Why you should invest time in listening to your customers

05 July 2019

Industry Insights

A piece by our Managing Director, Les Wilcock, on the importance of listening to your customer and what he’s learnt from brands over the years.

After some 40 years in marketing I was going to start this post by writing ‘it never ceases to amaze me that some businesses don’t speak to their customers in a proactive way’.

But then I thought, no it doesn’t.

It’s understood by marketers that marketing strategy starts with knowing your target market and their behaviours, needs and wants. Indeed any successful business exists because of its customers.

And yet recently I was talking to an organisation whose turnover and profit was declining, they had a wide product range comprising lines that had very low sales and yet continued to add to their range and promote them based on internal opinions and ‘beliefs’.

Their response to my question about asking customers their view and opinions was met with the response:

“We know what our customers want, we don’t need to talk to them.”

I have found the reasons behind not wanting to be proactive fall into the following excuses, undoubtedly there may be more:

1) Fear. The customers might tell us things we don’t want to hear/it will only cause problems/axe grinding/moaning

2) Resistance to change. Why should we change, we’ve always done it this way?

3) Arrogance. There is nothing the customers can tell us about how to improve our business

4) Time. We don’t have the time, too busy on the day job/fire fighting

5) Can’t be bothered/Lack of commitment/poor senior management support

6) Lack of follow up. We tried it recently/last year/several years ago, nothing was done about the findings/nobody internally listens or sees value in it

7) Too difficult. We have thousands/millions of customers

8) Cost. We can’t afford it/it’s going to be expensive

Customer research, particularly attitudinal studies are a vital way to uncover what your customer’s think of you as a company, where they see you delivering value, where you can improve, what other services you can offer and who else they are buying from (who you are losing business to).

According to Steve Looney, Research Director at Opinium, “depending on what you need you can get some great insight for ultimately a low cost, when you consider the fraction of turnover / profit (take any measure you like) research actually will be.”

But surely that’s the point of market research, so that you can plan and base your decision making on evidence rather than guesstimates or last year plus a %?

The value of market research is akin to what foundations are to building a house. Would you seriously create a marketing plan (or business plan) without foundations?

Indeed, do you have a plan that is more than a communications plan?

The research should help shape and form your marketing strategy. There are other sources of research you need to regularly undertake such as what your competitor’s strategic intent is and what offensive/defensive strategies you need to formulate and deploy to compete.

Every business needs to understand the marketplace, how it segments and this dictates what you offer, to whom your product/service is for, your value proposition and how it differentiates you from the competition. And last but not least, how you communicate that offer in a way the customer wants you to.

The success of any business depends on having a close relationship with the customers it serves and organising itself to serving that need in a way the customer wants. Too often companies make doing business difficult by organising themselves the way they want to and not putting the customer first.

In conclusion, talk to your customers and do it regularly, they will tell you how you can improve and they might even surprise you with new ideas and suggestions, maybe even a glowing endorsement.