How to identify customers’ needs and expectations

19 January 2017 by
identify customer needs

“Your most unhappy clients are your greatest source of learning,” wrote Bill Gates in 1999. Three entrepreneurs were inspired by the words of Microsoft’s founder and learned from their customers’ comments to better their performance.

Taking criticism is never easy, but for an entrepreneur, negative comments are more than a necessary evil: They show businesses what they need to work on to improve, and how to adjust their service offer.

Getting to know your customers

When Mélanie Heyberger, Alyeska Guillaud and Carolyn Parent launched Le Coffret de Rachel in September 2014, they were convinced they had a winning concept with their idea to sell stockings via subscription boxes. Their success was almost immediate: They delivered more than 11,000 pairs of stockings in two years. Their sales revenue increased fivefold between October 2015 and October 2016.

Apart from the strength of their business model, their business has another key asset: They maintain close contact with their clientele. “We regularly carry out surveys, and customers write to us to share their suggestions. We have developed a great relationship with them,” says Mélanie Heyberger.

At Coffret de Rachel, they dedicate one month out of the year to exploring their customers’ needs. “Since we don’t send out stockings in July, we use that time to conduct a survey with all our clients, to see what we can do to improve,” explains their marketing director. This allows the team to work out a way to better align their offer with their customers’ wishes.

Specifically, their customers’ comments have led the team at Coffret de Rachel to develop a more flexible model for their delivery schedule and allowed them to focus on more creative designs beyond their simple, solid nylon stockings.

For a business in its start-up phase, working with a polling company can be costly. Fortunately, online survey platforms such as Survey Monkey or Interceptum offer simple and quick ways to identify your weaknesses at a low cost. Survey Monkey even offers full survey models available in French and English.

It’s also important to choose the right time and place to check in with your clientele. Is it after making a purchase on your site, or via email, using your database? You can also organize a contest to encourage customer participation and engagement.

Ask clear questions and you will get clear answers. For example, you can ask your clients if they find your product too expensive or what they would miss most if you stopped doing business, or even have them name a service they enjoy from a competitor that you do not offer. Try to get exact answers and avoid open-ended questions like, “What do you like the most?”

Ideally, have customers rate their responses on a scale of 1 to 10 and limit the number of questions to between 5 and 10 for an online survey.

Listen rather than guess

A year and a half after launching their women’s clothing rental service, Chic Marie, Marie-Philip Simard gave her team a month off. This was in December 2015. “Our product wasn’t selling as well as I had hoped it would. So I stayed at the office all alone and, in one month, I called 500 customers, former customers and potential customers.”

The entrepreneur chose a very personalized approach—a massive undertaking, but a valuable learning experience. Throughout these conversations, the president of Chic Marie identified three problems: the price (too high), the product (too “corporate”) and the target clientele (geared too much toward businesswomen).

Three months later, Chic Marie added a more affordable option to their basic offer, with clothing to wear not only at work, but to a happy hour or brunch as well.

“Since then, we’re growing 40% each month. We purchase clothing and two days later, everything is sold out. Now we have to accept the fact that our growth and demand is bigger than what we can offer,” says the company’s founder.

With your responses in hand, you can create your own customer profile. Who are they? Where do they live? What is their age, gender, income, education level and, most importantly, what do they need? Chic Marie’s typical client is a woman looking to diversify her wardrobe effortlessly at a low cost. With a clear picture of who their customer is, the business can better respond to their needs.

Your survey can also show you what your key selling point is. For Chic Marie, Marie-Philip Simard learned that an affordable model was not only what women were looking for, but that the best way to market her product was by highlighting this selling point.

Build your business model based on your users

“We have learned everything from our users,” explains Christian Eve-Lévesque. And rightly so: From its start in 2011, when it was nothing more than a project between two cousins, Christian Eve-Lévesque and Stéphane Lévesque, the future SpherePlay was built through collaboration with a community passionate about virtual reality.

“In the beginning, we were using open source software. We wanted to create something to give back to the community. It was so successful, however, that we had to launch our business in 2013 just to cash all the cheques we were getting from GooglePlay,” recounts the co-founder.

As the field of virtual reality is constantly evolving, businesses must remain open-minded. “Everything is still really experimental, so the comments and requests we receive from users directly shape the development of our products and their functionalities.”

That’s why SpherePlay maintains its range of applications for private users. “The consumer division does not bring in a lot of revenue for us, but the direct reactions from users are invaluable for the development of our business solutions, which are more profitable,” explains Christian Eve-Lévesque. “And when something isn’t working, we know right away.”

Consumers also help with the company’s business development. “In order to evaluate our company’s credibility, people will ask us who we work with. Other people might name their biggest clients, such as ESPN. I respond that I work with 300,000 users every month! That’s what makes our product stand out, and why businesses find it so enjoyable to use.”

To stand out in a competitive environment, it’s important to know what your client is really looking for. Not only at the start-up phase, but all throughout your activities, the more you know your market, the more you will be able to decipher its needs and adjust your product. That way, you can increase your sales and build a loyal client base.

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