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Putting Yourself in Your Customers’ Shoes, Part I

Putting Yourself in Your Customers’ Shoes, Part I

Even if your distributorship has been in business for decades, it’s time to start putting your customers first and watching the profits follow. 


You think you know what your customers want. In fact, you’re pretty confident that you do know what they want and need. After all, your company has been servicing a core group of clients for years, and always seems to be able to come through with the right stuff at the right time. It also provides the support those customers need to be able to do their jobs the right way, so what more can you really be doing to understand that buyer and meet his or her needs?

The answer is simple: a lot. In today’s digital age, where competition is coming from every corner of the offline and online selling environment, distributors should be working tirelessly to get inside their customers’ heads and figure out what those buyers need before they even need it.

Are You Staying Relevant?

“Historically, companies have invested billions to personalize their customer experiences,” Accenture points out in Put Your Trust in Hyper-Relevance. The problem is that companies aren’t always on target when assuming what their buyers want. For example, did you know that 48% of consumers expect specialized treatment for being good customers (an expectation that’s now made its way into the B2B sector)? And, that 33% of customers who abandon a business relationship blame it on a lack of personalization?

“Retaining those customers with personalized experiences would generate a significant revenue boost,” Accenture points out in its report, noting that today’s companies have a tremendous opportunity to distinguish themselves with a more personal touch. Most of them are ignoring the opportunity. For example, a full 73% of CEOs acknowledge the need for products, services, and experiences that are more meaningful to their customers, but just 22% of customers say companies “tailor their experiences based on a deep understanding of their needs, preferences, and past interactions,” according to Accenture.

This leaves the door wide open for organizations that take the time to put themselves in their customers’ shoes, figure out what those buyers really want and need, and then tailor personalized experiences for those valued customers. And while many companies have to turn to using digital means of communicating and interacting with those customers, person-to-person contact still stands as one of the easiest ways to find out exactly what those clients want.

“With so many businesses focusing on the digital aspect of their marketing and customer outreach, common sense has been lots of shiny objects such as likes and click rates,” marketing and design expert Tish Gance in Lakewood, Co., points out. “What many companies forget is that there is still a person at the end of that digital device, and they need to know, like, and trust you before they will decide to do business with you.”

From there, it’s your job to figure out what that person wants, what his or her key pain points are, and how you can help to solve those issues. In many cases, getting to that information means taking a step back and mapping out the journey that the customer took to get to your company or website in the first place.

“By mapping out where your clients have been before they engage with you at any point, you can fully understand their pain points, reservations, needs, and desires so when they do have that first interaction with you,” Gance notes. “Only then will they feel like you truly understand them.”

Opening the Door to New Options

Consider this scenario:  A previous electrical distributor let a customer down. However, because that client loved the product and didn’t realize what his options were, he continued to do business with that supplier, knowing it was costing his company both time and money. “Perhaps he didn’t feel like he had any other options, or maybe that previous supplier didn’t educate him on better options,” Gance says, “or, maybe the distributor spoke to him in a language that he didn’t understand.”

Whatever the core problem, that customer now comes to your company with preconceived notions about what it’s like to do business with an electrical distributor. That means it’s your job to change those perceptions (where appropriate) and start a conversation that helps you get into your customers’ shoes and understand what they want. Incidentally, the same exercise can be used with existing buyers, most of whom probably haven’t been asked the question, “What do you need for your growing business and how can we help you achieve those goals?” in a long time.

“Once you’ve earned that customer’s trust, and they get to know you better, you’ve just conquered something that most taglines and sales pitches can’t achieve in a lifetime,” Gance says. In other words, when you take time to listen and understand your customer, you can open up a relationship that can’t be built over the Internet through an ad.

“In this digital era, many customers feel like they are just a number or one of the masses, so they crave the feeling that someone is looking out for them and their businesses,” Gance points out. “You can’t fight competition with advertising dollars and by starting a ‘who is the cheapest?’ war. But you can get ahead of your competition by putting your customer first, and watching the profits follow.”

Avoiding Blockbuster Syndrome

The best way to step into your customers’ shoes is to map out the customer journey; look for the “moments that matter” and ask every customer about their experience in that moment.

“Feedback will help you discover who loves you, who is on the fence and may churn (and why), and who doesn’t like you (and why),” says Leah Chaney VP of customer success and advocacy at AskNicely, a developer of real-time customer feedback software.

The process doesn’t end there. “Once you ask, you need to take action. That’s the key,” says Chaney. “Don’t let that information die in the boardroom. Enable all of your employees to make things right and be conscious of the customer in whatever they are doing.”

Taking these steps not only helps build customer loyalty, but it also helps electrical distributors avoid what Chaney calls the “Blockbuster syndrome”—or, what happens when a company stops listening to its customers and paying attention to key trends in their markets.

“Blockbuster thought it had everything figured out, but it forgot to listen to its customers,” Chaney says. “By the time it decided to jump into the game and do what Redbox and Netflix were doing, it was too late because the customer was already tired of paying late fees.”


In Part II of this article series we’ll give you a laundry list of steps that you can start taking today to get into your customers’ shoes, improve customer loyalty, and grow your distributorship’s bottom line.


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Bridget McCrea  is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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