Saptarshi Nath, MD & Co-Founder, Overcart
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” ― Henry Ford
One of the most ridiculous mistakes companies (including startups) make is to believe that they already know what their customers need. Most startup ideas in recent times came from issues that the founders themselves faced, which is a great validation of an idea in the initial months; but not enough to scale the company to thousands and millions of paying customers. As you make that next leap, you must delve deeper into understanding the customer and focusing on the customer's problem.
Don’t presume you know what the customer wants. Most companies analyse their customer data through simple profiling—their age, location, frequency of purchase, and so on. Just because your target audience are teens doesn't mean that every single one of your customers likes Taylor Swift. The best way to understand if a customer wants A or B is to throw both at him and let him choose. If you're a technology/app company, all you need is a good AB testing software to get real-time user feedback.
Talk to your customers (while you still can). If you’re serving enterprises, you already know how valuable it is to talk to your customers. If you are relatively a small B2C player or serve a core group of customers (for instance, gamers or comic book lovers), then you should spend some time talking to your customers to understand what they love and hate. If you're targeting the millennial generation, then web chat is a very powerful tool you can use to reach out to you visitors. For instance, if a customer has been browsing different products for a while but hasn't added anything to his cart, an agent can ping him on chat and ask if there's something specific he hasn't found yet.
Look at macro trends of your customer base. Then dive further. Macro trends aren’t that helpful for decision-making if you don’t have a gazillion of customers. But cross-tabbing data can often provide very insightful information. It’s useful to know how many customers from Delhi visit your website, but it is inherently more powerful to know how many customers from Delhi come to your website and check-out books and have visited more than thrice in the past 30 days. Thankfully, you don't need to hire an overpaid MBA to do that job anymore. Various tools like Metrilo.com allow you to track such information, analyse customer behaviour across a range of actions and simple filters will allow you to find book lovers from Delhi pretty easily and help you send them a quick coupon to bring them back.
Ask customers about themselves. Admit it, we Indians love to talk about ourselves. Nothing beats gathering customer data than just asking them for it. At the very least, it will help your team get over their biases in understanding the customer. Many startups tend to spend on Facebook to attract visitors: but the results of a survey indicate that only a fifth of people discovered these startups through Facebook, whereas an overwhelming percentage of people discovered them organically through Google search. That obviously led to some important realignment of our marketing budget.
Ask customers about the problems they face. One thing Henry Ford did get right is that asking a customer for what he wants is seldom helpful. On the other hand, asking about the problems the customer faces could yield immensely helpful insights. Given that today's customer is savvier about a range of issues including high prices, low quality, service experience, environment and others, there's a good chance that he/she can provide more innovative solutions that your in-house market research analysts can’t.
The above aren’t the only ways you can get to know your customer. The core idea is to experiment and ask customers what they think: technology has given us enough tools to make gathering feedback an easy process. At the very least, it will help you assess if you are headed in the right direction.