It’s a question business owners should be asking themselves on a regular basis. And yet, in today’s digital age, it’s all too easy to think that we know our customers simply because we have access to mountains of data about them. But as Jason Fried, founder of software company 37signals, pointed out in a 2013 article, true customer understanding goes far beyond data points and analytics.
Like the difference between seeing a picture of someone and meeting them in person, there’s a world of difference between knowing your customers as data points and truly understanding them as people. As Fried wrote, “In today’s hundred-data-points-on-your-customer world of online business, Bill [the owner of a local grocery store] has one data point that really matters: He can recognize a customer if he sees her walking down the street. Can you say that about your company? I know I can’t.”
It is surprising that 10 years later it is still not clear to entrepreneurs and companies that the focus should be on putting people first, not just saying it, but actually having the empathy to understand that your solution is part of the problem, as Professor Steve Blank would say: “Your product is not someone’s problem”.
Why is it important to know your customers? Isn’t it enough to have access to their data? The truth is that customers are in a state of constant change and evolution; their needs and desires are always in flux. And we risk creating products and services that no longer meet their needs if we don’t take the time to really understand them.
Imagine building a ship without ever talking to the sailors who will use it, or creating a recipe without ever tasting the food. It’s a recipe for disaster. Just as a chef must taste food to know if it’s seasoned properly, entrepreneurs must truly know their customers to create products that truly meet their needs.
So how do we get to know our customers better? Fried suggests starting with the basics: “Go meet your local grocer, dry cleaner, and shop owner. Really talk to them. And let them inspire you.”
Don’t just rely on data, but also on the human element. Talk to your customers, hear their stories, understand their pain points, and use that information to create products that truly serve them.
As a business owner, the question you should be asking is not “Do I know my customers?” but “How well do I know my customers? And what am I doing about it?” After all, it’s not just about having access to data, it’s about truly understanding the people who use and benefit from your products and services.
Another powerful way to truly understand your customers is through an understanding of their “jobs to be done,” as defined by Clayton M. Christensen in his theory of the same name. This theory transforms our understanding of customer choice by focusing on the underlying motivations and needs that drive customers to use a product or service.
In essence, the “jobs to be done” theory posits that customers don’t just buy products and services, they hire them to do a specific job in their lives. Understanding that job is the key to understanding your customers.
By understanding this, you can gain a deeper understanding of the underlying motivations and needs that drive them to use your products. This understanding can help you create better products and services that truly meet their needs, rather than guessing what they might want based on data points.
A true understanding of your customers is not just about data and analytics. It requires you to talk to them, to hear their stories, to understand their pain points, and to understand the “jobs that need to be done” that your product or service helps them do. By doing so, you can create products that truly serve your customers, rather than guessing at what they might want.
Don’t let your business become a “ship without sailors” or a “recipe without taste testers”, take the time to really know your customers, and in turn, create products that truly serve them.