It's tough satisfying today's picky customer. They have more options than ever before, and a recent study found that 54% of customers have higher expectations for customer service today than the year before — and for folks under 35, it's even higher, at 66%.
Fortunately, one benefit of the digital age is that it's easier than ever to get critical data on customers, which can help you create a picture of their needs.
And that’s something you must do no matter what business you're in: Know your customer. Identifying customer needs may be the most important thing you do as a business owner or manager.
These customer needs examples will help you understand what it takes to satisfy customer needs in your business.
Overview: What are customer needs?
Customer needs refer to the wants and desires of people who buy from you or your competitors. Identifying these needs is the key to success as a business. When you understand exactly where your customers' priorities lie, you can adjust your business and products to accommodate them.
Customers have many needs, and some matter more than others depending on the customer and the product they’re seeking. To succeed, you must identify and meet their highest priority needs.
7 types of customer needs
Customers have many and varied needs, but they mainly fall into seven categories.
Type 1: Price
When a salesperson fails to close a deal, one of the most common customer objections is they don't have the budget for your product. Sometimes that’s an excuse to obscure the real objection, but it’s true that pricing is important to a customer.
Often, customers may not see a big difference between your product and a competitor's product, so they choose solely on price.
Type 2: Reliability
Customers want reliable products. Even the best products are worthless if they only perform for a little while before having issues. If your product has a reputation for breaking easily, customers may be driven to competitors even if it means paying higher prices for a product that doesn't do everything yours does.
Type 3: Functionality
Your product must be functional and offer the capabilities you advertise. A customer bought the product for a purpose, and if it doesn't meet that purpose, they're unlikely to return to your company the next time.
Type 4: Convenience
Customers want to do more than solve a problem or fill a desire — they want to do it conveniently. If you have an outstanding product but you make them jump through hoops to get it or use it, they may choose a product slightly inferior but easy to obtain and operate.
Type 5: Control
Customers want to control the buying process. They don't want to feel they are being talked into something they don't need, or be told you can't address their problem because of a company policy. They want to feel like they call the shots in this relationship, which makes them feel more secure about buying from you.
Type 6: Choice
Henry Ford once famously said that customers could buy a car in "any color so long as it is black." While sometimes it's good to limit options to prevent customer confusion, generally it's wise to give customers alternatives, which goes back to the customer needing control.
Customers who feel they have choice feel more attached to a product that matches their needs more closely than a generic product available to all.
Type 7: Customer service
The customer service experience is a significant selling point for products, to the point that some companies use it to get a competitive edge. Customer service means more than just answering the phone when the customer calls.
It means showing understanding when customers call with problems. It means going the extra mile to solve those problems and come up with a solution they see as fair — empathy in customer service goes a long way.
How to address customer needs
So now that you understand customer needs, how can you put this to practical use? These four methods will help you dial into your own customers’ needs and adapt your business to meet them.
1. Identify which need is most important to your customer
Different companies serve different industries — so their customers' priorities may not be the same. For example, an auto manufacturer may find reliability is their customers’ top need, while a fashion designer may find choice is their customers' top concern.
Conduct research, survey your customers, and develop a customer needs assessment to find what your customers value the most. Armed with this knowledge, you can tackle this need head-on.
2. Map out a customer journey
Once you've decided which needs to address, map out a customer journey that describes how a customer will get to where they feel this need is being met. Visualize how a customer would normally interact with your business. Ask yourself what the customer is thinking or feeling, and what action they might take.
Ask where the "touchpoint" is in your business, or where they make contact with your business, whether through an ad or talking to someone in your store.
Once you’ve answered these questions, describe what change you want to make to this journey to ensure they get the desired effect.
In the example of a store selling fashionable clothing, you might ask salespeople to contact someone browsing the store to bring their attention to the wide variety of dresses available — highlighting the "choice" need of your customers.
3. Develop products to meet the need
If you've identified a need and your products don’t satisfy it, develop new products or modify the ones you have. Identify product features your customers value and map out a plan to create those products.
In the fashion store example, if you sold dresses that looked largely the same before realizing choice was a major need of your customers, you might alter patterns and styles in future dress orders from your supplier to increase customer engagement with your product line.
4. Start a dialogue with your customers
Your relationship with your customer shouldn’t end after a purchase is made. Start a dialogue with them by collecting contact information and regularly offering specials tailored to their interests. Provide a customer service email they can use to contact you.
Track your engagements and highlight examples of good customer service to your team, and train them in customer service skills. Constantly engage with customers, either in person or through online surveys, so you can understand what they value most.
This will also tell you if tastes and needs are changing, and therefore if you must change with them.
Customer service software will help
Meeting customer needs and adjusting your business model to accommodate them isn't easy. However, software will help you tap into your customer base and build a relationship that will serve your business well.
The Blueprint has reviewed some of the top customer service software options, so check out a few and identify two or three that appear to fit your business best. Try them and settle on the one you'll build your customer service system around.