According to a report from Forrester, 93 percent of businesses agree that consumers are more likely to spend money with brands they feel connected to. Having a deep understanding of one's customers is essential to building this connection.
But many companies have been missing out on the benefits of connecting with customers. The same report from Forrester found that 56 percent of brands say their strategy is informed almost entirely by big data. Another study revealed that 53 percent of businesses don't have time to gather customer feedback before their deliverables go live.
This over-reliance on big data, while ignoring human insights, leads to products and services that miss the mark and hurt brand reputation and loyalty.
So, why are companies falling short when it comes to understanding their customers?
Until recently, most marketers relied on old-school methods like surveys and questionnaires to collect feedback. Although these can offer some insight, it's mostly surface level. The same goes for big data benchmarks like webpage clicks or the number of products sold. This data can shed light on things like demand, but the nuances of why a product was (or wasn't) successful is the critical information companies must be paying attention to.
Additionally, many businesses have come to rely on gut instinct and past experiences to guide their strategy. They've seen what has worked in the past and assume it will work again. This “been there, done that” attitude fails to address consumers' constantly evolving needs.
The importance of customer understanding and empathy has come to a head in light of the pandemic. The world has changed drastically in a short amount of time, and having a deep understanding of customers, their feelings, attitudes, and emotions, is no longer an option but an absolute necessity.
Getting the full picture
Customer expectations are also at an all-time high. To avoid bringing products to market that don't fully meet their needs or—worse—lead to losing customers, businesses need to get the full picture.
This includes understanding why customers do what they do, their circumstances and background, what they're looking for in a product or service, and the role emotions play in making purchasing decisions.
The emotional connections brands have with their customers can be powerful. According to a Deloitte Digital report, 60 percent of loyal consumers use the same type of emotional language they'd use for family, friends and pets when speaking of their favorite brands—words like love, happy and adore.
Emotions are the force and function behind consumerism and a key way customers connect with brands. Marketers need to make customers feel confident about their purchasing decisions, alleviate any concerns and provide the most positive experience possible.
How to make it happen
It's time for companies to start bringing the real voice of their customers into the decision-making process. But how can they go about it?
It sounds simple, but there's truly no replacement for talking directly with customers. The insight gleaned from conversing and listening first-hand is invaluable and can’t be replicated by any survey.
Some companies take this a step further by requiring “empathy hours” in which employees are responsible for innovating, designing, building, and launching products spend a set amount of hours talking to customers per week. It doesn't have to be hard or complicated—it can be as easy as setting aside time to hop on Zoom a few times each week.
However businesses collect feedback, it's essential that customer empathy be a core value of the company and leaders stress its importance from the top down.
Additionally, marketers, developers and others involved in launching products should have ongoing education on the importance of connecting with customers and ways to do it.
In a world that is increasingly data-driven, the value of slowing down and working to understand and listen to customers cannot be overstated. Companies that make this a priority stand to build and nourish the connections with customers that every business needs for success.
Paige Musto is Vice President of Corporate Marketing at UserTesting, a human insight company.