Give Customers the Information They Need

How do you know what your customers need?

This is no idle question.  Giving your customers what they need is critical to building their engagement and loyalty.  You cannot create a great customer experience by leaving them guessing.

The first step is to put yourself into your customer’s shoes. This is pretty common practice– most companies provide ample opportunities for their employees to use their products through discounts, distribution of free product, etc.

But the problem is, as members of the company, we’re not real people. We get so used to our products that it is almost impossible for us to think like our customers do. But we go on assuming that if we build products that we like, customers will like it, too. While this classic Dilbert post is clearly tongue-in-cheek, it’s funny particularly because so many of us assume customers are as passionate (and patient) about our products as we are.

For instance, at Best Buy I implemented multiple attempts to sell Media Center PCs. These were special Windows computers with home theater capabilities that were going to be the hub of the American home theater. Why not? Our computer merchandise team used them and loved the experience. Unfortunately, it turned out real-life customers weren’t as keen on loading virus checkers on their TVs, or rebooting their DVD players.

Putting yourself in your customer’s shoes is a critical first step – but it’s just the first step. To further develop your insight, you need to take a step back and watch your customers. See where they struggle. This is how Intuit’s Quicken became the leader in personal finance software. The idea for Quicken was hatched when founder Scott Cook watched his wife struggle with tracking their finances. As Cook was quoted saying in the Harvard Business Review, “Often the surprises that lead to new business
ideas comes from watching other people work and live their normal lives… You see something and ask ‘Why do they do that? It doesn’t make sense.’”

This philosophy led to Intuit’s unique “Follow Me Home” program, outlined in Inc. Magazine’s profile of Cook. Intuit uses continual customer observation to drive development. And here is the key to their philosophy– “If there were problems, the fault was Intuit’s, not the customer’s.”

A retail experience last holiday season reminded me of what happens when you don’t take the time to understand the customer experience. I placed an order for my wife’s present on December 12 at JCPenney’s online site and received an immediate confirmation. I didn’t think much more about it, waiting to be told that the order was in.

After ten days, I realized I hadn’t heard anything– and it was just three days until Christmas. Getting nervous, I checked the status of the order online. Each item was listed “in stock” with no other status, so I assumed it must be ready and went to the store. There I learned that the order wasn’t in – they were back-ordered. I was assured it would be ready the next day. At home I looked at the order again, with everything still “in stock.”

The next day I called the 800-number before wasting time at the store, waiting for 20 minutes before being told my order was already at the store waiting for me (no notification had come yet), so I picked it up. Then, six hours after I picked up my order I received an automated call that my order was ready. This was December 23, cutting it a bit close!

The designers of this experience clearly did not take the time to consider the information customers need – particularly when problems occur. “In Stock” suggests it is ready to go – “In Transit” or “Back Ordered” would have been better. This was a routine order, but the experience left me very frustrated.

Contrast this to when I ordered an iPod and an iPad for store delivery at Best Buy. While placing the order online I was informed that the iPod was back-ordered, but the iPad would be shipped to the store immediately. An email alert came once the iPad was ready, including the expected delivery date for my iPod. When the iPod was further delayed, a third email alerted me of this. During all of this time I was able to view the order online, including the up-to-date status. Another notification told me when the iPod was at the store, and a follow-up email confirmed that I had picked it up.

Unlike JC Penney, Best Buy kept me fully informed of the status of my back-ordered item. How much more does it cost to alert customers that there are issues?  More importantly, how much does it cost when we don’t communicate?

Barnes and Noble also gets it. When I order a book online I receive a confirmation, and they send another email letting me know the book was waiting for me behind the counter.  Domino’s goes to the extreme – not only do they email when the pizza goes out to delivery, their website tells you when it is put in the oven, and even who is putting on the toppings! They understand that customers want information.

How do you determine what information customers need? Don’t base it off of your own experience. You have access to more tools and information than any customer. Instead, learn from Intuit.  Watch a real customer place an order. See where they have issues. Then follow up with them regularly as the order progresses. That is the only way to truly design the experience around the customer.

This holiday season, give your customers a present.  Give them the information they need.

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