Understanding Customer Needs

Understanding Customer Needs

Assumptions can be costly, and even more so when it comes to your customers’ needs.  You may think that’s obvious, but the day-to-day grind can create a bubble we don’t even realize is there. Even when research is a part of your responsibilities, you can often get swept up in what the common opinions of the marketplace are and not recognize what your own customers are begging for. With the cost of attracting new customers 6-7 times more than retaining current ones (White House Office of Consumer Affairs), it’s imperative that your business be able to effectively understand your customers’ needs. 

Perhaps your company’s solution is to review feedback gathered through customer support calls and survey participation on your website. Customers who are less vocal than others and aren’t as forthcoming with feedback may have some of the greatest suggestions or most relevant problems to the solutions you can provide. In contrast, vocal customers who make requests, whether you’ve asked for them or not, may be distracting you with the least important problems. According to ‘Understanding Customers”, by Ruby Newell-Legner, a typical business only hears from 4% of its dissatisfied customers, which can result in a less informative and often biased opinion. 

Maybe you regularly review what your competitors are doing to make sure they aren’t getting too far competitionahead of what you have to offer. Unfortunately, your competition may not be diligent about their market research and may be making decisions that aren’t a good fit for your organization. They may be chasing an idea that would be a huge leap away from what your own value proposition is.  It’s important to keep in mind that no two businesses are identical. Identify your company’s strengths and build upon those in an effort to provide the best product/service possible to your customers. 

If the overall scope of your engagement is too limited, your organization may be solving problems that affect a minority of your clients or only represent a fraction of feedback that could be valuable to your business.  Similarly you may be getting distracted by the latest and greatest but neglecting your core customer base.

So How Can You Identify Your Customers’ Needs?

The following are just a few of the ways that Cortex collects market research.  No method in particular is better than the other, but when used together, they can be extremely effective and may provide your company some ideas on how to improve upon its products or services:

  • Pay attention to the vocal clients but validate what they’re saying against feedback from other sources. Get out and talk to your customers rather than waiting for them to say something. Once engaged, the quieter customers may reveal opportunities that are much more valuable than the surface feedback from clients doing the most ‘hand waving’.
  • Rather than addressing customer requests one by one, determine what the underlying business problems are. Chances are you can solve multiple issues at once and please more customers in the process.
  • Get together with a small group of stakeholders from your company to compare the suggestions from your various sources and look for common themes. Determine if there are some underlying opportunities that would solve multiple problems at once.
  • Keep an eye on your competition but don’t get distracted from your own strategy. Even companies competing in the same market space can have complementary agendas and perhaps your competition is doing something that opens the door for a partnership or collaboration.  But don’t be afraid to walk away if it doesn’t match your corporate strategy.
  • Seek out customer input on works in progress to find out if the solution is effective and if it solves the customer’s business problem, or if there’s additional room for improvement. Stronger solutions may result in feedback during the development process (but keep in mind that not all ideas are valuable ones).


Companies often become side tracked or focused so much on their own progress that they forgot to stop and truly determine the business problem they are trying to solve.  This is something we hear all the time and often seems so obvious in retrospect. Determining customer needs and solving the right problems requires a multi-pronged approach. Deeper insight can provide a larger spectrum of feedback for your business and ideally your organization should strive to gather information from all possible sources.