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How to Learn What Your Customers Want

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January 5, 2015
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“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” – Sam Walton, Founder, Wal-Mart

That is the mantra of the man behind the company that’s number one on the Fortune 500, generating nearly one-half trillion dollars in annual sales. That sentiment has never been more apropos than it is today.

In this Age of the Customer, and as the Internet of Things touches more aspects of our every-day lives, IT is the linchpin in the Customer Experience. So much of what a business must do today to succeed relies on technology that speaks directly to customers … winning them as customers in the first place and keeping them as customers over the long-term.

It was not long ago that IT had little to do with market-facing programs or customer interaction on a strategic or direct level; sales and marketing did that. For CIOs today, it is a business imperative that’s driving role transformation. It’s well-passed time to team up with the CMO, service leadership and business analysts in the company and listen together to customers, to leverage “Voice of the Customer” programs in order to enhance their user experience and to drive IT innovation.

Here are three budget-friendly ways that IT can join forces with business management to engage with, win and keep customers by listening to what they have to say about doing business with your company.

  1. Customer Advisory Board (CAB): With the help of your company’s marketing or research group, recruit some of your most strategic customers to form a customer advisory board.  CABs can act as a direct line to your customers and as a think tank for innovating. Tap into their thoughts to understand:

    • how easy or difficult is your company to work with;
    • what works well and what needs improvement;
    • how their needs are evolving and in what ways;
    • if and how your business impacts or enables their own business goals.

    You will be surprised by how much you will learn and how much your customers will appreciate being asked for input and feedback. By being invested in your company, they end up feeling a deeper sense of commitment, making them more loyal customers.

    New Hampshire-based Dyn started its CAB in 2009. According to the company’s website, this select group meets annually for two days and serve as sounding board and launching pad for continued growth. “We rely on this group to provide us with valuable advice, feedback, insight and direction for our technology, but also in regards to our position in the marketplace at large.

  2. Usability Testing for better User Experience (UX): Is your website not delivering what it used to? Have online sales been trending downward? Usability testing is an easy, fast and efficient way to gather feedback about your web properties, interfaces, search tools, content, etc. Watch actual users navigate through your website, ask them what is working and what is not working for them and how you can make it easier for them to use.  Usability Testing can help you achieve improved conversion rates, time-to-purchase or number of clicks, as well as get a higher ROI out of your IT investment, etc.

    Make sure to test your users’ mobile experience, as well.  Forrester estimates that the number of smartphone and tablet owners who purchase online through those devices will double by 2018 to 55% and 61% respectively, making mobile device experiences as important as the desktop experience, if not more so (1).

    Staples.com, one of the largest online retailers of office supplies, conducted extensive usability testing on its website to refine it and make it easier to shop. Resulting enhancements included improved usability, fewer clicks, time-saving navigational tools and personalized time-saving features for quick access, all contributing to a 67 percent increase in repeat customers.

  3. Big Data Mining: Many types of customer-generated feedback may already exist in your company in the form of data sitting in your systems today, just waiting to be discovered and deciphered. Leverage these vast amounts of data to learn how customers interact with your company. Their usage data and payment history, the types of products they buy from you, how they go about making purchase decisions and how long it takes can all provide insight into customer behaviors and preferences.

    American Express leveraged its data to look for indicators that could predict loyalty and then “developed sophisticated predictive models to analyze historical transactions and 115 variables to forecast potential churn. The company believes it can now identify 24% of Australian accounts that will close within the next four months.”  More examples of how to use big data can be found here.

    Partnering with key people in your organization, and perhaps outside, as well, is critical on so many levels. CIOs can use it to proactively demonstrate interest in matters of high importance to business operations, aligning themselves with other C-level executives.

    If yours is a larger organization then you’re likely have research, insights or data science departments. The analysts on that team can help design focus groups/surveys, analyze data and come up with actionable results.  If yours is a smaller company, seek out an analyst in your organization or persons who are passionate about improving the customer experience.  Leverage each other’s passion and expertise to collect customer feedback. Additionally, there are countless reputable research and analytics firms that can handle the entire process and deliver reporting, while guiding creation of strategic plans with your team.

    You can be certain that your competitors will be doing much the same, if they haven’t already. The companies with the most positive, carefully planned, continuous monitored and instantly responsive User Experience win.

(1)Forrester Research, Inc., “US Mobile Phone and Tablet Commerce Forecast, 2013 to 2018,” by Sucharita Mulpuru, May 12 2014 / Updated June 16, 2014

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