Researching and understanding your customers’ needs

“But business is simple dad? All you need to do is to understand who your customer is, what they need and how much they will pay.” (quote from my son at age 14 when he could not understand why anyone would pay me for business advice).

And he was right (to an extent) but obviously it is more complicated than that. Most businesses are set up because someone has a passion or skill and wants to use that to generate income.

And so, a business gets started, the owner has designed a product or service then sets out to convince people to buy it. As the business grows, they come up with more ideas, build more products and services and persuade more people to buy them – and so the cycle continues.

But when a business does this, they are missing the easiest and best way to develop the right products and services because they do not ask their customers (only 30% of UK businesses ask customers for feedback and only 10% actually use that feedback).

I have seen business experts say you shouldnot ask your customer what they want – quoting Apple (which customer would ever have said they wanted a phone that could take pictures) and Henry Ford (if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse and cart). And they are right – but also wrong! The best businesses understand their customers and what they need. And they do that by asking their customers.

So, here are the key steps to researching and understanding your customers’ needs:

  1. Have detailed written descriptions of your key customer types. Focus particularly on their habits and needs.
  2. Spend time reviewing other businesses that offer the same or similar products and services as you to the same target market as yourself. List what they offer (products, services and features) that you do not. If you can, find out which of their products and services are their bestsellers and pay particular attention to them.
  3. From that, you should have a list of ideas for new products and services and enhancements you could make to your current range.
  4. Add to that list your existing ideas for new products, services and enhancements.
  5. Use that list to work out what customer needs each meets and how they would benefit the customer. For example, If Henry Ford had asked people what they needed (or what the disadvantages of the horse and cart were), many would have said that they needed to travel from A to B more quickly, in greater comfort with shelter from bad weather. Apple did ask people, and they said that having to carry a phone and a camera was inconvenient because they took up space and it was easy to forget or lose one of them.
  6. Then ask your customers what they need. The easy way to do this is through a customer feedback programme. You can use SurveyMonkey or a similar programme or use email, the phone or face to face visits. We have listed the key questions below.
  7. Once you have the feedback, analyse it to understand which items on the list are the highest priorities for delivering. Then build and deliver them!
  8. Finally, tell your customers about the new product, service or functionality, remind them that you have made the changes in response to their feedback and ask them what else they need – and just keep continuing the cycle.

Adopting a process such as this gets your customers feeling valued and involved in your business. It increases customer loyalty, drives referrals and increases the chances of new products and services becoming profitable quickly.

The key questions:

To set expectations, preface with a statement that explains why you are asking the questions such as: At (company) we are continually looking to deliver better products and services for our customers. We have found the best way to do that is to ask what you need and then to deliver it for you. Here are some ideas we have for new products/services/features and we would love your opinion:

List a proposed product/feature/service, explain it simply in language the customer would understand and the benefit it would give them. For example:

“We know that our customers are busy and look to save time whenever they can, so we are considering our order process. The change would mean you will be able, as an existing customer, to place a repeat order online with one click. We can also set up reminders so you would never run out of X again, avoiding any downtime for you”.


  1. Would this be valuable to you?
  2. Would you be prepared to pay a slightly higher cost for this improvement?
  3. What else do you think we could do to save you time and avoid downtime?

Repeat this for each new idea (do not ask for feedback for more than 5 new ideas at a time).

Finally, explain what will happen next (once we have had your feedback: “we will use it to decide what changes are most important to you and start to implement them. We will tell you what changes we are making and when they will be delivered. If you think of anything else we could do to help you, please let us know at Thank you for your help”.

If you have an accountant, they should be your first stop for business advice. If you don’t have an accountant or they can’t help, BuBul has a wide range of experts available. For more business advice why not follow BuBul on LinkedIn?