The first step to attracting and retaining customers is meeting them where they are and demonstrating you understand their needs. So much of our marketing efforts focus on the seemingly relentless quest to attract new customers to our brand. We strive to offer exciting new products and services and chase industry trends. We create fabulous experiential marketing campaigns to engage with consumers.
However, if we fail to understand our target audience’s needs, we miss opportunities to attract and engage with customers. This goes for existing and former customers too. Sometimes we assume we know what our current customers want because they’ve already bought from us — big mistake. We want to evaluate their needs regularly to keep them coming back because needs can change. So, let’s explore customer needs and why it’s essential to understand them.
What Are Customer Needs?
Customer needs are the problems, challenges, goals or desires consumers want to solve. Needs motivate consumers to purchase a product or service. Customer-centric companies understand that meeting customer needs and exceeding their expectations is the key to their success. If your products or services don’t fulfill your target audience’s needs and wants, they will spend their money elsewhere.
Needs can be categorized as product or service needs. Often, consumers make a purchasing decision based on having multiple needs met. They’re also likely to share with others how your brand met (or failed to meet) their needs.
Product needs refer to how well your product or service functions.
• Price: Customers generally make purchases that fit within their budgets. In other words, consumers must feel your prices are affordable. If your product or service costs more than the customer is willing to spend, you’re not meeting that customer’s need to stay within their budget.
• Effectiveness/functionality: Your product or service needs to “do the job” or solve the problem efficiently and effectively. It must do what it’s advertised to do.
• Reliability: You can produce an excellent product, but it won’t matter if it repeatedly fails or breaks. The last thing you want is your product or service to delight your customer for a brief time, then anger them when they can no longer use it.
• Experience: Using your product or service should be a seamless, pleasant experience. If learning to use your product or service is time-consuming, frustrating or uncomfortable, your customer likely won’t buy again — and may tell others to avoid you.
Service needs involve how your customers feel about your brand and their interactions with it. You can have the best product or service in your industry, but if your customers don’t feel valued, you risk losing them and them sharing their negative experiences with others. Many consumers place as much value on the customer service they receive as they do on products, especially when they can get comparable products from a competitor.
We’ve all experienced poor customer service. We’ve waited endless minutes on hold to speak with someone, been rerouted to multiple automated responses (or people), agents failed to understand our problem or lacked the knowledge to solve it. We’ve encountered indifference, incompetence, language challenges — the list goes on.
• Empathy: When a customer experiences an issue, it is absolutely essential they feel understood — and that their issue will be resolved quickly. A Statista study showed that between 40 and 54% of Americans stopped doing business with a company due to poor customer service.
• Transparency: We live in an era of distrust due to data breaches, privacy concerns, fake news and false reviews. As a result, consumers are finding it harder to trust what they see and hear. They want more transparency and honesty when changes occur or problems arise. A Sprout Social study found that 86% of Americans believe transparency from a business is more important than ever before, especially on social media.
• Accessibility: Customers need to be able to find and access your customer support teams easily and quickly. They need more than one channel such as live chat, email, immediate phone support and automatic callbacks.
• Fairness: Customers must perceive that your business’ pricing, return policies, service contract details and more are fair.
Customers’ Needs Can Change
Sometimes it’s inevitable that we’ll lose customers as their needs change. For example, families’ needs change as their children move from infants needing diapers to school-age children needing sports equipment to teens wanting the latest, greatest tech gadgets and trendy clothing. Similarly, a startup might only need basic accounting services at first and then payroll and benefits processing as they grow.
One strategy to address changing needs is to evolve your offerings to match their needs. This isn’t always feasible but is certainly worth consideration depending on your products and services. Anticipate what they’ll need next — it could be a newer, larger, more sophisticated product or service — or maybe a smaller one.
Next Steps: How to Identify Customer Needs
Now we have a better understanding of our customers’ types of needs, so the next question is how to determine what those needs are. Hint: ask them. Conducting focus groups, using surveys, “listening” on social media, seeking feedback from frontline employees and doing keyword research are some of the ways to gather information to help you understand your customer’s needs.