If you are like many leaders, you think about customers often and scan for potential tweaks and improvements in processes and products, so consumers continue to choose yours over another solution. Technology advances have set a high bar for all; people expect tools and products that make lives and work easier, quicker and, yes, cheaper. But is that the whole picture when it comes to achieving growth?
Whether your business serves consumers directly (B2C) or other organizations (B2B), the quality of the customer experience is fundamental to your lifetime customer value equation. A new study by Walker shows a remarkable finding for B2B: the quality of a customer’s experience will bump price and is the KEY differentiator in the purchase decision.
The opportunity to better anticipate customer expectations relies on looking for clues both inside operations and from your customers, too. Three approaches make anticipating customer behavior changes a dominant component of achieving your growth strategy are:
- Know your customers’ growth strategies, their goals.
- Dig deep into customer patterns for intel.
- Gather input from staff about customer objections and needs.
- Add dimensionality to shape how you, your people and your customers work together to achieve growth goals.
- Correlate actions and planning to your corporate vision, mission, and values. This practice of integration and coherence is valuable for all teams, for all employees to know and take pride in.
- Encourage all stakeholders to care genuinely about customers’ success and your shared abilities to know how they achieve that success (with your support).
- Share and celebrate good guessing, skillful prognostications, crafty upgrades to process, features and benefits that will compel customer loyalty.
How Effectively Have You Projected Your Customers’ Behaviors?
Any online search around — and what goes into — customer experience should focus on what we can do from the service side. We can support the experience with intentional processes, interactions to provide a seamless journey that is easy and memorable. In addition to these fundamental processes and approaches, it is necessary to collect and document information that will indicate customer preference changes. Growth requires a strategic approach that collects and assesses untapped information daily: a practice that is a powerful indicator of leadership capital.
The foundation of all growth is our confidence in the ability of ourselves and those we work with to do what it takes to achieve growth goals. (I talk about this in More Growth Requires More Commitment, including the True North Growth Strategy Commitment which is a quick assessment tool to remind you of your company’s strategic direction.) With a strong commitment to growth, doing what others won’t do strengthens your competitive advantage and market placement.
With a strong commitment to growth, it is necessary to enlist the effort of every stakeholder to collect information about customers needs and wants in addition to their experience with your company.
An Introduction to The CeX Growth Formula™
If you’ve generally been a reliable anticipator, able to project future demands and needs, then you probably have a deep curiosity about your customers. Collecting, documenting, and then mining information collected from customers and vendor interactions provides your company necessary information to use for strategic plans.
If you’ve been caught off guard with unexpected demands, market shifts, and direct competition, now is a good time to fine-tune your sensibilities and practices; anticipating and addressing customers’ expectations and needs.
The more we know, the more we know what we don’t know and better understand what we need to know. Removing discomfort, even fear, around decisions comes from a lack of dimensionality within your organization. Intentionally expand dimensionality and increase the capacity for collecting and using the right information at the right time to increase your results.
This formula strengthens and expands the opportunity to better anticipate by overlaying three practices onto existing processes. Each exercise provides a lever with which to interact with to change the quality and insight outputs. Everyone within your company can use these practices in their organizational role. The CeX Growth Formula™ reinforces communicating your growth strategy and sharing the responsibility to achieve it across your organization. Here are the practices:
Ask customers and prospects about their growth goals.
Look at and evaluate customer patterns.
Objections hold clues about a customer and prospect needs and wants.
Every person integrating these three practices into their conversations with each other, vendors, customers — everyone their role touches — results in the beginning of a more insightful conversation. The information gathered in such deliberate discussions provides insight and offers clues about what customers and prospects are thinking about concerning their own strategy and goals (provided we choose to use the knowledge or not). Below we’ll go in-depth into each practice.
Confidence in quick decisions — that also move the needle toward growth — occurs when we are looking at our company’s data collected over time. The documentation of key data points using levers that one can shift to see growth impact add dimensionality to the impressions and feelings that come from high-value actions. Incorporating the three leadership brains that Grant Soosalu and Marvin Oka describe supports increasing individual dimensionally that impacts the quality and variety of information within your company. It’s how we share knowledge that stems from feeling, impression and actual outcomes.
Ask Your Customers and Prospects About Their Growth Goals
Asking questions is the easiest way to get information. Does asking your customers seem intrusive? Inquiries take everybody’s time, a precious resource. Yet, if you wanted to know about consumers’ growth strategy, they might want to respond with personal contact, not through digital communications. To the concern of time, I’ll ask this question: how can you help your customers achieve their growth strategy if you don’t know what their goals are?
Behaviors, demographics, and sociographics only get your company so far today. In addition, with trends changing what’s essential in compelling customers to be loyal to a product has changed away from price and features, and towards the experience they receive. Without taking time to ask questions, the well-roundedness of data used to make decisions is limited. It lacks actual feedback from customers, prospects, and vendors working with your company to impact growth at their own.
Priceless input: It seems intuitive that you could pick up intel about their needs and potential for shifts there, if you knew how they’ll achieve their growth strategy.
Just like you, the people and companies you work with have their own growth goals.
Understanding what is driving them right now: how interacting with your product helps them at this very moment and how interacting with your product affects their future success. By asking, customers and prospects will tip you off to their industry and market challenges.
No doubt, customer analytics are increasingly providing the insights we need. The McKinsey Global Institute shared that data-driven organizations are 23 times more likely to acquire customers and that those companies are 19 times as likely to be profitable as a result. The Institute also says that “The findings showed that winners take a truly integrative approach, seeing analytics as a strategic rather than purely IT issue.”
Do you know what jobs or functions your customers are desperately trying to accomplish? If you show interest in helping them accomplish what they need to, you are more likely to know how they will strategize their growth.
Personal connections matter more, providing insights, stories, shared vision and values that will deepen your ability to anticipate and respond to needs. Start the conversation with customers — and with colleagues inside your organization — to document key points about what your customers are facing. Track your success rates analyzing, asking, responding to changes within your customers’ need for your product.
Look at and Evaluate Customer Patterns
You probably have tons of data about customer service response times, service satisfaction, returns, poor reviews, and great ones. You pull out data regularly, but it is another matter altogether to pull knowledge out of people’s heads that happen from an intentional conversation.
Creating a method to collect information and record the data in a way that will be useful and accessible later requires discipline. Whether through a text program, an excel spreadsheet, a CRM using tags and preset keywords … all sources can document an individuals knowledge. Information collection should occur through user-friendly categorization. Do this part well, and there will be no excuses for pulling out insight and cultivating opportunities.
Actively talking (and documenting) as a team about impressions of conversations with customers, vendors, and companies you work with models the importance of understanding more than what closed the sale.
Can you and your team identify the considerations customers used to make their decision? If you can, you are able to anticipate what to expect from them. In the book, Blue Ocean Strategy, the guidance is to push through what is standard or routine to find possibilities and new market boundaries. In relationship to what’s being shared here, using the knowledge you gain from documented conversations can illuminate your path over time: more in-tune to what your customers want, not just what competitors say they are offering.
The real trick isn’t a trick at all. It’s taking the time (a valuable commodity) to sift data from conversations with people that hold clues about where customers and prospects are ineffective; what they are thinking about and where they are; and where they are PROUD of their achievements. Growth strategy plans that rely only on the past data points may reveal actions in and process improvements, but they rarely account for changing expectations and needs of customers. Where else can you learn about your customers’ plans and hopes for their future?
Sales Objections Hold Clues to Customer and Prospect Needs, Wants and Deal-Breakers
Big time training investments are dedicated to overcoming objections in sales presentations. Our negative psychological response to rejection created an entire subsection of sales training: overcome objections by saying them first! Taking the training we’ve received further — to listen for what the objections really are — we become capable to interact at a whole new level. Specifically, recognizing our personal issues with complaints and letting our ability to listen lead the conversation.
Capacity to respond to demands, objections and service issues is a necessary skill, and the ability to uncover additional information to understand where the objections are coming from provides clues for building customer loyalty (and the level of internal performance). The willingness to listen will create a highway of information about many topics, including what consumers say about your competition and their other partners, and share about similar services (other smart companies looking for new blue oceans). Are you listening to the clues about customer and prospects changing needs for use in your growth strategy?
Finding objection patterns and assessing the sub-context of the objection uncovers opportunities for growth.
Document the exact objection you hear. The more frequently it’s expressed = the more urgently you need to dig into it.
As technology continues to become more and more a part of daily life and work, your company must be able to compete on a technological level to deliver an experience that supports your customers’ workflows and life flows. Gartner predicts in the next 12-18 months that 50% of companies are going to redirect their spending to improving customer experience. This approach is a necessary move to stay in business.
Today every business is a technology business. Use what your customers and prospects tell you, overlaid with the actions they take, to prioritize initiatives around updating how your company interacts with them and how to develop your product.
Creative Thinking and Anticipating Change
In a world where we’re flying by the seat of our pants and making quick decisions, creativity tends to take a back seat. With technology changing faster than businesses’ ability to fully implement and use it well … means that our resourcefulness as leaders includes creative thinking. The more creative we are able to think about (assess and evaluate) data we document and collect, the more impact the practices from the CeX Growth Formula™ will have.
Consider anticipating change the sweet spot between where soft skills and business skills meet.
Our ability to listen, to think, and to respond with a high awareness of ourselves and others is a soft skill. The ability to gather and sift through information and assess where the company is at using financial reports are necessary business skills. A developed set of soft skills will only get you so far. An established set of business skills also has limits. It is the development of both — in parallel — that provides a modern approach to achieving growth strategy that also incorporates creativity (and even some fun).
Anticipating customer change means more than just addressing what customers and prospects say they need. It’s about listening to what’s not being said, what’s being dreamed of, and the pressures being faced.
To build this “anticipating changing customer expectations muscle,” incorporate the practices outlined above, combine them with creative thinking, and change the game:
- Ask the right questions. Create a list of three questions to work into every customer conversation. Work in at least two of them. The third question can be the third one on your list, OR it can be something you think of based on the dialog. Record the answers into a customer relationship manager (CRM) that is searchable.
- Use awareness indicators. They include silences, non-verbal communication, an active or passive language used, etc. There will be times that specific information is left out — intentionally — that either can’t or won’t be shared. When the latter, continue to have conversations that build trust by helping them feel less pressure in their role.
- Take a recess. Carve out time in your weekly schedule to do something different at work — within your responsibilities. Be accountable to yourself and let the routine have a rest to see what happens. Recess is where important insights come through. Just like wildflowers in the cracks of sidewalks.
- Find context in multiple responses to questions. Go and pick out four responses to the questions you ask everyone in the conversation. Identify what they have in common and what they say that seems different, yet has a common root.
- Apply filters to align ideas to growth goals. Apply your vision, mission, and values to remove ideas that don’t align. Apply the short-term and long-term strategy to discard ideas that don’t align. Dig in and explore possible ideas that are left based on time, energy and resources available.
While these creative thinking starters aren’t a meditation or a craft project, they do increase the capacity to produce. Producing requires creativity. Creativity includes being able to see, hear, and find nuggets within the collected information that indicate change is happening.
Knowing customer expectations will change, creative thinking opens what to discuss when evaluating growth strategy plans.
It’s Up to You to Use the CeX Growth Formula™.
As soon as you apply a label to a customer, a client, a vendor … your growth is at risk. The potential for group-think increases, the need to look for assumptions increase, and the desire to maximize time creates potentially negative results. The three practices outlined in this article allow the creation of buckets for information. Buckets can change how much they hold, when they hold, and what they hold. Information buckets provide insight into what makes sense to the problems you are working on daily. Labels stick and organize. This tool adds dimensionality as important conversations and interactions shift the way to interact with customers and prospects.
You can be the best communicator, yet without business skills of analyzing, prioritizing, and understand the risk associated with decisions, growth potential is limited. You can have the best theory and understanding of business, but without emotional intelligence and the willingness to ask questions and listen to the answers … growth potential is limited. The CeX Growth Formula™ develops both emotional intelligence and business acumen.
If anticipating changing customer expectations is a priority for your company, the CeX Growth Formula™ can overlay existing process to shape how your team works together and incorporates growth goals with mission and values. It can also just be an overlay to add dimensionality to your existing operational processes, to focus daily actions and desired behaviors toward your growth strategy.
Orient your actions and your energy to collect information to anticipate changing customer expectations.