A friend hired a business consulting firm. The firm also offered to build customized software for his company. He agreed and paid an advance.
But after months of missed deadlines and poor communication, my friend lost his patience. He asked the consulting firm to drop the software project and refund his money.
The firm refused, saying it deserved to get remunerated for its effort. Heated arguments followed. Finally, the consulting firm relented (but not before making it sound like they did him a favor).
The consulting firm clearly valued its work more than helping clients achieve their goals. But they aren’t the only ones.
Many businesses and brands suffer from the mere ownership bias. They value their product or service (or effort) exponentially higher than how it helps customers achieve their goals.
The result is a product- or service-centric company that
invests spends vast resources to develop products that no one needs. When the failures mount, companies accuse customers of being unpredictable and finicky, and always wanting discounts.
But customers don’t pay for a product or service, or even for effort. They pay to have their pressing problems solved.
When they don’t have a choice, they compromise with what they get and ask for discounts as compensation. But when they find an option that gives them what they need, they jump ship without a second thought (and even pay a premium for it).
No business or brand wants to get caught napping like this. But few know what they should do to avoid this slow deathtrap.
How can you save your business from having to fight the price war in a cutthroat market?
Make your customers your biggest investors.
As mentioned before, customers don’t pay for a product, service, or effort. What they gladly pay for is something that solves their problems, and does it well. Such customers purchase from you again, refer more customers to you, and turn into your advocates. They become your largest investors.
But achieving this is not easy. It demands a massive shift in your perspective first. From thinking of customers as short-sighted and always demanding discounts to seeing them as intelligent people who want their problems solved. From thinking you know what customers want, to accepting that there’s always scope to satisfy them (even when they say they’re satisfied). From being a product- or service-centric company to being a customer-centric company.
We all know what becoming a customer-centric company means. But what does it take to get there?
In an interview, Jeff Bezos explained three steps that Amazon took (and continues to take) to redefine what customer-centricity means. And we can learn a lot from him.
1. Listen to customers.
People’s reasons for buying things often don’t match up with the company’s reason for selling them. — Jason Fried
Many businesses think they know what their customers want. In the process, they end up like Detroit Motor City.
Automobile manufacturers in the city spent millions of dollars on customer research. But they only researched customers’ preferences between what they (the manufacturers) had already decided to offer.
Such a myopic approach failed to highlight the fact that customers no longer wanted big-engined gas guzzlers. Then compact and fuel-efficient Japanese cars disrupted the market.
You might know what customers wanted ten years ago. But they don’t want the same thing today. Customer expectations and wants have evolved along with the world. To solve their current problems, you first must know what they are.
Ask your customers why they buy your product? What does it help them do? What do they like and what do they expect?
Observe how they use your product. Verify it with data so you don’t succumb to the confirmation bias. Then move to the next step.
2. Invent on your customers’ behalf.
Companies that only listen to customers also fail. — Jeff Bezos
At the other extreme end of the scale of businesses and brands that don’t listen to their customers (and fail) are those that obsess over responding to every fleeting whim of the customer.
Theodore Levitt termed this as “marketing mania,” the opposite of marketing myopia. Businesses and brands try to turn into one-stop solutions for all their customers. Instead, they turn chaotic, unsustainable to manage, and difficult to scale.
Your customers vaguely know their problems, but they can’t tell you how to solve them. Figuring that out is your job.
Identify which problems you want to solve. Then innovate to deliver your solution quicker and more efficiently. This demands aligning your entire organization towards specific customer-centric goals.
Henry Ford might’ve not asked customers what they wanted because they would’ve asked for a faster horse. But he did innovate to give them faster horses.
Amazon’s initiatives like Prime delivery, deploying robotics in warehouses and drone delivery are examples of inventing on their customers’ behalf.
However, an initiative doesn’t become useful just because it’s innovative or can scale better than the competition. It becomes useful when it improves your customer’s life in some way.
Which brings us to the final point.
3. Personalize for each customer.
Keep your customers at the center of everything you do.
Often businesses and brands get so caught up with daily operations that they overlook the most important aspect for a business: consistently satisfied customers.
A study revealed that 75% of customers are more likely to purchase from companies that offer personalized services based on their individual preferences. This means customers engage with brands that make them heroes in their own stories.
Tesla went beyond memorizing seat positions to letting drivers customize the position of the seat, the steering wheel, mirrors, suspension, braking, and other features in their cars. And that was just the beginning.
Ford is enabling drivers to use their own stuff (like Spotify) in its cars instead of putting up with their alternative because it has recognized that a vehicle is now an accessory to the customer’s smartphone rather than vice versa.
Data is a powerful tool you can use to figure out how to personalize your product or service for your customers. In today’s age, collecting data is not a challenge. Separating the wheat from the chaff and taking action accordingly is.
Which brings us to the importance of identifying your target audience.
A business that considers everyone its customer suffers from marketing mania. But a business that targets a specific audience can use data to delight its customers by personalizing better than its competitors.
The ability to deliver on the above-mentioned aspects differentiates companies that set industry trends from the ones that fight price wars and struggle to collect outstanding dues.
Your brand is not just the promises it makes, but also the promises it keeps, especially to its customers.
Stop thinking that you’re in the business of your product or service. Instead, wake up to the fact that you’re in the business of satisfying your customers.
Put your customers at the center and build your business model around them. In return, they will reward you with their trust, which is far more valuable than their money.