Every customer has certain needs and expectations that have to be met before interacting with a brand. For that reason, a company should know how to identify customer needs and expectations, and use that information wisely to get the most benefit out of them.
According to SalesForce, 76% of customers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. In other words, if you want to implement a customer-first strategy, you want to make sure you are on the positive side of the statistics.
What are Customer Needs?
Customer needs are motives that customers have to buy your product or service. Customers may have numerous requirements to complete their customer journey, which makes it even more important to properly identify them. Especially if you want to be the right solution to their problem. Before diving into the methods of identifying customer needs, it may be useful to differentiate them first – to gain a proper understanding.
1. Functional Needs
Functional needs are usually easier to recognize because of the obvious cue that triggers one to do the desired action – purchasing a product or service. As an illustration; if someone is walking down the street and suddenly the rain starts pouring, they will need an umbrella. If they buy the umbrella only for the sake of protecting themselves from rain, they will satisfy their functional needs.
Another example would be buying a pair of glasses only because the old ones fell on the floor and broke. Note that this cue should not be mistaken for impulsive shopping (when one sees something appealing on the shelf and convinces themselves they need it when in reality they don’t).
2. Psychological Needs
Psychological needs are a bit more complex than functional because one can rationalize one purchasing decision in many different ways. To stick with the same example; if one is buying a new pair of glasses, not because the old ones had “an accident”, but because they are on a special discount, or they’re more fashionable than the previous, one is trying to satisfy a psychological need.
In other words, the person from the first example buys glasses to see better, while the other one is trying to make themselves feel better than they were before making that purchase.
What are Customer Expectations?
After all the needs a customer might have are addressed, the customer’s expectation follows. In a nutshell, the expectation is a belief that something will happen in a certain way. How a customer forms an expectation depends on various factors.
1. Previous Customer Experience with Your Company
If a customer already used your service or product and they were satisfied with the experience, they will expect the same level of experience the next time. The same goes if the experience was poor – the customer will lack confidence in your brand and the expectations will not be as high.
2. Previous Customer Experience with a Competitor
Even if the customer never interacted with your brand in the past, they will also have certain expectations from you. A customer experience that one had with other companies will have a huge impact on their perception of your business. Even when their experiences are not related to your niche, customers tend to expect a certain level of service.
3. Opinions of Others
How other people see you and what they say about you can also shape a customer’s expectations from your business. Reviews, or simply word of mouth are great indicators of what to expect when interacting with a company. For example, if your Facebook page is covered with complaints that it’s impossible to reach your customer service agent, one probably won’t presume you will exceed their expectations while trying to resolve a problem.
4. Company’s Branding
Finally, customer expectations highly depend on how you present yourself on the market. This covers multiple factors, including how you advertise yourself and how you communicate with your customers. Moreover, it shows if you are an honest organization that sticks to its core values. If your image is trustworthy and powerful, customers will not only have high expectations of you but maybe even expect you to exceed them.
How to Identify Customer Needs and Expectations?
Being aware of the causes and the importance of customer needs, the only question is how to identify them.
1. Know Your Customer
The first step of discovering your customer needs is figuring out who your customers are in the first place. Regardless of whom you are selling to – whether it’s a company or an individual – there is a set of queries you should know an answer to.
2. Collect Feedback
After you’ve gathered all the necessary information about the customer, you need to ask them the right questions to figure out what their needs and expectations are. There are lots of ways that can help you collect customer feedback and understand what influences purchasing decisions:
- Voice of the customer by conducting a customer interview, you can learn a lot about their needs and buying patterns. After defining the right customer, you can shape the entire interview process according to what you want to find out. Is it something specific, or will you use more open-ended questions and see where that takes you — it is completely up to you.
- Focus groups - this qualitative research method is best to use to gain a deep understanding of a specific area. Unlike the customer interview, focus groups consist of a targeted group of individuals who are selected based on specific criteria (age, location, gender…). Keeping that in mind, every focus group should have a predetermined discussion prepared with a clear goal that one wants to obtain.
- Surveys - using surveys as a method of collecting valuable data may be the most convenient way when you want to learn what a larger population of respondents think about you, what their challenges are, or what they like the most. Surveys are popular, not only because of their accuracy but also because of their flexibility of conduction. Depending on your goal, surveys can be long, short, face-to-face, online, over the phone, etc. Sky's the limit.
3. Implement What You’ve Learned
After you defined your customer persona, and collected all the needed data, it is time to put those findings into action! To demonstrate, if the survey report pointed out that a customer is having a hard time finding your contact information, or navigating through your website in general, it should be clear for you what has to be changed to make that process easier.
Implementation is the key. It is the final and the most important step of the process. When you know who your customer is, what their buying patterns are, and what exactly they need and expect from you, it is easier to shape your product/service to meet their needs. After all, without following action, not much can be done.
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