“Know thy customer.” It’s a stone-tablet precept of modern marketing and customer-experience management (CX), and for good reason: It roots design and service decisions in what customers want, rather than what companies want them to want.
But it’s one thing to grasp the importance of customer-centricity, and another to actually do the work to get to know the people you serve. Some companies rely on broad demographic profiles, while others segment their customers based on specific factors such as income, education, and product usage. The most detailed organizations combine customer research, demographics, and even psychographics with operational data records such as spending patterns to create narratives that attempt to blend the traits and circumstances of high-value customers into composite sketches. Whether these are user stories or customer personas, the idea is to zero in on the needs and preferences of high-value customers as they progress along the customer journey.
These analyses often reveal that not all customer profiles are equal. Defining and developing these personas can help companies relate to and interact with their customers in three important ways.
Understand their key decision criteria. Every company knows its value proposition. They know what makes their product or service special, as well as where they lag behind competitive offerings. Their understanding is likely much more logical and better informed than that of even their best customers.
But they’re not making the purchase decision—their customers are. It’s imperative to understand how they see your product in the broader field of potential choices, and what they value. For example, when one pharmaceutical company went to market with a new drug that promised greater effectiveness than the market leader, it was surprised not to be winning more converts. Customer research provided an answer: Customers cared more about side effects than improved efficacy. After a marketing shift to reflect this insight, more customers began to make the switch.
Accommodate emotion. Emotional experience plays a huge role in customer sentiment. When a company gains insight into the emotions that key customers are likely to experience at critical points along the customer journey—say, a business-class airline customer worrying about whether a delayed or cancelled flight will get them to their destination on time—they can take steps to address the emotional concerns (anxiety or frustration, in this case) along with the logistical ones. Companies that master this skill often reap brand ambassadors as a result; when a service intervention turns initial disappointment into relief and satisfaction, it’s a recipe for loyalty and promotion.
Appreciate edge cases. Once you’ve identified a few core user stories or personas, there’s a temptation to write off customers that don’t fit those profiles. These customers may not be worth building major initiatives around, but don’t take your eye off of them, either. Instead, watch for patterns that emerge, because there’s a chance that a new and valuable customer segment may emerge that was completely off your radar when you went through the customer-narrative exercise. For example, old-line manufacturers such as C.C. Filson and Red Wing Shoes would have missed an enormous opportunity if they ignored the recent handcrafted Americana boom among young urbanites and focused exclusively on their traditional hiking and work-boot customers.
It takes substantial effort to understand what’s driving your core customers at a deep level, but the exercise is worthwhile. When you can generate new insights into how customers perceive and experience your brand, and how it fits into their lives, you have the opportunity to build deeper customer connections.
Leonie Brown is an Experience Management (XM) Scientist at Qualtrics