What do these stories have in common?
- Early in the pandemic, the Stadt Hotel in Sweden converted its empty hotel rooms into private dining suites, so locals could still eat out safely with appropriate social distancing.
- Global consumer goods giant Unilever has made a commitment not to market food and beverages to children 16 and under.
- Open banking laws, which force banks to share your transaction details with others (with your permission), allow for greater innovation. The Swedish fintech startup Gokind uses this to reward customers for ethical and sustainable purchases.
- When US ceramics company East Fork Pottery announced it was raising prices so they could pay their staff more, their customers approved wholeheartedly.
The answer: These are all examples of businesses that responded to what their customers wanted.
That might sound obvious, but it should be a key driver for navigating an uncertain future.
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 your business grows, it’s easy to fall in love with your own products, services, systems, processes, and solutions. You forget about the problems you solve for your customers and clients.
You might even end up with a cure for which there’s no known disease!
When you’re caught up in your day-to-day work, constantly trying to keep on top of everything and fighting all the new challenges you face every day, it’s not easy to stop and take stock. But you must! Ask the question:
“What customer problem are we solving here?”
This is especially important now.
COVID-19 has disrupted so much of our lives, and that means businesses and customers are re-evaluating everything.
The Stadt hotel created a safe, socially-distanced eating out solution for a problem that didn’t even exist a few months earlier.
Unilever knew its customers didn’t want big companies marketing to their children.
Gokind knows customers care about the social and environmental impact of their purchases.
And East Fork Pottery knows its customers care about fair wages.
Do You Really Know Their Problems?
Do you really know what problems your customers and clients have now? Are you sure? The products and services you offer now might have solved your customer’s problems in the past, but the customer of the future might be very different. So be sure you know what they want, and then build new products and services to solve their problems.
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.