Is Your Business Customer Focused or Trying to Be All Things to All People?

I love the single-cup beverage systems. When I want something to drink, I don’t have to boil an entire pot of water, coffee or tea. I can choose my drink of preference, pop in the single cup, push a button, and voila! My single cup of tea is ready. If I want another serving but something different to drink, I pick another pod and go for it. Now when I do want an entire pot of tea or coffee, then I can do that too. I am able to customize my use of resources and effort and the result I get based on what I need. I am the customer and I can customize my experience. The unique experience I can create using their technology of single serve brewing lets me feel like the company gets me and is customer focused — they get me.

The Product Offering Spectrum: Completely Customer to Completely Generic

On the other end of the spectrum is a customer experience where we buy what drink is available and we take it in whatever quantity the system generates. With some products and services it is about what the business wants to sell to a broadly defined “every customer.” Instead of making a cup or a pot of coffee with just the right amount of water, they attempt to “boil the ocean”[1] to deliver a product or service that will meet the customer’s need.

Of course, there experiences between these extremes of almost complete customization on demand and completely generic sales practices. What is right for each of our businesses depends upon how well we have defined and refined our target market and specified our customer. Once we have the target customer identified, then the more we understand what our customer wants and needs, and we can deliver the benefits and the experience that best suits our specific customer.

The Customer Perspective — What Is the Customer Expecting?

Not everyone will want to invest in a customized solution or systems that produce customized or tailored experiences. Some people may be completely happy to have a low-cost, limited selection of products or serviCustomer focused designces that can satisfy their needs. Others are willing to pay extra for convenience, variety, and a completely custom experience. How to configure your product offerings and services means understanding your particular target customer. What is it they expect from the shopping experience and the purchase decision? For instance, there is a huge difference between the expectations of my baby boomer clients versus my millennial clients.

Real World Example

Recently I introduced one of my baby boomer clients to a law firm made up of millennials. The law firm is fast, responsive, cost effective, and knows how to serve their start-up clients. The attorneys are quick to respond via email or by phone; they are happy to sit down with you in person also.[2] My baby boomer client was upset that instead of sending a traditional “snail mail” letter, the attorney emailed her contact information, rates, service quote, etc. with a comment to let him know if she had any questions. I was a bit surprised at her reaction, as I had emailed her my engagement letter after meeting with her. I had to understand what the real issue for her was —was it really about an email or was it something else?

Analyze Customer Feedback

After sitting down with her, she pointed out that the email he sent said that he could get started right away and could email her the drafts of the legal agreements she needed. She could review them and then they could schedule time to discuss changes. Her sticking point about working with this attorney? He would be emailing the draft documents. It took some time and probing questions to get to her issue:

  • She didn’t think the attorney was going to be willing to spend time with her in person because his default mode of communication was email. For this client, she expected the primary mode of communication to be in person.
  • She wanted a “traditional relationship” of meeting in person at the lawyer’s office to review documents.

I assured her the attorneys would be happy to meet with her in person as often as she wanted, but she would be paying them by the hour to sit with her as she reviewed the draft documents. They were trying to control costs by letting her see the drafts in advance, read them, identify her questions, and then meet with them. Her method of service would likely double (if not triple) the cost of each agreement, document, etc.

The Customer Decides

Ultimately that was her preference and she decided to go with a more traditional law firm. Her cost differential between the two firms? The millennial firm would charge her about $3000 for all her legal documents and changes to them. Going with a traditional law would cost her in the range of $5000 – $10000. Her choice of service style is the custom.  Despite budget constraints, the aspect of her purchasing decision, regardless of the impact to her bottom line and the potential viability of her startup, is to go for more face-to-face customer focused service. The quality and content of the documents she will receive won’t be significantly different, but her experience will be. She is willing to spend money to have what she perceives as customized service. From her current perspective it is worth the money.

Demographics and Service Design Matter

From my millennial law firm colleagues’ perspective, the fact that my client won’t be their client right now is fine. They target clients who are willing to leverage technology, who value quick turnaround times and value-priced services. Their clients want to invest their time and money in what will produce the biggest bang for the buck. They don’t need face-to-face meetings every time; they just want high quality, responsive legal representation. They aren’t boiling the ocean with a generic one size-fits most option, and they aren’t providing “one cup at a time, hand-crafted, double half-caff mocha latte no whip soymilk agave sweetened … beverages either (completely custom).

Are You Customer Focused or Going After the World?

So what does your target customer expect? One-on-one, customized, one of kind products and services or are they looking for low cost, standard solutions? Are they willing to use a system that allows them to customize their experience or are they just going to go to the vending machine and see what limited options are available? I am tempted to say at this point there are no wrong answers, but I can’t quite go that far. The customer preferences are just that: preferences. Those aren’t right or wrong; however, customer preferences may not match up to the customer’s budgets, ability to pay, and financial realities. So while a customer may want the completely custom experience, they may only be able to afford the generic commodity product or service.

What Can the Customer Afford

This points out another critical element that you as a business owner must understand. When you identify your target customer make sure you determine if they can afford and are willing to pay a price for your product/service/technology that will enable you to generate a profit and grow. It is one of the worst mistakes a business owner can make to target an opportunity and identify an underserved niche to find that they are underserved because they aren’t able or willing to spend the money to get the solution they want. So before you make that next custom beverage or start boiling the ocean, figure out how your customer wants to be served.


Copyright ©2016 Lea A. Strickland, MBA MA CMA CFM CBM

[1] “To undertake an impossible task or project, a.k.a. ‘going overboard.’”

[2] Now I should admit I am a baby boomer myself by age, but I lean more toward the millennial mindset in the use of technology, having a “gig” mentality (instead of long-term work for a single employer job all my life I work on projects and as a consultant), and so on.

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