How to understand customers – let’s talk about people. As marketers & entrepreneurs we tend to keep focusing on numbers. How could we not, when they are right in front of us? Every tool or channel I try to get my message through tends to shove numbers right into my face. Engagement rates, clicks, domain authority…
It’s only natural for me to start to see those clicks as just that, numbers, percentage points to be optimized & goals to be hit. But really, it’s not a click, it’s a person, experiencing a feeling about the message I just showed them, it’s a thought in their minds saying “Mom would love this for Christmas”.
No amount of Facebook analytics magic will EVER show me that thought, but here’s why it’s important: that thought is the ONLY thing that effects that customers decision to buy my product. I may have gotten that click, but if I don’t then have a “will arrive before Christmas” date on my product page, they might end up going with a competitor who does.
So how can we learn what are customers are thinking about? Ask them. Ask & actually listen. Go out and empathize with your fellow human beings. Sounds simple, and it is, but somehow most clients I’ve met (and probably, most of your competitors) don’t do it, or don’t do nearly enough of it.
Let’s get right into it.
Do you prioritize qualitative or quantitative data?
Before we move on, let’s define the two: quantitative data is what can be measured, while qualitative is observed or described. Although the trendy words for them, which you may run into (including in this article) are X-data (experience data) or O-data (operational data). However, if you take a good hard look into what companies using those trendy words are selling, or rather what the core of their products are, you realize it’s still good old surveys & interviews.
And I personally think that’s great. You already have a whole arsenal of feedback channels at your disposal, ready to provide data, rife with actionable insights. In today’s world, it’s easier than ever to understand your customers – and we’re finally reprioritizing their feelings. So, survey away!
But do you start with qualitative or quantitative? Well, neither. You start with a research plan. What exactly is it that your trying to learn? How much time & budget do you have?
Do you ever not know where to start?
If you have no idea where to start, quantitative analysis may be what you need. I’ll outline more specific methods in the next chapters, but start with the data you do have. Clicks, conversions, comments, likes, engagements etc. what is currently working & can you do more of it?
Start with sales & work your way back to when your customers first interaction. Use this conversion data to optimize until you can’t answer this question: “why?”. Why did they prefer ad x over y?
Do you already have questions you can’t answer?
Then start with surveys & interviews. Ask them why they clicked on that ad specifically? Why did they decide to buy your product? How would they find products like yours on Google? I could go on forever, there really is no limit to what you can learn. However, do keep two things in mind:
- Always record your conversations – You may need time to interpret and understand what your customer is actually telling you. Sometimes they “feel” what they want, but can’t relay it exactly. They may tell you they like pictures of apps on an article about the best apps to do x, but what they might be saying is “I want to see this apps features & that I understand how to use it before I decide”.
- Trust, but verify – We humans are many things, but perfect isn’t one of them. We have our own biases (see any political topic ever), we tend to misremember things & our current mood definitely effects our answers. Make sure that any insight you’ve gained through your conversations is later quantitatively verified.
Do you respond to surveys?
When a customer buys your product, hopefully, their journey with your brand is not over. To increase their lifetime value, to give them the upsell or cross-sell opportunities that will turn one-time customers into loyal brand ambassadors, you need to assess their experience with your brand.
And surveys might just be the best tool you have to gain insights into your customers thoughts. But they do have their problems. Send too many surveys to your newsletter audience & they may just end up unsubscribing. Survey fatigue is a very real thing & none of us enjoy answering a 100 question Google form. This problem is just going to increase as more & more companies start to use x-data tools.
But there are ways around it. You can;
- Utilize obvious “rewards” for answering an online survey on your website, such as discounts.
- Turn them into micro surveys, which target context specific data, such as how they felt about the blog post they just read, or if this email gave them useful information.
- Use Google’s suggestions. Most people get their answers from Google, & if your question is a general one, you might as well just look at the top results to your question, the suggested modifiers people are using in their queries & the related questions Google sometimes gives us. There’s a wealth of information right there for us, let’s use it.
- Ask on social media. For some reason people seem to actually enjoy answering questions through Facebook surveys (especially in relevant groups) & Instagram stories. Use those tools.
- Ask through ads. Sometimes, if you’re gauging interest, or comparing products a simple carousel ad & related data will answer that question for you, without you even asking directly.
Bonus tip – if you end up actually making improvements based on their suggestions, tell them! A quick email (with, say, a promo code, free shipping on their next order, an e-book, or any other »thank you« gift) goes a long way towards strengthening brand loyalty!
Are you actively listening to interviewees?
Go out & get your hands dirty. If you can get your representatives to talk to your clients and customers face-to-face, you can get fascinating, in-depth, and concrete information. Performing such interviews takes considerate skills (not to mention getting people to actually sit down with you and discuss your brand or product). You need people who can ask the right questions and engage people in a debate where they will share their experiences. But if you can pull it off, I guarantee that it will pay off.
Active listening is key here, ask for summation & clarification when you feel it to be necessary. Don’t change the subject or try to stop people mid-thought (I know you might be busy, but an extra 5 minutes won’t hurt), and try to gain an in-depth understanding of their exact experience so that you can empathize with them. If you can imagine yourself in their shoes, as they explain their thought process, you’re doing it right.
I’ve mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth doing so twice. Never forget to record your conversations. I’ve almost never fully grasped a customer’s meaning until well after our conversation had ended & having a recording to go back to ensured that I could verify my insights weren’t due to a mistake in recollection.
How many optimization tests is your company conducting?
Before launching a product, your marketing, UX, IT, and sales teams have undoubtedly done their homework and tried their best to create a solution that will satisfy your customer’s needs. But since you can never be sure until it’s out there, take the time to test it before going live.
It can save many man-hours, nerves, and – ultimately – money. Once it’s out there, it’s harder to change, so make sure it’s as close to the ideal as possible and then introduce it to the market. Remember, you never get a second chance at a first impression. And with trends such as early access & pre-ordering, this mistake is only becoming more prominent.
First, run your solution by your own company. Tools such as InVision let you create rich interactive prototypes you can share and get feedback on. Users can also leave comments, which will give you valuable insights into what needs tweaking.
Involve your target audience. There are many useful tools you can use for user testing. Worth mentioning are tools that enable you to test your prototypes with real users and get quantifiable insights. They are invaluable for revealing possible blind spots or problems that might have slipped by your teams. If you’re still building an audience, you can hire people on Fiverr or through more UX specific companies to test your product & provide feedback.
How optimized is your customers journey?
A/B testing is another great way to get customer feedback. It can help you reduce bounce rate, make small but quickly implemented and low-cost changes, improve ROI, and more.
Did you know that a single-word change can boost the conversion rate on your website? Be it a title, slogan, or a call to action. Test what fits your buyer personas best and get actionable information without investing too much time and money.
You can A/B test with new features, different product description, newsletter offers, CTA buttons, pictures, colors, etc. Just make sure that you have it all clearly defined. The point of A/B (or multivariate) testing is to differ your options in precisely defined characteristic(s), so you can be sure that they (and not some other factor) are the reason for changes you observe during testing.
Think along the lines of different CTAs, different email marketing subjects, different structure of your website (should you emphasize product UVPs, user testimonials, or maybe a promo video?). And don’t forget – before you start A/B testing, make sure you have thoroughly analyzed your current performance.
What’s drawing your customers eye?
If your site is already up and running and you want to see how you can optimize your conversion rate, try heatmaps. They give you insights into what draws your customers’ mouse (or finger) the most. What draws most of their attention? Do they click on something that’s not clickable? Information like that could be crucial for optimizing your product site and driving more conversions.
Once you’ve gathered all this, try merging it with survey & interview data to create & visualize user stories. A story about a user’s problem can simplify a complex situation & tends to stick in people’s minds longer. This will not only help assist in your own understanding of their issues, but will facilitate greater management/board buy in (if that’s something you need to worry about).
What are people saying about your competitors on social media?
Chances are your customers are present on several social media channels. These platforms can help you convince them to choose you over your competitors. Be where they are!
By analyzing their behavior, you can learn what motivates them, what attracts them, how they communicate, and how they like to be addressed. Running a semantic analysis on comments under your posts, direct messages, mentions, and discussions in groups allows you to determine sentiment, understand words they use to communicate issues & generally get closer to them without requiring any effort on their part.
Discover which words are repeating over and over in chatter about your brand or company. It is “excellent”, “useful”, “very satisfied”? Congratulations, your customers are happy with their user experience! But what if the predominant words and phrases are “waste of money,” “useless,” “poor service”? It’s time to roll up your sleeves and dig deeper to discover the root of the dissatisfaction.
Analyze competitor post times to learn on which days and what times of the day are users the most active, helping you plan your content to have the larger reach.
You can gain a lot of this data through various API’s such as Facebook’s new ad library api. However, if you need more data, good old-fashioned web scraping is your friend. Most services can easily be scraped using python libraries such as BeautifulSoup. An extra tip to do so on Facebook is to use their old mobile site (mbasic.facebook.com).
If your company sells smart kitchen appliances, join chat groups and forums for cooking, recipe sharing, and the likes. Watch what they discuss the most and assess where your product fits in. This helps you create relevant content and adjust other marketing strategies to address not what you think they need but what know they need.
Advanced algorithms are capable of listening to the never-ending chatter on social media. By employing those technologies, you can extract insights, which, when applies to business strategies, product development, and customer support, result in enormous benefit for your business.
How often do your customers need help?
Your chat and other communication channels primarily serve one purpose – to solve customer’s immediate issues and provide answers. But if you take full advantage, they are a treasure trove of insights. The only challenge? Separating the wheat from the chaff or, in other words – gleaning insights into countless hours or lines of chats.
You can speed up the process by utilizing tools that operate as search engines attuned to specific words or text characteristics.
For example – a search engine can look out for particular words, such as your brand name, industry, product, pain point, etc. Another type can focus on determining the tone of voice – from the ways the author uses caps locks, punctuation, adjectives. Based on those, such algorithms can recognize and sort positive, negative, or neutral feedback. Then you have a clear path towards better user experience and, ultimately, better business results.
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