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How to understand your customer?

The still relevant 2017 Capgemini report shows that exactly eight out of ten business partners can and will pay more if they are met with better customer service standards. What does it mean?

It means that by investing in people, tools and the right standards, you can make more money, and these benefits are available without risky endeavors and nervous investment moves. All you have to do is serve your customer in a better and more professional manner than the competition could. How to do that? Which methods are worth choosing and which tools will help make the intricate plan of improving customer experience more effective?

Imagine that a company is like a family, and the sales goal is like preparing the biggest Christmas dinner possible. The first ones on the Christmas list will certainly be the guests who are within the closest circles, the ones we’re always in touch with — parents, grandparents, siblings. It’s an analogy to the key customers that we spend most time with in our business. To make the festive dinner as unforgettable as possible, however, we need to also go a little deeper: uncles, aunts, cousins and the rest of family. Those are the secondary customers that we spend less time on. Who will be easier to get to come? Parents will probably only require one phone call, which doesn’t mean it has to be successful. Such reunion is an operation full of nuances the organizer has to be aware of, making sure that every guest will have a good time. Inviting the extended family, however, might require devoting some time, making a visit, reconnecting. Our operation could be considered most successful if the table was full on 25th of December, and each and every guests would only have good memories once it was over!

Find out as much as possible on your customer

The above example with family Christmas is only a very simplified version of what awaits every entrepreneur on the road to success when working with the customer. It’s time to learn about the key areas that the knowledge of will make our work easier and make our business partner feel understood. That feeling is only one step away from a serious transaction and submitting a legitimate offer tailored to the business partner’s expectations.

  1. Check their environment

Vast knowledge on the customer’s micro environment is an entry-point thing, something it is crucial to start with, creating a full “360 degree” profile of our business partner. At this level, you should ask yourself and your team these question, and obviously find the best possible complete answers to them:

  • Who is our competition that works with the client on a local, national and international level alike?
  • Who are the business partner’s customers, which of their goods do they consume?
  • Which suppliers do they use?
  • Which services have been targeted at them so far?

All the above questions relate to the so-called close environment, which is the area that the customer has a constant contact with and that defines their everyday operations. It is especially important to answer about the competition, which has to be analyzed very thoroughly. Checking the environment will help with the basic understanding of the structure of the industry the customer operates in and the overall mechanisms that are characteristic to it.

This activity means that you should SEE further.

  1. Analyze the processes

Once you discover the connection network and the feedback structure of your partner, it’s time for a more thorough analysis of their own activity. Getting deeper into the company’s internal relations and the operational systems developed by the business partner will help you better specify the cooperation model that suits them. Here are the questions you need to get answers to this time:

  • Does our business partner acquire their own consumers and how, as well as how many and of what type?
  • How do they run their customer service and support?
  • What methods do they use to cooperate with distribution?
  • What is their customer retention standard?

Such way of “getting in the shoes” of our future or existing partner (that we wish to improve or expand the existing relations with) allows to better understand their own business tactic. It may also let you get to know their personnel better and reach people in charge of other tasks that are as important as business contacts. That way you get a chance to personally interact with those aspects of cooperation that aren’t so obvious and you haven’t thought about them before in the context of doing business together.

This activity means that you should FEEL more.

  1. Learn more about the problems

The third point is possibly the most important of all four. The business partner’s problems are the niches that may require a reaction from outside, a helping hand and a firm declaration: “We’ve got a great solution for you!”. At this stage, a verification takes place of the team’s ability to make conversations and — most of all — to listen. And sometimes also to read between lines and make conclusions that matter. The examples of areas struggling with problems that might be potentially interesting and worth attention are:

  • Problems with low sales,
  • Difficulties in communicating with customers,
  • Miscommunication within the team,
  • The ways data is collected and managed,
  • Incorrect methods of presentation on the market,
  • Lack of reporting and analysis.

That’s only some of the struggles that plenty of businesses may be riddled with. Their list will vary depending on the industry, the above set is just an example. You certainly have solved most of those problems on your own by implementing a CRM system in your business or you’re currently in the middle of it. You should consider, however, if the product or service you have, combined with B2B knowledge exchange, wouldn’t constitute a way to solve at least some of the difficulties faced by your partner.

This activity means that you should HEAR more.

  1. Find the right solution

There is no single correct definition of “the right solution”. The recipe for acquiring a new customer or satisfying an existing one has to be found through individual deduction, preferably with use of specific tools. First and foremost, you have to be sure that the knowledge you acquire when accomplishing the objectives specified in the previous three points is stored in a reasonable — which also means secure — manner.

  • The access to information should be easy.
  • Some of the data is added automatically.
  • Communication on all channels has to be monitored.
  • Processes should have reminders added to them.
  • Significant areas need to have a report system defined.

It is those slightly mechanical activities that the Salesforce CRM system should help with. However, it is still only a tool, it can make customer service related matters easier, but it won’t take care of them entirely. A very important part is the human factor, which is motivating the personnel, training them and individual skills of each of its members. It’s up to them whether the competition will lose and the offer will be developed in a very personalized manner, with the accurate conclusions drawn. It is also important to respect our customer’s time, so their questions should never be left without immediate answer. And last but not least, it’s a good idea to offer something more — like the support service on our part — if observations show that it is not the business partner’s greatest strength.

All of that means that you should REACT better.

Utilize and improve your strengths when fighting over the customer

At this point you know already that always creating the needs is not likely to be quite as lucrative as getting information on them directly from the business partner. The process of identifying them was described above, but before you start putting this into action, you need to understand which guns you are able to bring to the fight. Analyzing the customer’s needs and business profile is far from the easiest task, which makes it a good idea to especially pay attention to two factors that may have a direct impact on the quality and results of the endeavor taken.

People and their ability to listen empathetically

Empathy is more than just a phenomenon that relates to private relations with loved ones. It may also occur in business, where it brings measurable benefits. Observe which of the employees at the company show empathy (knowingly or not) in their activity, then try to develop those traits in them and put them to a good use. A customer whose problem will be promptly noticed will feel understood.

It is very common for salespeople to only resort to active listening and manipulation techniques, justifying it with high effectiveness of such methods. Meanwhile, as soon as the real goal isn’t understanding the actual needs and problems of the customer, the effect might actually be quite opposite. It’s a good idea to remember that the other party might be well aware of the social engineering tricks that are most often used by salespeople and develop a negative opinion on the existing or potential future partner.

There are four stages of empathetic listening:

  • Repeating the statements,
  • Transforming the content,
  • Recreating the emotions,
  • Transforming the content with recreation of emotions.

This technique might seem unclear, convoluted and complicated, but in reality it might be performed in a very natural and easy manner. All you have to do during the first stage is focus very strongly on what the other party says, even going as far as repeating the words they say. The second stage is where the initial conclusions are drawn, which means the customer’s statements are transformed into our own. During the third stage we focus on the emotions, trying to get “in the shoes” of interlocutor as much as we can.

The last stage is the most effective part of the whole operation, because it combines the preceding two into a whole, where hard facts combine with emotions of the other party. An efficiently conducted conversation should be able to provide a high level of emotional comfort in our interlocutor, as well as the sense of understanding that we seek after so much.

Machines and their ability to do our work for us

There’s a good reason why the first part of the article brought up CRM systems several times. The help they provide at every stage of cooperating with the customer can be enormous. What matters the most here is that certain activities, thanks to use of many combined tools, are performed automatically or semi-automatically, which allows to save time and operate more effectively.

The Capterra Report shows that the most important factor when choosing a CRM system as a tool for cooperation with customers is its functionality.

What instruments are used by a company that relies on traditional solutions? The basic tool is an e-mail account not connected with any other application. the second is a calendar where information and notes are written down manually for each employee individually. The third one is Excel, which constitutes a source of analyses based on data that is tediously entered by a report’s author. How does a CRM change that? Each e-mail received generates a reminded in the calendar about the need to response, the intensity of communication is recorded in the database, and a note on valuable knowledge about the customer is added to their individual profile that other departments and the management have an access to. Based on that information, a report can be generated that evaluates the involvement in conversations with the customer, the promptness of responses and the amount of information provided etc.

When working with ERPs, CRMs and other systems, it is often not just about the quality of the software itself (which of course is very important!) and the way it works (in cloud or locally), but also the ability to creatively utilize those tools. It’s a good idea to make use of a technological partner’s experience here, one can also go ahead and experiment while measuring how effective it is. The whole thing should lead to an even better customer service that the customer can perceive positively. For example, the information collected by one group of employees might — or even should — be utilized by other members of our team having conversations with a business partner and solving their problems.

Treat your customers the way you would like to be treated by your suppliers and coworkers. Think about what information on the partner the corporate database lacks. Learn to SEE more, reaching further into the customer’s environment. FEEL how they operate themselves, trying to understand their internal structure. Learn to HEAR about their needs, capturing all the problems, even the most minor ones. Last but not least, REACT better than the competition based on everything you’ve learned. Make use of not only the manipulation techniques but mostly empathy as a method of conducting an engaging conversation. Utilize the latest technologies, such as the Salesforce CRM, in order to cut down on the response time and give more spot-on answers.

That way your customer will feel that you’re more than just another stop on the business journey to them, a partner they can turn to with great trust when needed. 


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