And of course, that is absolutely correct, when designing any new business, it’s important to understand, through research, what people want, what things cost and what you can sell things for.
But we don’t live in a static world and unless we regularly scan the market around us for changes, we can find that our businesses are left behind. If it can happen to giants such as Woolworths, Toys R Us and British Home Stores with all their resources, then it can happen just as easily to us.
This section of the website is concerned with all the elements that you’ll regularly need to scan to make sure your business is future proof. We have Masterclasses, Checklists and Templates to help you with this process and of course if you need any help or support, please contact us.
In simple terms market research is all about gathering information about customers’ needs and preferences so that you can ensure your product or service matches what they are looking for.
One of the best ways to conduct market research is to reach out to your ideal customer and ask them, either in person or by questionnaire. How you do this will depend on your product or service and where your customer is likely to come from. For example, if you have a restaurant, bar, or café, you could take samples of your food out onto the streets and get direct feedback from your potential customers. If you have a hotel and your customer is likely to be located farther afield, you may need to consider creating promotional materials and either using on-line polls or questionnaires.
Alternatively, you may find that detailed studies have already been undertaken by reputable organisations. A lot of the government agencies such as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Visit England regularly conduct research on trends that might be useful. Whilst these are often free to use, they are unlikely to be targeted specifically for your ideal customer. Research agencies can often be helpful here, but will usually charge you to access their data, and because you won’t have access to the original data, just the report, you are limited to the conclusions the research agency has drawn.
But whichever route you decide to take, firstly you will need to understand who that ideal customer is. Within this section, we’ve included Masterclass videos, a fact sheet and a worksheet that will help you both define your ideal customer and discover how your product or service can best deliver their wants and needs.
This is a bit of a loaded question really, especially if you have tailored your product or service to a specific customer type – which is what we recommend you do. If you have, then hopefully you will attract exactly the type of customer you are targeting, but you may also repel those at the opposite end of the scale. Whilst most of us would hate the thought that our business is repellent – it’s not an issue if you are serving and attracting plenty of the customers you want.
Think about Marmite – a very successful brand that plays on the fact that people either love it or hate it. Before you can get to the marmite position though, you will need to understand what it is that your customer’s love about you and then make sure your internal operations are geared to deliver this.
Most people think about marketing when they think of attracting customers but given that one of the best forms of marketing is word of mouth (which comes from a customer’s experience with you), and one of the cheapest forms of customer acquisition is repeat business, it is your repeated actions that will help you become a customer magnet.
Understanding your customers
If you haven’t already created your customer avatar, then do check out our guides within this section of the website. If you have then you are already halfway there. You know who your ideal guest is and what they love to do. But do you know what it is they specifically like about your offer and what would make them return? If you’ve ever watched the TV programme ‘Four in a Bed’, you will know that guests rotate between each other’s B&B and at the end of their stay are asked to rate specific elements of their stay. Granted, the feedback isn’t always positively received, but feedback is the best way for you to understand what your guests value so that you can make sure your entire service is geared towards this.
The questions you will ideally be asking your customers are: -
- What is the purpose of their visit? (Are you attracting mostly people visiting friends and family, are they working in the area or is it a holiday?)
- Who are they travelling with? (Alone, with friends, or family?)
How do they rate
- The booking process?
- The food (if you serve food)?
- Their overall ‘experience’ with you?
- What would make their scores a 5 out of 5?
- If they could pick one thing, what specifically would they recommend you for?
- What would influence them to book with you again?
You may think you know this through your conversations with guests but in a busy season, it’s hard to keep an accurate track on percentages. Keeping written records will help you make decisions based on hard data rather than anecdotal evidence. And what you are trying to find out is not just which of the elements live up to your customer’s expectations, but how they feel when they think about their experience with you.
Identifying your Strengths and Weaknesses
Going back to the marmite scenario, you can’t please all the people all the time, but the trick is identifying which of the people you want to please most of the time.
As you collect the feedback cards in and before you file them away, make a note about your experience with the customer. Were they high value, easy to serve? Are they part of the reason you love to do your job? Or was it the customer from hell? When you come to review your feedback, this will make it easier to focus on the comments and feedback from those you want to attract.
You’ll then want to address the comments your ideal customers have made. What are your strengths and how can you capitalise on these? Which areas do you need to review and address so that you’re ticking their boxes around specific elements of service?
We’ve included a template in this section of the website, called Strengths and Weakness Template. This is to help you bring everything together in one place. It’s helpful to do this, because quite often one source can cause several problems and what you want to be able to do is rectify the problem at source. Sometimes this will come down to processes, but often it will come down to people – either a lack of people, under-trained people or sometimes the wrong people.
The reason we previously suggested that you separate out cards from those that wouldn’t be your ideal customer based on your feedback at the end of their stay is so that you will be more objective about the comments on the cards you do review. It’s hard to disagree with any comment when you have already agreed that this is a customer you value and want to come back and so you are more likely to act.
The question isn’t just how can you rectify your weaknesses, but how can you exploit your strengths? For example, if you have a member of staff that everyone comments on for their exceptional customer service, can they share/shadow/train your other team members so that this becomes the norm across your team? Or if you have consistent comments about the comfort of your beds, can you focus on this in your marketing? Premier Inn and their super comfortable mattresses are a prime example of exploiting a strength to help increase sales and, they no doubt gain a commission from every bed or mattress sold.
What makes or breaks a customer’s experience
But it isn’t just about ‘fixing’ the individual elements that will bring customers flocking to you. American poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, once famously said “people will forget the things you do, and people will forget the things you say, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Once you have the hard and fast data from your feedback cards in front of you, and you have ‘fixed’ any problems, can you then put yourself in your customer’s shoes at every touchpoint of their experience with you? From booking right through to check out and departure – or even post departure if they have reason to contact you once they have left.
How easy is every element of the service? How valued do they feel? Assuming everything won’t be perfect 100% of the time, how can you make sure that any future issues are handled swiftly, satisfactorily and with your guest feeling good about the experience? For example, a complimentary bottle of wine for a table that has had a problem with a restaurant’s service goes a long way to turning a bad experience into a rewarding one – subject to the service element being rectified swiftly of course.
The long and the short of it is that attracting customers is more than just marketing. It’s about understanding what experiences they value and then making the necessary operational changes to make sure you can not only deliver on these consistently but also build on them to encourage repeat visits.