How to Be 2 Steps Ahead in Anticipating Your Customer Needs


This is a guest post from our friends over at FieldBoom. Josh Brown will walk you through ways to analyze your customers and their needs.

Consistently exceeding expectations is what any entrepreneur or startup should aim for to increase customer bookings and enjoy growth.

Companies like Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, and Zappos go the extra mile to ensure their customers receive top-notch customer service. They recognize, as we discussed, the importance of exceeding your customer’s expectations, and adding “bang” for their buck.

This philosophy of customer centricity should never stop, from start up to scale up to established business.

But before we can consistently exceed our customer’s expectations, we need to step back and ask ourselves one question:

How can we anticipate our customer’s needs?

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Exceeding expectations vs. adding fluff

Before we dive in let’s make one thing clear:

Providing fluffy add-ons is not the same as added value.

Virgin Atlantic added amenities such as TV sets and Wi-Fi to their flights over the years —but did not add on a whim.

In-flight entertainment has been in-demand since commercial flight became routine; Virgin just figured out a way to up the ante by including individual TVs in all headrests.

Virgin knows many of its passengers are businessmen and women who need to stay connected to the grid at all times – even at 35,000 feet. So, by providing Wi-Fi to passengers, they responded to a need.

Both of these amenities are now par-for-the-course which brings up a point…

Exceeding expectations is an ongoing, cyclical process

When you exceed your customer’s’ expectations, you provide something they didn’t expect.

But, once you provide such added value, your customers will come to expect it — meaning you’ll have to find new ways to “wow” them.

This isn’t a bad thing.

Dedication to exceeding your customer’s expectations allows you to avoid complacency, and it keeps you focused on continuous growth. By always looking for what more you can do for your customers, you’ll ensure your company holds a place in your industry as a thought-leader and pioneer.

Anticipating the needs of your customer to provide exceptional customer service

The number one tenet of providing customer service that exceeds expectations is:

Know what your customers want before they do.

To do so, you’ll need to know:

  1. Who your customers are
  2. What they think of your industry and your company
  3. Where they are in their journey as a customer

Let’s look at each of these steps.

1. Know your customers

Picture the last time you bought a loved one a birthday present that they truly appreciated.

How did you go about figuring out such a perfect gift?

Now, think about the last time you bought a really terrible present for someone.

What was different about your purchasing strategy in this instance?

Chances are, for the terrible gift, you thought about the person’s age, gender, and maybe their occupation — and grabbed whatever gadget Google suggested. You bought a typical gift for a typical person. And it probably ended up collecting dust in their attic.

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But if you bought a terrific gift, you may have considered their age, gender, and occupation — and also went a few steps further. You thought about their interests and hobbies, their goals, dreams, and their individual personality. You bought a gift for that specific person. And, when they opened it, their eyes lit up as if to say “I can’t believe you knew exactly what to get me!”

Hopefully, you see where we’re going with this.

Simply put: the better you know your customers, the better service you’ll be able to provide them.

But you need to have a firm grasp on your customers’:

Customer needs analysis template

Knowing your customers’ demographic information and geographic location is important. Understanding their psychographic and behavioral information to figure out exactly what they want from your product or service — and how you can exceed their expectations is essential.

You need to put yourself in your customers’ shoes.

What are they trying to accomplish by engaging with your company? What pain points are they trying to ease? How much are they willing to spend? And what do they think they’ll get in return for the money they shell out?

Also, consider their shopping habits:

Do they shop online, or do they enjoy visiting brick-and-mortar stores? Do they make spontaneous purchases, or are they more conscious about their spending?

Once you know the answers to these questions, you’ll be in a much better position to provide a solution to your customers’ problems that will exceed their expectations in all areas.

2. See From Your Customer’s Perspective

All of your customers will come to you with certain biases — which may or may not necessarily be a bad thing.

First, consider where they stand in terms of your industry as a whole:

  • Do they absolutely need your product or service for survival or success, or is it something that would simply be “nice to have”?
  • What do they expect to get from the “average” company in your industry? What does “average” service look like? What is the “average” cost they’re willing to pay?

(Note: What one customer expects to get for a specific price might be way more than another,  or way less than what another expects. This is why the data mentioned in the above section is so important.)

Also, look for information related to what your target customers think about your competition.

Consult company-specific case studies and product reviews, as well as industry-wide data and statistics collected by third-party companies. For more candid data, check out messageboards, comment threads, and similar user-generated content to get a feel for the overall “buzz” throughout the industry regarding specific companies.

Lastly, get a feel for what current customers, prospects, and leads have to say about your company.

But the most effective way is by taking an active approach to your customer research.

Get feedback from your customers via post-purchase surveys, you can get a feel for how well your product or service meets or exceeds your current customers’ expectations. This will allow you to tweak your offerings to customers in the future.

By conducting this research you’ll gain a much better idea of:

  • Where your industry, competition, and own company falls short of providing for your target customers’ needs
  • Where your industry, competition, and own company exceeds customers’ expectations
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You’ll be in prime position to fill in industry-wide service gaps or up the ante across the board.

3. Meet your customers where they are in their journey

The customer journey can be broken down into specific stages. For our purposes we’ll group them into the following:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Decision (and Beyond)

If you’ve established a foundation of loyal customers, you can use predictive analytics and customer relationship management systems to anticipate effective ways of reaching new prospects in the future.

Predictive analytics looks at the actions both you and your past customers have taken at different stages of the customer journey. This determines what works best at each stage of the process.

Companies that utilize big data and customer analytics see 14% more customer retention than companies that do not, according to a 2014 report by Aberdeen Group.

Similarly, companies that utilize CRM software see a drastically different percentage of their sales quotas met than those that do not:

customer needs analysis

In short, use of both predictive analysis and customer retention management systems are essential if you want to be able to provide the best service possible to your customers.

Awareness stage

For our purposes, we’ll discuss awareness in terms of your customer being aware of:

  • A pain point in their life
  • Their need for a solution
  • The product or service you offer that could solve their problem

Individuals at this stage of the customer journey are likely to be frazzled. They’ve suddenly been blindsided with an obstacle and have little to no idea of where to turn.

This is your first opportunity to forge a relationship with the prospect and showcase your services.

Before they’ve even thought about spending any of their hard-earned cash, begin by providing value to them. You can do so by creating and sharing content that’s empathetic of their situation and provides information regarding the services you provide.

Once you’ve forged a connection, you can probe for more information. Ask for details about their situation — which you can then use to further explain how your product or service can help them. (This will lead your prospect to set their level of expectation, which you’ll exceed in the next stage).

To make all of this happen, you’ll need to establish as many lines of communication with the prospect as possible. Whether through a mailing list, social media, or direct messaging, make sure they know their voice is being heard and that you’ll work hard to ensure they get what they need from your company.

Consideration stage

At the consideration stage, your prospect is convinced the best way to alleviate their pain is to pay money for a specific solution.

But, they’ve yet to decide that purchasing your product or service is the best course of action.

If you’ve done well to forge a connection with them while they were in the awareness stage, you stand a much better chance of reaching them during this second stage of the buyer’s journey.

It’s critical during the consideration stage, that you set your services apart from your competitors’. You can do so by:

  • Comparing the features and benefits of your services with those of other companies in your industry
  • Providing case studies and other testimonial content from previous customers
  • Offer deals, discounts, and bundles that further meet the needs of the prospect
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You might also provide tailored options to meet your prospect’s needs rather than offering a one-size-fits-all solution. This could help sway prospects who are on the fence between doing business with you and a competitor  — and will pave the way for them to make additional purchases later on.

Decision stage and beyond

Once you’ve gotten a prospect (now a customer) to the decision stage, you can be 100% certain they have high expectations for your product or service.

The final package you provide – as well as the extras you provide over time —should completely exceed anything they’re hoping to get.

But first, you need to provide the basics. Make sure your new customer knows exactly what to what they’ll be receiving, and the benefits it will have on their life. Provide a timeline for delivery, as well as for how long it will take for them to achieve desired results.

Your new customer will expect certain supplemental information, such as instructions for best use and contact information in the event of a problem with a deliverable. Though such information is technically supplemental to the product or service, most customers will expect it in the full package.

Now that you’ve set the bar at a certain height, anything more you provide will be unexpected and appreciated. Include free samples of other products or items that complement your full product. Throw in coupons and bonus offers for services you offer that might not necessarily relate to their purchased. By doing so, you provide added value to your new customer while exhibiting other ways in which you can help them.

But even after you’ve made the sale and rendered your services, you still have to work to ensure your new customer remains loyal. Continue giving them opportunities to engage with your brand and stay current with your offerings. Consider sending them:

  • Customer satisfaction surveys
  • Quarterly newsletters
  • Product announcements
  • Free samples
  • Opportunities to beta test new products or services

Tailor future offers based on the initial product or service the customer purchased. This avoids a one-size-fits-all approach. This ensures your customers know you see them not as a statistic or dollar sign, but an individual with unique needs.

There’s no sugarcoating it

Without paying attention to your customer’s needs, there’s no way you can provide them with the service they expect — or deserve.

But by working to understand who your customers are, their pain points, and how you can best meet their needs at every stage of the buyer’s journey, you maximize your chances of gaining a loyal customer for many years to come.

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About the author

josh-brown-fieldbloom-customer-needs-analysisJosh Brown is the Content & Community Manager at Fieldboom, the place to create beautiful forms and surveys in less than 5 minutes. He is a technologist, digital strategist, BJJ blue belt, and loves to travel.

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