Research and Insights

Feeling the Pulse of Customers


Have you ever switched service providers for reasons other than price?  Have you ever wondered why a loyal customer of 10 years suddenly patronises your competitor?  Have you wondered why most organisations only realise that they are losing their customers only when they see "red" in their Profit and Loss statement?  Most organisations make very little effort, if any, in finding out what their customers truly desire, what their customers unmet needs are, and what it would take for the organisation to keep them loyal.

For the most part, the rude awakening for organisations comes when the organisation starts to lose contracts to their competitors, experiences a decline in sales revenue, and sees a rise in customer complaints.  Unfortunately, once the organisation realises that things are not going as planned, it becomes a little too late and resorts to drastic measures such as cost-cutting, downsizing, right-sizing and getting rid of the very same USPs that had once made them successful.

For an organisation to have a strong customer following and an ever increasing customer base, a fundamental re-think of its current ways of working is required.  One of the key drivers of customer dissatisfaction is when the customer feels that he can no longer connect with the product or service that is being offered by the organisation.  The customer feels that he is merely a "statistic" in the organisation's vast database.

So, we need to ask ourselves "How can we know what makes our customers tick?", "How can we ensure that the moment customer's expectations change, we have something to offer that will best meet his or her needs?", "What can we do to create a set of expectations that make our competitors redundant?"

For a start, organisations need to expend efforts towards feeling the pulse of the customer.  This can be done in a host of different ways including increasing the frequency of engagement with customers, proactively listening to the "voice of the customer" and identifying products and services that would radically differentiate itself from the competitors.

Engaging With Customers

While it may sound complex, increasing the frequency of engagement with customers does not require complex procedures or mechanics.  All it takes is for key decision-makers and strategists within the organisation to sufficiently engage with the customers to understand what drives customers to patronise the products and services of the organisations.  What are the compelling reasons that attract customers to the organisation?  Sometimes, all it takes is a walk around the shop floor to speak to customers, make scheduled visits to key customers on a regular basis and spend time talking about non-operational-related issues, learn from customers about what the competitors are doing.  Ultimately,  this information needs to be documented in a coherent manner and ploughed into the strategies that organisations will subsequently develop.

Voice of the Customer

When a customer engages with the organisation, be it in the form of face-to-face, telephone, email or any other form of written communication,  the customer forms an impression of the product or service offered by the organisation.  Sadly, almost all organisations will only obtain feedback from customers who have already decided that they would like to do business with the organisation.  In other words, these individuals are "existing customers".  Usually, very little is done in the way of trying to find out the views and concerns of customers who fall into the "potential" category.  So, the question is, "Why don't organisations hear from the second group of customers?"  The greatest obstacles cited are the lack of data available, investment required to obtain this information, and the effort required to "find" these customers.  It may be difficult to obtain information from this group of customers. However, if an organisation is serious about its long-term survival, it becomes imperative that the views of these individuals are taken into account.

Another methodology would be to scrutinise the information obtained from letters of compliment and complaint.  When a customer makes the effort of writing a letter of compliment or complaint, he will usually highlight circumstances or issues that have contributed to the compliment or complaint.  Other than addressing the issues highlighted, most organisations will expend little effort in the way of analysing the customer's expectations, wishes, hopes, desires which for the most part requires reading between the lines of text.  Letters of compliment and complaint provide invaluable insights into customers' views, perceptions and expectations.

Radically Differentiate Yourself

While most organisations try to differentiate themselves in terms of product or service offering, these efforts often result in minor modifications of existing ways of doing business.  The key to altering customer expectations is to explore ideas that would result in transformational changes.  For example, the explosion of Skype as a means of communication, radically transformed the way in which individuals communicate with others around the world.  The fact that Skype PC-to-PC calls are free-of-charge, hassle-free, and user-friendly, customers would undoubtedly put pressure on the charges imposed by Telco companies for long distance communication.  The implementation of this technology has created a new market space, and provided customers with an option that they had always wanted.  In other words, Skype was able to effectively feel the pulse of customers.

Although feeling the pulse of customers requires time, effort and resources, the benefits are multifold.  Only when organisations truly understand what makes customers "tick" can they emerge as the likely winners in the long term.  Are you feeling the pulse of your customers?

Zack Bana, 2010
Copyright © Beacon Consulting Pte Ltd

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