Renewing market vows: Remaking the pledge to understand your customers

Within any relationship there comes a time when parties can start to take each other for granted. The relationships of a brand, the way it speaks, what it assumes and how it interacts with its different customers is no different.

This is a reminder to us all to reacknowledge our relationships with customers when we undertake what can seem relatively straightforward marketing and operational activity. There can be a tendency when budgets and timelines are squeezed to skip customer consultation or research.

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User testing is mandatory, but customer understanding isn’t?!
I’ve been working in customer-centred strategy, planning and research for more than a decade – including with integrated and digital agencies, client side on digital projects and agency side on research. In that time, the capture of interactions within the online environment has rightfully fostered the rise of user testing. Even still, user testing presumes that the customer shares the brand’s perspective on how they want to interact.

A friend, a dedicated UX (User Experience) professional, recently lamented that the vast majority of his briefs do not allow budget to validate or explore the basic assumptions about the customer, such as the questions above. That’s understandable in a world where we are all told to “do more with less”.

Understanding how the customer would prefer to interact
In this pared-down environment, long-term decisions can be made without substantive background on customer lives, how they think, what they feel and their real priorities. Yet while organisations want to invest less up-front, they concurrently want greater project returns. Thus the environment is not only leaner, but more accountable.

Significant decisions are being made on notional ROI, yet models are effectively ignoring the most influential determining factor: How’s the customer going to see it? Without knowing how they see it, it’s far from certain whether or how they’re going to use it.

Such fundamental knowledge could enable planning the customer experience with clarity and confidence, and provide the basis for creative, functional and operational components to come together within an overall philosophy or understanding of different customers, with their respective mindsets, needs, competencies and behaviours.

Example: The presumption of digital-first
In a recent case in point, a financial services client had a new product targeting the youth market. Given the audience, the conventional research might look at some key demographics, social trends or trajectories – perhaps some other secondary research (no client site metrics, as it was a new product).

This light-touch approach would often conclude “the solution is digital”. Yet in this case, that presumption would have been completely blind to the fact that consumers really wanted the clarity and assurance provided by personal (phone) contact:

“I don’t want to go to a website for that – the information might be there but you can never find what you want or be sure it applies to your situation.”

Similarly the prospect of an app with “the convenience of push notifications” was howled down by our twenty-somethings – an example of a technical capability with the capacity to quickly become a contextual annoyance to the customer.

Across respective moments of truth, clear understanding was required to avoid significant miss-steps in the customer experience.

Better understanding to reduce risk, increase return

This is written as a call for leaders and decision-makers to honestly take stock, to not sell their customers and organisations short or to take them for granted. The principle of ROI-driven initiatives can be readily betrayed by neglecting genuine customer input.

Investing the time and resources to properly study and consult with your audiences – at a scale appropriate to commercial value – will enable your team and by extension the wider organisation to intrinsically “get” the customer. Even in dynamic, agile commercial environments, this will help set your foundation to confidently design, position and evolve experiences that strengthen customer relationships and return better ongoing results.

By David Cumming, Senior Consultant
If you are interested in hearing more about our studies, please get in touch! Contact David Cumming, Liane Ringham or Catherine Anderson on +61 (2) 9299 9979 or via email@insidestory.com.au