Successful businesses are genuinely passionate about serving their clients’ needs. Sadly, many companies fail before they realize the importance of customer focus. By asking the right questions, you can avoid being one of those.
A couple we know is planning a wedding, which is quite an undertaking with many decisions that they have to make. One of the most critical decisions is choice of venue. Luckily they’ve found their perfect place. A piece of rural Sweden with the customary cows, hedges, and red and white cottages.
This location confidently markets itself as a “wedding location.” However, in reality, it seems the venue has only done a superficial analysis of what wedding couples really need. As a result, it does not include cleaning of the venue after the wedding.
You read that right. The newly-wed couple is expected to clean up after the party on the morning of the day after. I assume they’ll do this cheered on by wedding guests having arrived for the customary brunch and gift opening.
Perhaps you dare to imagine that the couple and their guest don’t consider this to be an exciting way to spend the first day of a hopefully til-death-do-us-part union. They’d prefer to hire help. We asked that too. No luck. It turns out the venue cannot even recommend a cleaning service.
If this sounds ridiculously unprofessional to you, you’re not alone. But it isn’t uncommon. There are many businesses that believe they’re in the business of this or that when their customers are buying something else. For those of us versed in jobs-to-be-done, customer experience and regularly practice similar thinking, this is painful to watch.
Going Beyond What You Think You Are Selling
For those of you not familiar with it, jobs-to-be-done or JTBD for short is a concept that has helped product developers and marketers look beyond products and services. JTBD is a way of thinking about products and services in terms of what jobs they perform for their users. In JTBD parlance, products are “hired” to perform specific jobs. JTBD helps you think about what you are doing for your customers. We will return to JTBD in more depth in future posts in this series.
If we apply JTBD to wedding venues, we realize that wedding venues are hired to ensure a memorable and delightful wedding experience for the couple and the guests. Places that only provide access to a building for 72 hours fail to capitalize on the value they could offer customers by performing the job they were hired to do.
In my experience, people are in fact willing to pay extra for a job done. A place showing a desire to perform a whole “job” will have higher pricing power. I’d say that customers are willing to pay disproportionately more to businesses that fulfill the job the customers expect them to do. In other words, doing more than the absolute minimum is usually worthwhile and highly profitable. Companies that do this get a reputation for excellent customer service and can often command premium prices.
Whatever You Do, Do It With Purpose
Some companies do the absolute minimum and do it successfully. I can think of German grocery chain giant Lidl. For many years, Lidl ran TV ads that showed why their stores have few shelves. Instead they put products on pallets on the floor of the stores. All to keep prices as low as possible for the consumer.
In other TV ads, they joked about keeping products outside in the winter to avoid using freezers. However, they’d chosen to “make it a bit more luxurious” by using freezers with lids that keep the cold in. Which, they argued, saves energy, keeps prices low and is better for the environment.
Unlike the wedding location, Lidl appears utterly aware of what they’re doing and what the consequences are. There are a purpose and strategy for what they do. For them, minimalism is intentional. They make a point to be “skinny” when it comes to presenting the products they sell.
A wedding venue that operated like Lidl would sell their offer with differentiators like “best location for value” or “your dream wedding at half the price.” For customers who needed more than a charming old hay barn and field of grass to put up pavilions, they’d have preferred partners they’d work with to provide a packaged deal. Such offers would present the opportunity for some very effective pricing that allowed them to take advantage of the price-sensitivity of different buyers.
Working On Rather Than Working In Your Business
I sometimes shake my head in disbelief when I see small businesses consistently make these mistakes. My opinion is that it’s due to companies seeing themselves doing their thing for themselves, not solving other people’s problems.
And that’s fine (sometimes).
Yes, you can run a business for yourself and your own need of self-realization. People start companies to feed a passion. There’s no law forcing a business to be customer-oriented or “useful” to anyone but its owners.
However, if you want your business to be something beyond yourself and your need of self-realization, you need to work on your business rather than working in the business.
This maxim is one of the key points of the modern classic, “The E-Myth [Revisited]” by Michael E. Gerber:
“Think of your business as something apart from yourself, as a world of its own, as a product of your efforts, as a machine designed to fulfill a very specific need, as a mechanism for giving you more life, as a system of interconnecting parts, as a package of cereal, as a can of beans, as something created to satisfy your consumers’ deeply held perceived needs, as a place that acts distinctly different from all other places, as a solution to somebody else’s problem.” – Michael E. Gerber
Perhaps you’re the owner of one of these companies that started as a way for you to do what you love. Now you feel you’ve hit the ceiling in growth and customer satisfaction. You want the business to be more, but you don’t know where to start. Luckily there are tools and methods you can use to take a step up and reshape your business to do the job your customers hire it to do.
This Is Just the First Step Step Towards Customer Focus
In future part of this series we will look at those tools and answer the following questions:
- How can you understand the role your business plays in the lives of your customers?
- How do you determine what the customer expects from your company and what jobs they want done?
- How do you visualize the customer experience to find unmet customer needs?
- How do you put a price on the problems you’re solving for the customer?
Until then, next time you got for a walk think about what “jobs” your clients hired your agency or company to perform. What jobs did they expect you to do? What jobs did you end up doing for them?
Updated Aug 6, 2018: The second part is now available! It introduces the BDA model and timeline for customer experience:
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What do you do in your business to better understand your customers?
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- Christensen, C. M., Anthony, S. D., Berstell, G., & Nitterhouse, D. (2007). Finding the right job for your product. MIT Sloan Management Review, 48(3), 38.
- Gerber, Michael E. The e-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do about It. Harper Business, 2014.