Start by talking to them!
It’s up to you to understand your customers’ evolving needs and wants, and not just make assumptions. Especially if you’re basing those on pre-Covid.
That’s the key to future-proofing business. Not just in the short-term, but long-term when any number of local and global events, plus normal evolution, will fundamentally change your customers’ world.
But there’s a caveat. Customers don’t know what they’ll want tomorrow. That’s your job! And the good news is that a deep understanding of people, and the context of your business in their life, contain the clues to future success. If you know how to look for them.
People will be honest and direct.
They can tell you what they currently think and how they feel. Their frustrations, and what irritates them about products & services they use in their everyday life.
Do they absolutely love your offering, or do they just put up with you as a ‘near enough is good enough’ solution? If you disappeared overnight, what would they use instead?
There’s the well-known Jobs To Be Done strategy, which is about finding the real needs behind the purchase.
Like when buying a drill. The fact is a customer needs to drill a ¼ inch hole. But the reason they need to, is to decorate their house with self-esteem or memories. So, you sell the ‘why’ not the ‘what’.
Customers only care about the job your product/service does for them, which is usually an intense emotional driver. Learn what it is and use your messaging to engage with them at a human level.
Don’t assume customer needs will stay the same.
As environmental or social needs change, consumer behaviour and desires also change, providing new business opportunities.
There’s no surprise that as we’ve spent more time indoors, we buy more items to make our homes more comfortable.
For example, there’s a surge in coffee machine sales – if you craved a caffeine fix on the way to work, you need an alternative.
A café owner’s first reaction will naturally be panic – because customers will now save the $5 or more daily and just make it themselves. Especially if they choose to stay working from home.
But when you look at their primal needs, like being social, you can start to think creatively about the opportunities.
Don’t think inwards and see only lost sales. Look outwards about how you might take your brand experience to them, and stay relevant in their life.
It’s not just about online and home deliveries.
That’s only the entry ticket to even be in the game. There’s no innovative point of difference when everyone’s doing it. You’re back to where you started, in the pack with the rest.
So instead of just giving them their morning coffee, make it your café at their place. Give classes on becoming a rock-star home barista, sell the beans and accessories. Form a coffee community that meets up, as an escape from the home office.
Home-cooking is also booming. You could have competitions for new coffee and pastry recipes. Serve the winners at a Saturday morning event, make them part of the regular menu, named after the winner – that will also stimulate traffic during the week.
What the home coffee machine can’t do is provide a social chat, so work with it. You have the venue, bring together people with a common interest.
Now, rather than just attracting one-off reviews about your nice coffee, you have a community. That regularly chats about you, and all the fun things you’re doing.
Social strategies are an essential part of future-proofing, for all those reasons.
A customer relationship Is not a one-night stand.
Look deeper and ask the big questions like where do I fit in someone’s life?
What sort of experience can I offer? What kind of relationship do we both want? How can I evolve to keep the relationship fresh? How do I offer something different to my competitors?
Treating customers like transactions on a spreadsheet makes you vulnerable in the new normal. Longevity comes down to connecting with your customer community, having regular conversations about their life, and making continuous improvements based on their feedback.
Remember, anyone can copy your catalogue or undercut your pricing. But what they can’t easily disrupt are customer relationships built on trust – which has to be earned and cannot be bought.
So, whatever the future holds, technology is just a tool to enhance relationships – it’s not the relationship itself. That takes work, and a splash of humanity.
Whether you survive and thrive as a business, depends on how you perform as a human.