What Customers Want Right Now

A few years ago, I took this photo in the Qantas terminal at Sydney domestic airport, showing big advertising banners for GoToMeeting:

At the time, I thought, “Wow! That’s interesting – Qantas is happy to accept advertising from a competitor!”

Of course, Qantas didn’t see it that way. They saw their competitors as other airlines – and of course, they would never allow Virgin to advertise in a Qantas terminal. But a huge part of an airline’s income comes from connecting businesspeople who live a long way apart. And that’s exactly what GoToMeeting (and Zoom, and WebEx, and Teams) does as well.

When I shared this idea with clients and audiences, they generally thought it was interesting but not particularly important. After all, what could possibly disrupt the airline industry so much that we would all be using online meetings instead of flying???

Get back to solving customer problems!

The challenge for many businesses is they get too far removed from their customers and their customers’ problems. You might start with a strong customer focus and be really clear about how you solve their problems. But over time, as the business grows and needs to support itself, that obsession fades, as other “essential” work takes its place. In fact, you often spend more and more time solving other people’s problems: the local council, the ATO, other government agencies, staff members, suppliers, shareholders, media, and community groups.

This is especially important now. COVID-19 has disrupted so much of our lives, and that means businesses and customers are re-evaluating everything.

Customers are changing in many ways – for example, online ordering, reducing expenses, supporting local businesses, working from home, using online services (such as telehealth), and so on.

Businesses are also changing the way they operate – for example, staff working from home, omnichannel sales, online marketing, some struggling through lockdown, others busier than ever, and so on.

Nobody knows exactly how this will play out in the future, but one thing you can do is get back to solving customer problems.

What does this mean in practice?

There’s a hint in the phrase “solving customer problems”, which has three parts: customers, problems, and solutions:

Focus on each of these three things in turn to create new potential opportunities.

First, consider the customers and market you serve, and be honest about how well you solve their problems:

  • What problem do you think you’re solving for them? How do you know?
  • Are you sure you’re really solving that problem?
  • What other problems do they have? Can you solve any of them? Or can you partner with somebody else who can?

Then consider the problems you know how to solve and look for new markets and customers:

  • Who else needs/wants this solution?
  • Can you reach some of these people easily?
  • Who else has access to these people already? How can you partner with them?

Finally, consider the assets and resources you use to create solutions (products):

  • What other problems could we solve with these resources (materials, people, processes, infrastructure, partnerships)?
  • What other customers and markets could we help?
  • Who has access to these people already? How can you partner with them?

Do this exercise fast, and do it now!

When I facilitate this exercise with business owners and leadership teams, we might spend a few hours on it. But that’s because we take it all the way from identifying new opportunities, prioritising them, planning prototypes, and so on. But you don’t need to do this entire process. Start by just identifying a few new opportunities, and that will give you a flying start.

Again, I’ll make the point that this is more important now than ever! Even if your business hasn’t suffered a major impact from the pandemic, your customers have changed. And if you have had a big impact, this is one of the quickest ways to find new opportunities.


What Next?

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