One thing I consistently hear people speak about is striving to meet the needs of the customer. The type of organization (government, non-profit, B2C, B2B) and the role they play in that organization doesn’t matter. It seems like everybody is focused on meeting the needs of the customer. But what really are the needs of the customer?
Often these conversations are couched in terms of the user experience (is the Web site usable and can the customer accomplish what they need to on it?) or sales (does the potential customer have the information they need to make a purchase decision?) or marketing (is the product or service displayed in an attractive manner?) or technology (does the shopping cart functionality accept credit cards?). But when I dig a bit more, most perceptions about the needs of the customer fall in to two general buckets – need for information and the need to be able to make a purchase. Yes, there are other perceptions, but a majority of them fall in to these two buckets. Both of these make a lot of sense from the perspective of the business, but do they make sense from the perspective of the customer – do they really meet the needs of the customer?
There is broad agreement that people have basic needs that have to be met in order to survive and thrive. What exactly those needs are remains open to debate. Whether it is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the School of Human Scale Development’s list of fundamental human needs, Stephen Covey’s four needs, or another list of human needs, there is a certainty that we all have needs that we try to fulfill. It only makes sense that a number of these needs that exist in the physical world also exist in the digital across digital relationships. The problem comes when a business doesn’t really understand the needs of the customer and strive to meet those from the perspective of the customer both in the physical and digital world.
Across the spectrum of research and studies on human needs, there seems to be four that stand out as foundational needs that are relevant to the relationships between a customer and a business. These four needs are certainty, uncertainty/variety, significance, and connection. These four terms are my interpretation of the four critical needs of a customer and not those of a specific school of thought. So, how do these four needs fit the physical/digital B2C relationship?
Certainty – Certainty is the first basic need of a customer – they need a level of certainty that they can accomplish the outcome they want or need. If that doesn’t exist, then why stick around? For example, a customer visiting a FAQ section needs a level of certainty that they can get their question answered there or they won’t stay very long. If the navigation on your web page doesn’t indicate to a high level that they will be able find what they need on it, they will go someplace else.
Whether it is a web site, a Facebook page, or a twitter stream, there need to be indications that would lead the customer to be certain that they could accomplish their goal on the site or in that channel.
Uncertainty/variety – A corresponding and even paradoxical need to the need for certainty is the need for uncertainty or variety. When customers visit your web site, or check out your Facebook page, or follow you on twitter, do they see the same thing every time or are they being fed a variety of content? If you are not serving up a variety, then why should they keep coming back?
This means not only a variety of content about your business and products, but also include other information that might be relevant or of interest to your customers. Remember the 80/20 rule? It applies here too. For example, 80% of your content on your twitter and Facebook streams should not be directly about your products and services, but should be about other interesting and related content. Meet the need of variety and there is a higher likelihood that they will continue to comeback.
Significance – The third foundational need of a human is the need for significance. People want to feel important, that they are unique, and that they are valued. At another level, feeling significant means that their life has purpose and meaning beyond everyday survival.
How does this translate into the digital world when that person is a customer? When a customer comes to your store, they want to feel like they are important to you – that they are unique and not just another transaction. Compare two experiences – walking into a large box retailer where you have been many times before but nobody knows who you and fails to take the time to make you feel important. Compare that to walking into a small boutique retailer that you have been to fewer times, but the people know your name and remember your preferences. Yes, you will still go to the big box retailer because of the much cheaper prices but the experience at the boutique is better because you are significant there.
Connection – Connection comes down to making a real personal connection between you and your customer, and between your customer and others in that customer/interest community. A lot of this has to do with feeling like they are accepted. This is the same need that drives people to do things from joining gangs to purchasing specific products so they feel like they are connected and fit in with that group.
In the digital world, are you providing an opportunity to build and feel that connection? It can be as simple providing the opportunity for people to provide feedback and reviews, thus becoming connected to the products, to a more complicated solution like a community for your customers that they can share information and experiences across groups, products, and companies. For example, membership programs with special sites for members like airline mileage programs provide a channel to connect between the company and customers and in some cases across customer.
The Bottom Line: Customers have psychological needs tied to the basic human needs that are beyond being simply purchasing a product or gathering information. What do you think? Do you understand your customer’s needs in this context and are you meeting those needs?