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Basic Business Cents: Understanding customers' needs and wants

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news Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

Some years ago a major oil company was conducting research on a new design for milk bottles.

Sound strange? They did not make milk bottles but they had customers who did. They supplied synthetic resin used in making plastic milk bottles and by helping their customers succeed, they ended up selling more plastic resin.

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Their customers did not ask them to do this and may not even have been aware that they needed a new design. Customer wants and needs may not be the same thing. It is important to know what questions to ask to find out true needs of customers and those we hope to become customers.

The objective of this article is to identify, analyze, and better understand through research the needs and wants of present and potential customers. The research should be based on customer surveys/ interviews, customer evaluations of products and services, customer service reports, sales and marketing data, general review of the literature, etc.

Dr. Deming often said the customers' expectations are shaped by what we, and our competitors, lead them to believe they can get. If we are not out in front giving them more than they asked for, our competitors might do so and raise their expectations.

We should always be working to delight our customers and creating a situation where they enthusiastically boast about the benefits of doing business with us.

Among the questions to be addressed are:

-Who are our present customers?

-What is their profile?

-How are they similar and how are they dissimilar?

-How do we segment them?

-What new customers would we like to have?

-How is their profile different from our existing customers?

-What customers have we lost and why?

-How is their profile different from our satisfied customers?

-How satisfied are our present customers?

-What are our customers saying about our service that we are not listening to?

-What are the quality requirements of our major products/services that are demanded by our major users/customers?

-Which customers are more preferable and why?

-How will customers make purchasing decisions?

-What are the customers articulated needs?

-What are the needs of the customer that he/she has not or cannot articulate?

-What are the articulated needs of the organizations that are not now customers but whom we would like to be customers?

-What are their articulated needs?

-What criteria influence each customer's needs?

-How important is each?

-What in the future may affect these needs and criteria?

-What is value-added for the customers?

-How can customers' expectations be exceeded?

-What are the "must be" quality dimensions? These are the features that will cause dissatisfaction if missing but will only bring satisfaction to the customer if provided. An example might be good brakes on an auto.

-What are the "linear" quality factors? These are the features that if missing will cause dissatisfaction, the presence of a certain amount will satisfy the customer, and the presence of an additional amount will surprise and delight the customer to bring them to a level where they will brag about the product/service to their friends. An example might be gas mileage experienced on that new auto.

-What are the "attractive" quality parameters? These are the features that are not expected so the absence of them will not dissatisfy the customers because they are not expecting them in the first place, but the presence will surprise them and delight them. An example might be an invisible infrared light source on the front of the auto that detects deer or pedestrians on a night-vision panel on the dashboard.

-How do you measure effectiveness?

-How do you influence customer loyalty?

The customers' needs and wants should be based on data, plus a prediction of the future. Then we can provide that "extra something" to create enthusiasm in the relationship and enhance our chances for long-term success.

Louis Schultz, managing director of Process Management LLC, has assisted organizations worldwide with performance improvement.He currently assists area business owners as a SCORE counselor. E-mail him with questions or comments at lou@processmanagement.com.

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