“But who is it for?” is a question often asked at brand and product investment meetings. It’s a question you should ask yourself at the very start of your business journey, and at every stage thereafter. How your customers perceive, experience and interact with you is a crucial part of the business journey. If any link in that chain becomes unpleasant, confusing or difficult for whatever reason, you could lose your audience – and that means losing money. Even if you genuinely couldn’t care less about how Helen from Glasgow feels about your floor plan, you should – because ignoring her complaints is a gift to your competitors.
If I had one big piece of advice for any entrepreneur or established business, it’s this: know your blind spots. Yes, I know that sounds impossible. By their very nature, you can’t always know your blind spots – but other people can see them as plain as day. That’s why you always need to be thinking about what they are.
What are you not seeing or fixing in your market? What’s annoying? What’s badly designed? What’s the wrong way round? The most valuable source you have to help you find the answers to all of these questions is customer feedback. If a product is not selling, it could be down to any number of factors. Where was the product made? A customer makes a decision based off the back of that. What is the product made of? Another sale is lost or made. Is it sustainable? Is it easy to buy? Can you use it safely? Is it enjoyable? Does it – to use a pop culture reference – inspire joy?
From the ergonomics of a paper cup to the availability of plug sockets and lipstick samples, it all starts with the customer. Put your customer first. So rather than just asking who it’s for, ask what it is they want. What is their problem? Then all you have to do is provide the solution. Everything else, even costs, follows on from that. It’s tempting to slash staffing numbers, buy the cheapest possible chairs and grab a shipping of plastic straws, but you aren’t thinking like a customer. Behind her negative review, Helen from Glasgow really just wants to be able to come into your store with a double buggy without slogging through an obstacle course to get to the till.
I recommend actually going out and seeing shops yourself, with the purpose of finding what works and what doesn’t. Go out to your competitors, buy their products, experience their store space and try out the changing rooms. See if you enjoy battling with a nylon jumper surrounded by unflattering mirrors. Work out how to get the plastic lid off the top of a cup without scalding your hands. Attempt to get a straight answer out of a bank clerk. Find a copy of Michelle Obama’s biography in a pile of unsorted books.
Quantitative studies and focus groups all have their value, but you should trust your own judgement too. What annoys you at service stations? How long would a queue have to be before you changed your mind and left? Would you choose to eat the cold, stale croissant wrapped in a napkin?
Remember, we’ve all been on the other side of that counter. Do unto customers as you would have done unto you. And never forget, a customer is for life not just the life of that order or transaction.