broaden the scope of who you observe and interview. Talk to the people who are responsible for buying your product, but also to those in the customer’s company who use it, maintain it, dispose of it. This will give you a fuller picture of how you can make your product more than the value of your product, and gain loyalty.
4) Pay Attention to Outliers
Outlier customers—those strange edge-cases that diverge from the “typical” customer—can provide great insights into the direction the market is headed. Not only that, they can be extraordinarily profitable. Read my blog post that explores how to learn from outliers here.
5) Work IN Your Business
Spend time in the field, and you not only get new insights into your customers’ needs, you also learn what your frontline employees are experiencing.
Follow the example of CEOs of major airlines that spend time as flight attendants, and executives of major retailers that spend many days each year working in their stores, just as an employee would. Sure, they don’t know as much about plumbing or gardening as the regular store associates do, but they are learning what customers need, and they spot, and ultimately fix, the obstacles employees encounter when trying to give good service.
Apply these steps to get to know your customers better, and you’ll make better decisions.
If you want to learn how to maintain your profitability now and in the future, get your copy of Fearless Growth. Copyright 2017, Amanda Setili