Your customers are the most important part of your business – without customers, your company wouldn’t exist – and your customer strategy is best built by talking to those same customers. By asking them (and yourself) the questions that matter, you’ll be able to make the best decisions for your business and for your customers.
Serve Customers by Asking Questions
Gary Hoover says it well in an interview conducted in 2011: customer strategy starts with serving customers.
Only people can focus on customers. And all businesses are customer-centric whether they think so or not. It’s just that some are focused on screwing their customers while others focus on making customers’ lives full of delight, and everything in between. Those who don’t cherish and respect and innovatively serve their customers will not be long for this world. —Gary Hoover
Strategy, like other processes, gets better as you iteratively improve it, so you should strongly consider using a rubric – like the 5 Whys Method pioneered by Toyota – to force yourself to answer the questions that need to be asked. These questions, like the 5 whys, build on each other in a manner of philosophic first principles. You can ask any one out of order, and they are more powerful when used as a holistic process to guide your strategy.
Question 1: Who is your customer?
The first question you need to ask to set your customer strategy is to honestly ask yourself about the identify of your customers. Do they belong to small businesses, or large ones? Do they communicate on only one channel (like email) or do they tweet, Facebook, and Pin all day long? The best way to find out is to get out of the building and go to the customer’s office and talk to them about their likes and dislikes, and about the ways their business can be more successful. If you can’t visit them, survey them.
And if you want to make customer personas to guide your team with the insights you learn, here’s some information to get you started.
Question 2: How does your customer like to be contacted?
We all have our preferences about how to be contacted by a company with which we do business. Those communication norms stem both from our comfort level with the business, the type of service we buy from them, and how often we contact them normally. You might think it’s strange to be contacted by your insurance company more than once or twice a year, and you might welcome a weekly call from a recurring service provider.
Be flexible and allow your customers to tell you how often they like to be contacted, and don’t overwhelm them with messaging. Once you determine how often your customers want to be contacted, you can use an integrated calendar that incorporates your CRM and inbound marketing tools, or you can simply use a spreadsheet to manage this communication. You might recognize this strategy from content marketing – here’s a template for a content calendar.
Question 3: What will you do when your customer is disappointed?
Customer strategy sounds great when the customer is happy. So what should you do when things go wrong, or simply not as planned? There’s a great post here on the Desk.com blog about dealing with demanding customers, and an important part of your customer strategy is deciding how you will respond to the unhappy customer (whether it’s your fault, their fault, or somewhere in between.) A very useful rubric that you can consider is the idea of Acknowledging the issue, Apologizing for any inconvenience, Offering to find out information, and Answering with a fact-based explanation (including offering a workaround if one exists.)
If you can’t solve the disappointment, address it directly and your customers will appreciate avoiding a run-around explanation. You may not be able to solve their problems, and you can give it your best effort. An excellent way to check your experience for new customers is to periodically sign up for a new account on your own service and write down any observations that seem relevant.
Question 4: How do you know when your customer is successful?
It would be awesome if all of your customers told you when they had a rousing success with your product or service. More often than not, they won’t tell you when they are able to do the job they hired your product to do – because to them, “it just works.” So part of your customer strategy needs to be working actively to understand the conditions that are necessary (perhaps not sufficient) for success. That might mean that all of the documentation needs to be in synch with the 4 steps to complete an action in the product; it might mean that the team members are all briefed early in the product process on a new feature; and it might mean creating a beta group to test how customers will react to the thing you think they should be able to do.
You’ll know when your customer is successful both when they tell you, and when you anticipate the necessary steps for them to have completed along the path to success – and make them as easy as possible. One of my favorite ways to check whether I’m building success for my customers is to check out the Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development and flip to any page for a good idea.
Question 5: What’s Next?
The practice of asking questions, as in the 5 whys method, allows you to get the raw material to determine your customer strategy. And these questions that we’ve posed here are not an end in themselves. The act of asking these questions provides the raw material that you can use to pick the people, processes, and tools that will allow you to build a customer strategy to understand your customer, communicate with them effectively, know when they are disappointed, and when they are successful. Asking these five questions will get you started, and building the resulting strategy is an ongoing process. When you build the right customer strategy, it’s easy to create, communicate, and deliver unique value to your customers.
Interesting article, Greg! Thank you for sharing…
It’s so important to know when your customer is successful – and, yet, I’d argue most entrepreneurs don’t really know what “success” means to their customer.
For example, some people may be looking for more convenience, time-savings, ease-of-use, to look good, security, etc.
Curious, what are some ways you’ve used to identify what success means to your customers?
Charles – thanks for the comment! Usually customer success will be a well-defined task or result – if you’re selling time management, the person has to know that they saved time. If you’re selling improvement in another metric, you have to measure it to understand whether it’s successful. And if it’s general well being (or success of the customer’s customers), you can measure in sentiment, you can measure in absolute terms – for example, the % of conversions – or a metric of your choice. The salient point is that customers determine their success – so ask them, and you’ll get a better idea of what that customer values.