In last week’s article I talked about the 3 stages of delivering great customer experiences – (1) understand your customers (2) design outside-in and (3) measure their experience. I was pleased to see that the article inspired a lot of shares and likes on LinkedIn. So I’m going to explore each of these areas in more detail, starting with customer understanding.

Developing a strong understanding of target customers is about much more than data analysis. It’s about combining science, art and fishing! The fishing relates to the ability to catch and process a wide range of customer conversations that are taking place on social media and review sites as well as within your own customer correspondence and surveys. The science relates to being able to quickly analyse the unstructured feedback and turn it into actionable insights. Finally, the art of customer understanding is about empathy. An empathy that comes from getting out to see the world through your customers’ eyes.

The Morrisons approach to customer understanding

A great example of this outside-in approach in action comes from the supermarket chain Morrisons. In an interview with Marketing Week, Morrisons’ group marketing and customer director Andy Atkinson described their approach this way.

“We now listen to 5,000 customers a week and they give us feedback on absolutely everything. Once a month I now go shopping with a customer. I spend two hours just walking around one of our stores and living their shopping trip at Morrisons.”

Atkinson also shares an example of how product design has been driven by this customer understanding. The decision to scrap the price matching element of their loyalty card was a direct result of their customer understanding process. Atkinson explained “the reason why I made the decision to change the card was customers had no idea how the thing even worked. We would explain it in the simplest terms and it was still too confusing.”

3 opportunities for sports organisations to boost customer understanding

This approach highlights three interesting opportunities for you to boost your customer understanding without having to spend a lot of money:

Get feedback on absolutely everything

Ask more and listen better. Customer-centric organisations make feedback a constant source of insight. They go well beyond annual surveys or waiting for customer complaints. Feedback, good and bad, is something they encourage and embrace. As a result, they make it very easy for customers to provide feedback about anything.

Simple examples here include having a permanent customer feedback form on your website, or at least a dedicated feedback email address that is regularly monitored. Also encourage customers to use consistent hashtags that organise social media conversations in the same place.

Spend time with customers

At one stage, you were probably the target market for the events or programmes you are now delivering. This creates both advantages and disadvantages. A leisure centre manager will walk into a facility on their first day with fresh eyes and a new perspective. But after 6 months their fresh eyes will inevitably be replaced by the fog of familiarity and a focus on compliance. Their perspective is now that of a regular, not first time, visitor.

A way to mitigate this risk is to experience the process through the eyes of new customers. Your data analysis should be able to isolate and follow the feedback of new customers as they experience various first impressions. This analysis can be supported by ‘going shopping’ with your target customer, walking side-by-side with new customers and listening to their perceptions. This understanding will provide a fresh perspective on how the customer journey may need to be re-designed to deliver on brand promises.

Don’t blame the customers if they don’t understand

Given the legacy and heritage of some sports and formats, it can be tempting to assume that ‘customers need to learn how to do things our way, because we’ve always done it this way’. But customer-centricity requires a different mind-set, one that maintains an outside-in perspective. If customers don’t understand formats or communications then they become easier for current and potential customers to engage with. If it’s too hard to understand, many first-time customers may never come back.

To understand your customers better: listen, analyse, see

Improving your customer understanding doesn’t have to involve commissioning expensive reports. Rather than delegating research work to people who are further away from your customers, embrace customer understanding as a core part of every staff member’s role. To do this, focus on doing three things well:

Listen – your customers are discussing their experiences with your products and services, but not always directly with you. To stay up to date with their experiences, you need to listen to the conversations they are already having – on Twitter, Facebook, review sites or online communities. To make this a bit easier to manage, encourage them to use a consistent hashtag or review site.

Analyse – keeping up with customer feedback can often feel like “drinking from a firehose”. For busy staff this often means ignoring the feedback that can’t be easily translated into tangible actions. To avoid wasting these rich sources of insight, your analysis needs to summarise the feedback into useful buckets. These buckets include customer relationships (e.g. new or regular customers), stages of the customer journey (e.g. sign-up or pre-event communications) and activities (e.g. swimming or weight training).

See – regularly look at your event/programme/facility through the eyes of new customers, the people who represent your biggest areas of growth. What do they see when they look at your website, or arrive for the first time? Where do they go first and does any aspect of the experience confuse or frustrate them?