Knowing Your Customer’s Need

 

I found Dallas Morning News columnist Scott Burns’ recent article “Corporate America Needs More Daring Leaders” intriguing and enlightening. It now only pointed the reader to be a daring leader, but it also spurred my thinking in the direction of discovering customer need.

In the article Burns points to over 4,000 responses he received from an earlier article about Home Depot.

“Read through those messages and you’ll find two things. First, you’ll find an outpouring of testimony. It tells how thoroughly Home Depot management policies burned their customer franchise rather than building it, but the messages also come from present and former Home Depot employees. As one put it, ‘If you think being a customer at Home Depot stinks, try being an employee.’”

The problem is that Home Depot has severely cut staffing at its locations. Customers and employees are frustrated. What interests me is this: Home Depot was a darling of retail. Big stores, lots of inventory, and tremendous selection. Many of us thought, “wow, what an incredible retailer!” This strategy is going to work. And, it did, until Home Depot began cutting payroll. When this happened, something stopped – and it was service (and along with it, profits and share value).

Many retail pundits assumed wrongly that Home Depot’s attraction was selection. But we failed to see that service beat out selection in the mind of the customer. Frankly, Home Depot could have cut back on selection in order to keep people on the payroll and meet the customer’s real need.

I’m such a klutz when it comes to home repair that when I go to Home Depot the overwhelming selection confuses me. I don’t need to see 40 types of hooks to hang pictures on the wall, I just need the one I need – and I need someone to show me which one I need. Once you take away that person in the jacket roaming the aisles helping people, Home Depot loses its luster for me (and apparently many others like me.

So while Home Depot did so many things right, they may have overlooked the customer’s real need. They failed to recognize what these 4,000 messages point out – how a retailer can lose their market when they fail to fully understand why people shop at their store.

Here are some thoughts:

Ask. It never hurts to continually ask (because customers are a fickle lot) people what they think about your store.

Seek counsel. Have your trusted advisors tour your store and help you see what you’ve missed. Oftentimes when you are in a store daily you miss some obvious things. Pick a few people whom you trust to tell you the truth and have them regularly “shop” your store.

Be visible. It never hurts for an owner or manager to work the floor. Wal-Mart stresses the importance of their corporate Buyers working the floor and you should to. Developing customer relationships and intelligence doesn’t happen in an office. It happens on the floor. Get out there and meet customers (and nothing helps a customer more than meeting the owner or manager personally).

Understanding the customer’s real need will lead you to develop the kind of store they want. Doing that will give them reason to come back and become loyal, customer evangelists who tell their friends to shop in your store.

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Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

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