Putting the Customer at the Center

Place the customer at the center of your business and you will prosper. But how?

Brands make a big fuss about trying to be customer centric. But they see it as a process. Start at the act of buying, then walk your way back through all your company’s departments and routines, eliminating anything that creates inconvenience or confusion.  

Or you can figure out why the customer buys something, then tailor your process to refit your sale to suit the customer. This is where brands can use consumer psychology to make the sale. It sounds crazy — until you think about it.  

Visibility into the customer journey

Customers are, after all, on the brand radar. Digital connections mean tracking everything the shopper does. Analyze the data and you know what is happening (see “Where Did That Customer Go?“).  “We have the ability to sight the pain points. We can tell you what the experiences are,” said Paul Vaillancourt, SVP of client success and operational excellence at BigCommerce.  

The BigCommerce platform can track browsing, checkouts and shopping cart abandonment. It can build a simulation of an online store, using that to identify process problems that turn off customers. In-house experts can help online merchants improve search engine optimization and web site design, and provide technical support, Vaillancourt explained. 

Yes, all these things can improve an online store and enhance the customer experience, and make a company more customer-centric. Yet “I don’t claim to be a customer psychologist,” Vaillancourt said. “In 2019 consumers tell you what they want and what they stand for constantly. The real challenge for organizations is taking meaning from social and digital data and keeping current with customer expectations.” added Kellan Terry, senior comms manager at Brandwatch. “Brands need to participate and listen to these conversations and then self-reflect about how they are meeting or failing consumer expectations. If brands are failing, these conversations will serve them in righting the ship.” he said.  

Purpose comes before process 

We all know how people shop. Harder to know is why they shop. Answer this question, and you can give the shopper what they want, or better yet, more. If the marketer can create that “hot state” where the customer is more emotional, they may be more likely to buy — and have a good experience.

“We all have goals,” said Will Leach, CEO of Triggerpoint, the behavioral research and design consultancy. You can go online to buy a pair of shoes. Or you can buy a pair of shoes to be recognized as the cool kid on the block. If you can communicate that motivation, then the customer will “buy shoes for an emotional reason,” Leach said. “We’re not wholly aware of what we want.” When people make an emotional purchase, they come up with a reason afterwards.

Getting to “why” via a focus group is the least effective method. Instead, ask questions of the shopper in context. “If you want to find out more about why someone chose a particular brand of breakfast cereal, ask them when they are in the kitchen,” Leach reasoned. You can even ask them via their smartphone during breakfast. What you are asking the shopper may not be directly associated with the item they bought. You may show them a series of pictures and ask them to describe their feelings. Or you can ask them how they would react if a superhero came out of the sky and offered them the product. While these approaches sound off-base, they do reveal the psychology and the motivation of the individual, Leach said.  

Social media can also influence a purchase decision. “Social media is all about social proof,” Leach observed. “Social proof is a trick we use to make decisions easier to do if others do it.” Likes and influencers play a role in creating those “in” groups. “We all want to find our tribe. Only through social proof do we associate with a tribe.” he explained. 

Go deeper

“Go deeper,” said Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist and author of Decoding the New Consumer Mind. Yarrow’s aim is to understand how people receive information about a product and how they connect with a company. That inquiry will start with data. Yarrow will look for initial insights in various reports. Once armed with data, Yarrow will then shift to interviews. That will involve spending time with consumers, watching them shop and asking them “why”? 

“To me, you sort of start with empathy and understanding being in the consumer’s life,” Yarrow said. “The people I interview understand I am there to understand their lives relative to a brand or a category.”

Those interviews uncover how a brand can deliver some satisfaction or satisfy some desire.  They can also uncover some customer dissatisfaction with a product that the company can then correct, providing the “customer centric” solution, Yarrow explained. 

Even something as routine as buying chicken for dinner can have some underlying motivation. For example, a shopper may prefer hormone-free non-GMO chicken. Studies show that GMO (genetically modified organism) is pretty benign when compared with non-GMO food, Yarrow noted. But for some people, GMO can be a deal breaker. Yarrow pointed out that this buy decision can be emotional. Is the shopper gravitating towards pride? Feelings of superiority? Being a non-conformist? Find the right reason and you can craft your pitch to press the shopper’s emotional button–and make a sale. Just keep asking “why” to find out where that motivational button is.

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