The following excerpt, from the article 5 Ways to Know What Your Customers Want Before They Do, was written by Paul J. H. Schoemaker, founder and chairman at Decision Strategies International, and published on Inc.com. We've selected some of Schoemaker's points that we find most applicable to the college store industry and added our own spin on how you can translate his advice into action on your campus. View his full article for even more insight on understanding your customer.
To get close to your client, you really need to get inside his or her head. Here are five ways to do that:
Stand in your customer’s shoes.
Look beyond your core business and understand your customer’s full range of choices, as well as his or her ecosystem of suppliers, partners etc.--of which you may be part. This exercise will also deepen your understanding of competitors and help you better anticipate their moves.
College Stores Could Try: Shop around at other local competitors or visit online retail websites to see what students experience when they visit. Use that insight to improve your own process.
Staple yourself to a customer’s order.
Track key customers’ experiences as they traverse your company’s pathways and note where the experience breaks down. Some hospitals ask interns to experience the check-in process as fake patients. One client asked managers to listen in on its call center. If you can’t exactly put yourself through a customer experience, try role-playing exercises at all points of the customer’s experience with your company.
College Stores Could Try: Have a student employee shop your store as if they were strictly a customer and rate each step of their experience. Or, hire a student for a day to do the same, without any other employees knowing, for even more honest input.
Field diverse customer teams.
One bank added members of the back-office support group to its customer team, supplementing the usual customer-facing roles. IBM sends senior teams from different disciplines into the field to meet customers and develop a deep understanding of how to serve them better.
College Stores Could Try: Create a committee for store improvement, complete with members of your target audience - students! Discuss what areas your store is lacking in, what new promotions or strategies they'd like to see in place, and how you can ultimately attract continued business.
Learn together with customers.
GE invited its top customers in China, along with local executives and account managers, to a seminar on leadership and innovation. Doing so not only helped GE executives better understand the mindset of Chinese counterparts; it also helped them to influence that mindset.
College Stores Could Try: Talk with your school's Business or Marketing department and see if you or members of yoru staff could sit in on a class or two. This will allow you to soak up the knowledge that your target audience, who are likely headed into a field similar to retail are learning, and potentially even gain their ideas on how store's can improve service to their peers.
Lean forward and anticipate.
Focus on what customers will want tomorrow, as Steve Jobs and Richard Branson did so exquisitely. Try to envision different futures and then explore how underlying market shifts may affect your customers.
College Stores Could Try: Read and research upcoming retail trends on Foreword Online and other similar industry resources to stay ahead of the curve.