customer focus

Focus on the customer and the income will follow – any advice that’s common in many business textbooks. Sounds logical, and it is. If you do focus on the customer and give him what he needs, you should do everything right to create a commercial success with whatever your product or service might be. But, who is the customer, and how do you know what he needs? 

In most cases, their needs are not obvious; in most cases, they do not know what they need; they can only articulate what they want.

In most cases, the consumer’s needs are driven by a fundamental one, of which there are not too many around: among the few basic ones are security, belonging, stimulation, autonomy or physicality. Physicality, for instance, drives the need for food: but only in combination with another requirement, like stimulation, ingestion turns into a restaurant visit. We know this from Maslow’s pyramid.

In our new economy, it’s all about the fulfilment of experiences, rather than to secure the more basic requirements of everyday life (to stick with Maslow). Customers in the ‘experience economy’ need to be holistically and simultaneously served in their needs, before they decide on a product or service, and then consume. It’s no longer sufficient to be the cheapest, the smartest or the most competitive offer around – it all depends on the experience provided, and if this experience fits the consumer’s personality.

Designers and developers, therefore, need empathy if they want to meet these ‘un-articulated’ needs. They need an antenna to receive the correct signals emitted by the consumers and the market place. Because in the end, the solutions that sustain and succeed on the market are those who can design and provide an experience in line with consumer’s need.

For the technology-driven industry, this opposes an enormous challenge, since they produce for the masses and therefore do not know their customer anymore – they became to plenty in size, shape, sex and spending power. Nevertheless, they need to focus on the customer to whom they address their brand’s promise to be authentic. And they need to know the customer or user to conceive products and services for them. And this can never be everybody: If you design an experience for everybody, you will fulfil nobodies needs!

In this challenge, the high-tech mass-production industry, as well as any small enterprise, can learn a lot from the hospitality business. The quick hunger is served well by a fries-parlour: clear and straightforward menu, legible from the queue, quick preparation, swift service and low prices. A triple star restaurant delivers culinary delight within the appropriate ambience and against corresponding prices. Irrelevant how ingestion is turned into a service offer, it is in the experience and the soundness thereof if the consumer accepts it – and thereby delivers the income in a sustainable, profitable way.

And this is a real challenge to an industry that’s driven by standardization: so far the marketing experts were using shotguns to hit the market, based on the motto: better we just hit someone, than missing out completely using an accurate shot.

But today you have to focus well and aim at that which delivers a real valuable return: in satisfying your (and not anybody’s) customers need, in providing an experience for them. This way, you can genuinely create a loyal customer base, one that will grow your business sustainably.

August 2010

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