15 Ways to Guarantee Your Small Business or Startup Is Meeting Customer Needs

At its core, your business is always going to be trying to meet customer needs. When it comes to doing that effectively, you need to focus on communication, customer experience, and adaptability to make sure that your product or service continually evolves. In this article we’ll look at effective strategies for meeting your customers’ needs, and what you can do to stand out from the crowd.

1. Offer Solutions

Provide products and services that offer solutions to common challenges, and actively solicit feedback from consumers on how to make them better.

Before you go to market, ask yourself: Are you filling a real need for your prospective customers? To answer that question, look for specific pain points that you plan to address. But to get started with that, you also need to do your homework and understand what audience you’re trying to reach.

The easiest way to uncover pain points is to ask. That means being proactive about going to customers and getting their feedback.

Allow what you already know to guide you to answers for the questions that you don’t already know how to address. Start by reaching out to people who are already your customers.

Why do they like using your product or service? What persuaded them to make their purchasing decision? What do they wish could be improved? Working backward like this will help you because you likely understand more about what’s already working and how to communicate that to new audiences.

While new features and functionality can certainly be a differentiator, it’s important to remember that messaging and marketing can play a big role in your audience’s perception of your product or service’s relevance. Doing your homework and getting feedback from customers not only tells you what features to consider adding, but how to talk about what already works.

2. Keep Listening

Communicate with and, most importantly, listen to your customers. Make it easy for them to engage with your business.

Communication with your customers needs to be a constant priority. It takes a lot of work to communicate well, but the benefits are massive: an audience that is more invested in your brand, an easier time developing an effective marketing message (as discussed above), and better customer service. Investing in ways to remove friction from customer interactions and create more responsive communications is a no-brainer—it improves customer satisfaction and helps you make your product or service better.

3. Build a CX-Centered Culture

Create a company culture focused on customer experience at every touchpoint.

The major differentiator in almost every space is customer experience, but creating a great customer experience isn’t as easy as hiring a consultant, doing some training, or making a few new hires. It means thinking through every touchpoint from the customer’s perspective: What are the expectations, what makes sense, and where do you have a chance to surprise and delight someone?

These moments won’t happen all at once. Instead, align your corporate culture to focus on the customer experience first, and go from there. Your employees make or break most customer touchpoints, so be clear on your brand’s values and what makes for a memorable customer experience. Then, empower your employees to be proactive, thoughtful, and creative in making it happen. 

4. Put Yourself in Your Customer’s Shoes

See your business through the eyes of a customer. Experience all aspects of your business as a customer. Call for assistance, try the products, make a return, etc.

In order to understand what top-notch service is, your team needs to experience it for themselves. Think of your experience at a restaurant: When you ask a waiter for a recommendation off the menu, you can usually tell in 30 seconds whether or not they’ve actually tried everything on it. As an executive or manager, taking one hour to listen in on customer service calls (or even answer them yourself) can be more eye-opening than hours of meetings spent looking at survey results.

5. Meet Customers Face-to-Face

Conduct regular focus groups with real customers at all stages of your customer’s lifecycle. Don’t settle for a random smattering of social media posts and customer service call snippets. While those are helpful for getting a sense of how customers communicate with your company, it’s no substitute for getting in the room with actual people.

Ask questions, see where customers get hung up, and get a feel for their emotions. It’s especially important to check in at multiple stages of the buying journey, so you have a complete picture of the entire customer lifecycle.

6. Conduct Surveys

Make sure that you balance that data you’re collecting with information from a wider assortment of customers. Surveys are an incredibly effective way of gathering data on a bigger scale, and there are a number of tools that make it possible for any business, large or small, to run a survey and see results.

When it comes to surveys, it’s important to focus and avoid trying to cover all aspects of your business in your survey questions. Be very conscious of how long it takes to complete. If you want to make sure you get the numbers you need, consider offering something in exchange for your customers’ time, whether that’s a small discount for your business or entry into a raffle for something bigger and better.

7. Map and Define Your Customer Journey

Your business may have problems with invisible touchpoints: places where you don’t realize your brand is coming into contact with the customer. These points could be as simple as the moment when a buyer first hears about you, or when they try to reach you and fail.

Uncovering these moments and others is key to getting control over your customer’s journey. Define and map them out. The customer journey will always include unexpected touchpoints, but having a guide for what should happen in a customer interaction will help you get them back on track.

8. Keep an Eye on the Competition

Watch what your competitors are doing, good and bad. Adopt what’s working, and turn competitors’ negative experiences into positive experiences with your brand.

Differentiating yourself in a crowded market is hard, but ignoring your competitors won’t make them go away. Instead, look objectively at their strengths and weaknesses. It’s generally easy to spot what you do better than others—after all, we spend all day talking those things up to customers. What’s harder is to acknowledge where your competitors are doing better than you and address those shortcomings.

There’s a third category of experience, as well: things your competitors aren’t doing well or pain points they aren’t addressing that you aren’t working on either. Identifying those means you’ve found a great opportunity to differentiate yourself and boost your value proposition, even if that’s as simple as shifting what you emphasize in your marketing.

9. Pay Attention to Online Reviews, and Take Action

The only thing worse than a bad online review is one that receives no response from the company. As with your competitors, ignoring bad reviews won’t make them go away. Even if a review is unfair, there’s often some kernel of truth behind what the customer is saying.

At the same time, don’t drop everything to respond to every single piece of negative feedback when it comes to managing your staff. If you see a pattern in the feedback, address it. But remember that recurring issues can have their root in training or management, and your team should know that you have their back.

10. Be Honest and Transparent

Customers can see right through you when you’re not upfront with them. Dishonesty often leads to trouble down the road, even if takes pressure off of you at the moment. If something’s gone wrong, it’s much better to get out in front of the story and explain your side of what’s happened, rather than let them find out for themselves. Be transparent with the decisions you make, with both your customers and employees, and you’ll get the benefit of the doubt if (and when) you slip up.

11. Keep Friction to a Minimum

Provide accessible, easy-to-understand customer education materials, videos, etc. Make it as simple as possible for customers to understand and use your products and services.

Optimizing the customer experience is all about removing friction from as many interactions as possible. When you’re thinking of ways to improve, look at the materials you provide. Are they quality materials that actually help the customer do what they want to do?

Take your materials for a test drive, and see how well they work. If you know your product inside and out, find someone who doesn’t, and sit down with them while they figure out how to use it.

12. Follow-Up at Every Opportunity

In the chase for more and more customers, we often forget to appreciate the ones we already have. Cultivating a closer relationship with those customers is what turns them into raving, loyal fans who create valuable word-of-mouth marketing. Show the people who are already doing business with you that you care about what they have to say, and they’ll reward you.

13. Let Data Guide Your Understanding of Customer Demands and Needs

It’s important to remember that your customers aren’t some ever-static monolith. They don’t always want the same thing. Just as your business evolves over time, your customers do, too. Think about how revolutionary responding on social media to customer service requests was for the airline industry.

Once customers realize something is possible with one company, no matter the industry, they start to expect that service in other areas of their life. While you might not be in the travel industry, you’re expected to respond as quickly as an airline would when you receive a complaint on a social media channel. Make sure that you’re always looking at data to challenge your assumptions and understand where expectations are headed.

14. Personalize the Customer Experience

Customers love when you remember things about them. The experience could be as simple as not having to enter all of their information the next time they call you with a billing question, or a hotel remembering that you always ask for toothpaste and leaving it in your bathroom with a note. A personal touch can make an experience surprisingly lovely, especially if you find a way to get that information into the hands of your employees, so they can do something with it.

On the flip side, be careful that you don’t cross the line into creepy, as Target famously did when they used predictive analytics to figure which of their customers were pregnant, sometimes before they realized it themselves.

15. Go the Extra Mile

Exceeding customers’ needs gives you a strong competitive advantage. Don’t just look to meet expectations—surpass them.

That means training your employees to create an excellent experience and then take the initiative when they see an opportunity. After a bad customer experience, going the extra mile to right a wrong makes customers feel special. However you do it, creating a memorable customer experience is a surefire way to set yourself apart from your competitors.

What You Can Do Right Now

Meeting the needs of your customers requires continual effort and reflection. These strategies will help you solicit and listen more closely to customer feedback, put your employees in the driver’s seat for delivering a remarkable experience, and be ready to adapt to ever-changing demands.

  • Use surveys and focus groups to solicit customer feedback at all stages of the buying journey.
  • Prioritize excellent customer experience at every touchpoint, and empower your employees to make that happen.
  • Create an experience that values the customers that you already have, and lean on them to provide word-of-mouth marketing and referrals.
  • Pay attention to feedback, and be ready to change as customers need and demand more.
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