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How to understand customer needs and pivot when they change

Brett Lawrence, business consultancy director at Inviqa

Customer experience is now the only brand differentiator besides prices, so it’s never been more important to understand your customers and evolve your digital services around their changing expectations.

But how does this work in practice? And what happens when customer needs pose fundamental questions about your proposition or business model?

Consider your aspirations and customer needs

Understanding your customers’ needs, behaviours, feelings, and expectations, and how these align with your strategic ambition, is the first step in any digital initiative, whether you’re launching an online shop or developing an app. It’s essential to consider the experience your customers desire, but also the type of experience you want to give them (and whether your business has the appetite to get there).

The methods you use to uncover and map customer needs at the Discovery or investigation phase will be dictated by your unique circumstances, but a blended approach produces the best insights and establishes customer-centricity from the outset.

One-to-one usability testing, for example, should be informed by a web analytics review, while customer research and focus groups should ideally combine qualitative and quantitative research.

Armed with this insight you can then apply other UX design methodologies to ensure the structural and design elements of your digital product are optimised around customer behaviours and your strategic goals.

But the process of harvesting and responding to customer insight doesn’t stop when your digital product or service is live (even if it’s performing pretty well). You need to continually evaluate what your customers want, what they need, their expectations, and their emotional connection when they engage with your digital product.

So what’s the simplest and most cost-effective way to do this?

Making customer needs an ongoing focus

A blended approach makes most sense here too. Analytics can help identify problems and opportunity areas in the customer journey, but speaking with your customers will uncover improvements that analytics alone cannot.

Where you have a clearly-defined focus area, or are looking to make point-in-time improvements, tactics like heuristics evaluation and experience mapping can be hugely cost-effective and deliver return on investment. Jewellery brand Astrid & Miyu, for example, used heuristics testing to maximise its Black Friday results and boost revenue 144% year-on-year.

But these tactics don’t constitute a long-term strategy. Markets change and personas grow out-of-date, so continuous improvement is not just about ongoing enhancements to your digital products; it’s about continuously questioning your strategic direction and the customer insight behind your digital roadmap.

As a first step, define simple metrics that reflect the various stages of your customer’s end-to-end experience, and create a means to capture and review customer feedback (through the likes of online polls, interviews, and service reviews). It’s often the small issues (once highlighted and resolved) that go a long way towards improving customer experience.

But what happens when you realise that the customer desires your digital proposition is built around are shifting in a bigger way?

How to respond when customer demands change

1. Test your hypothesis with affordable experiments

Snack company Graze had a successful subscription business, but customer insight, sales data, and analytics were highlighting a very different business opportunity.

Customers were telling Graze they loved its products but wanted more control over what they received and when, and without a subscription being essential. The retailer listened and the idea for an online shop to compliment its subscription business was born.

To test viability and desirability Graze rapidly developed a simple prototype online store alongside the main website to start testing how it fared with customers. Insight gathered during the prototyping stage fuelled continuous enhancements and the online store went on to generate £3 million in the first 12 months, with conversion rate growing 429% year-on-year.

In some cases there are even simpler ways to prove or disprove a hypothesis with minimal risk and expense.

Take the example of a premier British fashion brand looking to launch a standalone ecommerce site for China, one of its key markets. The retailer introduced a simple China flag button on its homepage so site visitors could register their interest in a country-specific site. To their surprise customer appetite just wasn’t there. The simple experiment saved them from significant investment into the wrong thing.

2. Go back to square one and ask big questions

Sometimes insight will indicate that there’s a need to entirely rethink the way the experience or customer journey works, instead of focusing on fixing inefficiencies.

In the case of Brompton Bicycles, responding to changing customer needs required a fundamental change in the business model, as head of customer experience Harry Mann explains:

‘We’re a manufacturing company at our core…So much so that we weren’t interested in owning the customer; that was for the bike shops selling our product. But user research showed just how much our customers were looking to transact online and have an emotional engagement with the brand, not just a transactional one’.

Brompton’s transformation into a lifestyle brand and D2C manufacturer began by spending time in stores trying to better understand customers. They carefully considered customer journeys and used research and interviews to explore how these differed across personas and markets.

From this insight they were able to define an end-to-end experience for their key audiences hinged around several ‘key moments of truth’ such as when a customer first sees a Brompton and when they test-drive their bike. The result was a globally-aligned customer experience that’s attracting new customers and emotionally engaging them on an ongoing basis.

Ecommerce revenue has more than doubled since the launch of the award-winning online shop and the sales process has been optimised, with 92% of people completing the online ‘Help me choose a Brompton’ journey.

Getting to know you

Simply meeting customer demands is no longer enough to give you a competitive advantage. Retailers that are gaining and maintaining an edge are those able to exceed expectations by offering hyper-relevant ecommerce experiences that service customer desires in real time, and in response to their changing circumstances.

How is this achievable? By constantly re-examining what the customer experience should look like, and acting upon what you find. And all the while ensuring you don’t lose focus on the task of building and maintaining consumer trust.

Without trust customers are less willing to part with their personal information. And without this information brands cannot hope to engage their customers in a meaningful way.

My colleague, Inviqa consultant Nicholas Weber, will be running a workshop at InternetRetailing Expo (11:00am, 3 April 2019) on why you need a digital roadmap (and how to get one). Hope to see you there!

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