Watch for This 1 Word on Customer Needs

Use this simple technique to uncover customer needs, drive innovation in customer experience and keep your business ahead of the curve.

Some of the most brilliant insights about your customers’ unmet needs can be found right under your “no’s.”

That’s a key lesson to be learned from companies that excel in customer experience (CX), a hallmark of which is that they’re really good at understanding the people they serve. Not just basic demographic details and personal preferences (though they're important). These companies also possess keen insight into their customers’ needs, wants and aspirations.

That insight helps drive smart, customer-centric innovation, which enables these firms to regularly deploy small improvements in the customer experience, as well as bigger, game-changing advancements. They have a skill that is particularly valuable during disruptive periods (such as recessions and pandemics), when customer needs are quickly evolving.

Many of these growth-fueling innovations are triggered when companies uncover unmet customer needs, which is essentially the holy grail of market research. Figure out how to address a customer need that others have yet to identify, and you’ll be in a market-leading position.

Organizations collectively spend tens of billions of dollars each year on market research, much of it focused on revealing overt and latent customer needs. While such investments can be valuable, they deserve to be supplemented with other intelligence-gathering techniques, some of which are decidedly low-cost.

One such example is an approach that your organization can employ any day of the week. All it involves is listening for one simple word whenever you, or anyone on your team, is interacting with prospects and customers. That word is “no.

When someone in your organization has to utter the word “no” in response to a customer request (or uses any similar, more diplomatic term), it’s a signal that the customer might have a legitimate need that your business cannot currently satisfy.

Imagine all the questions that your sales representatives, service staff, billing specialists or any other employee fields where they have to tell the customer “no.”

Can your product do [x]? Can I fill out those forms electronically? Can I schedule an appointment online? Do you offer contactless pick-up and return? Can I switch to a different payment schedule? Can I control that device with my phone? Does it come in a smaller size? Is there a way I can track this order? Can you text me when the technician is on his way? Is there a trial so I can test out your service before buying?

At a lot of companies, customer questions that can’t be answered in the affirmative basically turn into “shoulder shrug” moments. Employees say “no” to the customer, resign themselves to being somewhat unhelpful and then move on to the next inquiry.

But imagine if employees took careful note of every time they had to say “no” to the customer, every time they had to acknowledge that they (or the product they were selling/servicing) couldn’t accommodate the customer’s need.

And then imagine that employees had a regular forum where those “stories of no” could be shared with management, where themes could be spotted, where unmet customer needs could be identified and where remedial innovation could be spurred.

See also: COVID: Agents’ Chance to Rethink Insurance

In practice, this could be as simple as a supervisor periodically asking staff at the end of the day to describe situations where they had to say “no” to a customer. Or it could be more sophisticated, with employees actually recording that information in a centralized database that management then reviews.

The point is that with every no, there’s a chance to dive a bit deeper – to not just deliver the customer experience, but to improve it. To not just help one customer, but all customers. To question the status quo, and re-imagine how the experience could be wholly redesigned, or even just tweaked, to better accommodate an apparent customer need.

Instill the discipline in your organization to take this extra step, and over time it will help reveal unmet customer needs that can drive meaningful CX improvements and innovations. All without the expense of a big market research project.

It can be quite a challenge to create and maintain a competitively differentiated customer experience. To make that endeavor a little easier, however, just remember to “follow your no’s.”

This article can originally be found here.

Jon Picoult

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Jon Picoult

Jon Picoult is the founder of Watermark Consulting, a customer experience advisory firm specializing in the financial services industry. Picoult has worked with thousands of executives, helping some of the world's foremost brands capitalize on the power of loyalty -- both in the marketplace and in the workplace.


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