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What do customers value most - Part one

19th Jan 2007
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By Jennifer Kirkby, Business Analyst & Consulting Editor

Ask a consultant how to improve your ‘customer experience’ and words of wisdom will flow. Ask them what customers want and the answer may be less forthcoming. We all talk endlessly about providing customer value, but what exactly is that? What is the requirements benchmark against which consumers measure you?

Whatever that benchmark is, it is obvious from falls in satisfaction levels worldwide and the growth in official watchdogs, that en masse we are doing a poor job of meeting it; despite the huge interest in capturing the ‘voice of the customer’. And customers are becoming annoyed at our shortcoming: their backlash is evidenced by the growth in blogs complaining about service, proliferation of anti-business films, and increasing methods to bar spam and junk mail from entering homes.

So, lets pause from the frantic ‘do it yesterday’ rush of solving our internal problems of brand alignment, channel management and sales targets and really listen to our customers; look at value from their point of view; understand what they are benchmarking us on. For, in Peter Druker’s words, “our customers are the only profit centre we have.”

The customer’s benchmark

When they make a purchase decision, consciously or subconsciously, consumers weigh up seven vital factors: this is their benchmark. It does not matter if the purchase is for personal or business use, these factors are universal. Only the price-cutting dogma of a procurement department warps the evaluation. Another facet of the benchmark is the movement of the factors from the rational – ‘does this product do what I want?’ – to the emotional – ‘does this company know me and make me feel involved?’ Whilst the rational factors have to be met, it is the emotional factors and context of execution that make the biggest difference to future purchase decisions and customer commitment. Therefore, attention to even the smallest detail of customer interaction is important.

1. Improve returns
Customers want to improve the quality of their lives and businesses; they want the best return for their investment. Organisations look to improve their income, profits and assets; individuals, their health, wealth and happiness. We, their suppliers, should tune in to customers’ real goals and dreams and help achieve them. Increasingly today, this means providing ‘feel good experiences’, ‘transform my life skills’, and ‘show I care social responsibility’, rather than just material goods. If a customer buys a kitchen the real goal may be tastier food – so offer customers cookery classes, as a US kitchen company does. An incentive of a massage at a health farm will be more welcome stress-busting experience rather than a box of ‘designer soaps’ to keep clean. In the business-to-business world, the role of a key account manager is to understand how the supplier’s products or services support the client’s targets.

The real art of helping customers achieve goals, is to demonstrate to them what you are doing, that you really do ‘know them’. Examples:-
The ‘my account’ facility of ebay and Amazon;
Retailers who offer personal shopping services for customers with records of requirements and purchases that they work on together;
Travel companies who hold ‘wish-books’ of places customers want to visit, often based on informative talks, and then help them get the best from a visit with personal destination advice;
Other ideas might include energy companies who give statements of how customers are helping protect the environment with energy conservation; lifelong learning plans from educational establishments; advanced driving or off-road driving courses from motor manufacturers.

2. Solve my problems
Consumers seek support and service. Life is rushed. There isn’t time for everything, especially mundane tasks and those that require expert skills – creating a garden, updating a computer. Customers want solutions to problems, not just products, and hate companies who waste their time (e.g. call centre queues), make things tedious (e.g. detailed small print instructions) or demand skills they don’t have (e.g. setting up broadband). Just like business, consumers want to outsource their non-core competencies, and conserve precious time for the things they want to do.

So, what problems do your customers have? How can you help solve them? Think through the ways consumers use your product and service and the difficulties they may have with it. If you sell mortgages, what will you do if your customer is made redundant for a short time? A pharmaceuticals company selling hormone replacement therapy in Africa found that their customers felt lonely and isolated, so started communities for them to discuss issues with each other. A travel company offers a pet hotel service for customers. A wonderful example of a customer solution was instigated by the lingerie company, who had a ‘blame it on us’ service, especially for male customers who had forgotten an important anniversary – as many men do. They sent out a belatedly ordered gift together with a full apology for the delay in delivery. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes, find out what is going on in their lives, talk with them.

3. Reduce complexity
Choice is one of the watch words of our age, but choice has become a double-edged sword. As supplier switching costs have declined, e.g. gas and electricity, the complexity of choosing has increased. And who is there to help? Company communications create a cacophony of noise that even sees advertisements invading public toilets: whilst facing an array of 40 styles of jeans, 24 flavours of jam and 50 models of mobile phone is just dispiriting. Consumers are desperate for trusted sources of personal advice and information to help them, and voraciously read reviews, recommendations and suggestions from experts and fellow consumers alike.

As companies, how do we reduce the mass media melee and give customers the useful knowledge they ‘Google’ each day online. One way is the current development of an EPOS barcode system that relays product details and usage information to the customer’s mobile phone. At the other extreme is a supported customer community. For example, travel company Expedia have bought online travel community Tripadvisor as a customer service. Over the years Tripadvisor has collected an enormous range of first hand customer reviews of hotels, and now has a valuable source of information

Other examples of more relevant and personal advice include regularly updated house price guides issued by banks; best pub guides in your current location downloaded to your mobile phone; and detailed menu guides in restaurants showing the ingredients of different dishes. Ultimately customers want less emasculating communication and need much more empowering information.

In part two of this feature we will look at link-up communities, creating convenience and corporate responsibility.

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Replies (5)

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By akabatep
22nd Jan 2007 13:48

Customers love the words "Yes, we can !". On top give them simplicity and confidence and you are on a winning formula.

Alp Kabatepe
Business Consultant, London

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By AnonymousUser
22nd Jan 2007 17:07

Excellent article. As a psychologist and business strategist I would like to add to Jennifer’s appeal to consider the emotional side of the customer experience.

Each customer buys with one of two distinct buying personalities. The indifferent personality seeks the best trade-off between price and convenience and when it is in play there is no inherent loyalty. The customer is seeking to complete a task in which they find not intrinsic value—the product is a “means-to-an-end.” As business strive to deal with competitors they tend to focus on courting this personality and wonder why customers churn.

The other personality comes into play when customers are emotionally and/or psychologically involved or engaged. This only occurs when the underlying reason for the product has meaning or value to them, that is, the customer. Meaning or value is in the experience that is enabled, not the product. The experience is an “end-in-itself.” Desire ensues or follows these experiences and becomes associated with the company, product or people who facilitate it. This translates to relationship VALUE which, as it accrues, shifts the focus of the relationship from “things” to “issues or experiences.” Adapting to a complex, ever-changing world is a big issue to customers.

Abundance, overwhelming choice, the uncertainty of change, growing distrust and the time stress of a 24/7, always on world define the context of customers in the industrialized world. Context is what gives situations or things meaning or value.

These contextual factors push customers towards the indifferent buying personality. This is a short-term fix for anxiety, stress, frustration and a growing feeling of alienation. In short, customers suffer a sense of loss of predictability and control over the world they inhabit. Indifference is akin to apathy. Humans do not want to be apathetic, they want to be involved, engaged, and to know they can adapt. Companies who help them in this endeavor will gain important sources of competitive differentiation—trust, commitment and an enduring relationship that is future-oriented.

The ideas are fully developed in my new book, Addicted Customers: How to Get Them Hooked on Your Company.” John I. Todor, Ph.D.,(

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By chuxie
23rd Jan 2007 05:06

Granted that it is difficult to establish in one quick guess why customers return to us. But some guesses do work: say price differntials. These play a seriuos part in every customers consideration. Another could be the 'sweetness' of the shop attendant. However, should we be keen on finding out why they keep coming back, we should perhaps start with interviews, questionnaires, etc.Generally, we should at all times aim at delighting our customers. Period.

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By crm4all
23rd Jan 2007 12:35

I agree absolutely with John Todor's views on emotional engagement. In todays 24X7 schedule, even the marginal higher payout is acceptable, if
he/she is engaged and has shop floor staff attending with warmth and concern OR has attended in the past.

The human or shall we say humane side of the Transaction is what Retains in the long run,

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By Jeremy Cox
28th Jan 2007 19:03

Sometimes we make assumptions on what constitutes a good customer experience. This is dangerous.

On the other hand asking them may not reveal the answer either - so what should we do?

Perhaps the critical key is to try to understand the customer's context. This takes a degree of care and skill in order to encourage responses and identify key drivers of customer satisfaction and need.

This take a lot more than simply throwing surveys at customers.

Firms that are beginning to succeed with this though are reaping huge rewards.

Prof Stephan Haeckell calls this the 'customer back' organisation or the 'Adaptive Enterprise' able to sense and respond to customers needs and adapt its capabilties to serve them better.

Customer satisfaction surveys are a vital tool, but they need to be constructed intelligently and encompass the entire customer experience.

Powerful analytics can then identify critical-to-quality or key drivers of satisfaction.

The results then need to be followed up rapidly.

Managing sometimes tens of thousands of customer inputs and demonstrating appropriate responsiveness can be greatly aided by what we call 'Action Management'.

This enables a firm to be responsive, rather than frozen in the headlights of customer feedback.

Of course it is never quite so simple - and requires leadership and the right culture to really make a go of it, but EFM applications (Enterprise Feedback Management) can provide part of the answer - take a look at or the Ariba and Honeywell case studies on this site to see what I mean

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