Think Like A Customer: Not Just About Them

14 July 2016

Every so often a new phrase or expression pops up in business and seems to really take off; it becomes the next “big thing”, the thing everyone is talking about, trying to do, even paying consultants for.

Customer experience ” is just such a phrase, and I spend a lot of time with clients talking about what it means and how you might really create a great experience for customers in this complex world of multiple channels and devices, instant sharing and increasingly demanding, well-informed consumers. There are more advisors, books and websites telling you how to do it than you can shake a stick at, and the process can be involved, rigorous, and requires a lot of brown paper.

"Great customer experience is a quest that never ends"

The truth is there is no short-cut to creating a great experience for customers. Any service organisation (and let’s face it, how many businesses do not offer service in one way or another these days) must take great care in designing the way they look after customers and in diligently delivering the kind of experience they want their customers to enjoy. It can no longer be left to chance or to a good staff member who knows how to build rapport.

There is no silver bullet or prescription for creating a great customer experience, and it is a quest that never ends. Great organisations spend a good deal of time, energy and money on it and no one ever gets it 100% right all the time.

There is, however, one thing that has the power to transform the way an organisation might approach its customers that often makes the difference between the truly customer-focused companies and those that just say they are. That something is truly great customer insight.

Louise launched the British Airways Executive Club

“Insight”: Isn’t this just another one of those phrases that everyone uses and talks about? Possibly, and I would go so far as to say the word is often misused and misunderstood. Insight is not market research, you can’t make a single team responsible for it, and it certainly isn’t just data or information. Insight is truth, it is understanding at a deep, human level, not only who your customers are and what they need, but also what it’s like actually being them.

Apple created beautiful, intuitive devices by really understanding how ordinary, non-techy people felt when trying to use computers; Uber has got us all hooked because they felt our pain as we tried to get home on a rainy Friday night.

Businesses are just collections of human beings, after all, and like all human beings, we have a tendency to start with ourselves. We will think about our strategy, what we aim to achieve, what we need to produce, in what volumes and at what cost and how much we must sell to achieve those objectives; only then might we think about who we need to attract as customers in order to reach those goals. The organisation that really wants to change the way it engages with its customers it must turn this on its head. It must start with the customer, and engineer strategy back from there.

"Insight is not market research.

Insight is understanding at a deep, human level what it’s like actually being your customer."

Many organisations are good at thinking about their customers. They have deep information developed over many years, data, CRM systems, quality market research and customer purchase history. They can think about their customers at length and many do; I’ve seen literally piles of Powerpoint decks that come out of such work.

These can be useful in helping a business think about its customers and what it offers them, but instead of thinking ABOUT customers, great organisations think LIKE their customers, putting themselves in their customers’ shoes, seeing the world as they see it, understanding what it’s like from their perspective.

You say heels, I say trainers: but what does your customer want?

This can be hard to do, it is not a linear process, can’t be deduced from data and statistics alone, and requires a level of human empathy that sometimes gets lost in large organisations. But it is possible. In the 1990s, British Airways understood how awful flying long-haul on business really was, and transformed their industry and their own market position by introducing flat beds on planes. In banking, not an industry always top of mind when talking about great customer experiences, first direct felt what it was like to be a customer and created the UK’s best brand for service by removing all the things bank customers hate: automated menus, restricted opening hours, un-empowered “computer says no” staff. Both these organisations became leaders in their fields by thinking like customers, and continue to innovate and strive for excellence by doing the same thing today.

It is only by thinking like your customers, by putting yourself in their shoes and understanding the world as they experience it, that an organisation can really create a great customer experience and set itself apart. Not easy, certainly possible, and definitely worth it.

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