Putting Yourself in Their Shoes: Truly Understanding Customers

Recently, The New York Times ran an article on how big box chain stores were tackling the Manhattan market by opening smaller stores that catered specifically to the urbanite. In essence, some of the biggest brand names in retailing today—Target, Office Depot, Wal-Mart—finally came to grips with the fact that one size does not fit all. So, instead of expecting customers to change to accommodate them, store executives studied city dwellers and determined what they really needed and wanted out of a store experience.

Understanding customers is a crucial part of any sales experience. But as the article notes, considering the needs of urbanites and cities is a new approach for these companies. Previously, the corporations tried to fit their square-peg, big-box-store concept into a round-hole metropolitan reality, which left me wondering  how often the needs and wants of consumers are sacrificed in the name of what a company desires.

Unfortunately, it’s probably all too often.

Some companies fail to realize, for example, that the motivation of a newly minted Medicare recipient (i.e., someone who has just turned 65) is vastly different than a senior who has reached his or her 80th birthday. They are, after all, part of different generations with very different life experiences. In fact, the only unifying factor I have ever found among people who have aged into the Medicare system is their general disdain for being called “elderly.”

Likewise, the needs and desires of a first-generation immigrant are vastly different from that of people who are part of the second or third generations. While the entire family might identify with their Spanish or Asia-Pacific heritage, they don’t necessarily need or want the same things.

These nuances color the way each of us view the world. They make us individuals, but also unify us in a way that can be leveraged by companies.

Citibank recognized this a few years ago when the company decided to re-conceptualize banking in Singapore. They started by looking at standard demographic information, but went a step further and erected life-size cardboard cutouts of people—or “customers” —around the office. Then, they asked every employee—from junior bank tellers to senior executives—to develop a story about each person, describing the issues weighing on their minds, the length of their commutes, what would make their lives easier, what electronics they rely on, etc. Employees were also asked to think through how the customers engaged with the bank, the obstacles they had when banking and what might make banking easier for each individual.

The result of this effort was the development of “Smart Banking” branches— financial centers designed to allow the consumer to decide how they wanted to interact with the bank rather than forcing them to bank the way it has traditionally been done. The concept has been a big hit— both with critics and customers—and several more Smart Banking branches have opened around the world.

So, the next time you’re about to launch a product or another service, you should ask yourself: Do I know my customers? Do I understand what motivates them? Have I lived a day in their shoes to understand their concerns and pain points? The answers might just surprise you—and they could send you right back to the drawing board.


Connect with Julie:

Email: julie@blisspr.com
Twitter: @julieajohnson1
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