“As a company, you need to get to the future first, ahead of your customers, and be ready to greet them when they arrive.” – Marc Benioff
No one sets up a business only to wind it up in a short while. However, in order to keep it alive and healthy year after year, companies must be able to identify and focus on customer future needs. It is for the customer that the company is in business and without customers -there would be no business. Understanding the customer future needs will enable a company to prepare proactively for those needs, know where their next business deal could emerge out of and identify future markets and customers in hitherto untapped places.
It is no surprise that the companies that develop a keen understanding of the market and current and future trends would have a better hold on customer future needs. Such companies constantly reinvent themselves, upgrade to newer technologies and pave the way to gain repeat business by anticipating customer future needs. This too is process and in order to remain successful and gain more business, companies would need to ‘predict the future’ through regular, accurate and perceptive evaluation of their customers and their behaviour. Despite the apparent ‘urgency’ to predict customer future needs, it does not necessarily imply that a company should always be the first to do so – this in fact is a task that requires time and effort in order to understand and meet the customer’s needs consistently and better as time elapses.
In order to predict customer future needs, companies must consistently collect and collate customer data and industry information and conduct research from any source available. Customer and employee feedback surveys, buying patterns, competitor information, ‘discussions’ and comments via social media are perhaps the most obvious and readily available sources of information. In order to be successful in providing for customer future needs, dealing with data must be an on-going, structured and relentless process, without which the chances of remaining in business and gaining success would be limited and frail.
Those companies that regularly manage this process build overtime, a strong capability to provide for customer needs both now and in the future. Being able to predict and anticipate customer future needs might just be the competitive edge a company seeks to win in an unforgiving and harsh business environment. The other advantage that such ‘clever’ companies gain is the ability to influence customer future needs. Imagine the power and control a company can have over its future success! Being able to ‘show’ and ‘teach’ customers about the products and services they could need effectively means that any product and service that a company would offer in the future would be ‘exactly what the customer needs’ and there would be purchases, repeats and even great referrals to attract other customers.
Companies that have built a growth mind-set, a global outlook and a forward thinking approach will find it easier to predict customer future needs and create the bandwidth to deal with them. The more a company remains involved with its customers, understands them and consistently uses the customer’s knowledge to improve, the better will its ability be to predict and manage their needs in the future. The truism that customer service is not the job of one department but the whole organization, rings true in the case of customer future needs too. Unless each person in the organization is pulling their weight towards understanding their customers, it would be difficult for the company to achieve it. Each individual must understand the importance of ‘knowing’ the customer, responding swiftly and efficiently to their needs and gaining insights into possible future needs and expectations. This should be amongst the top priorities of the business owners and leaders of the organization if it has to become successful.
The harsh reality is that irrespective of the quality of a company’s offerings, they would not find buyers if the end users do not see value in them and do not need them. In order to engage and entice customers into spending their hard-earned money with your company, it would be imperative to have offerings that they deem valuable and necessary. To be able to do this, a company must have a clear understanding of current needs and expectations and be able to predict customer future needs. This understanding and ‘predicting’ of customer needs must remain at the core of any company in order to gain success on a sustainable basis. Not only will such a company be able to retain its existing customers but these customers will become more profitable over time by providing repeat business and attracting other customers for the company too.
A company’s top leadership plays a crucial role in understanding their customer’s business. They must reach out to the decision makers in the office of their customer and if possible have direct personal interactions with them to ascertain why they are currently buying and what would ensure that they continued to buy from the company. Getting a feel of the customer’s future business plans and requirements, would help a company to anticipate the kind of products and services they could need and be ready with those offerings even before the customer can ask for them. In addition, by gaining knowledge about the customer, a company can also offer the customers, solutions and advice outside the realm of the business engagement. This helps to build trust and dependability, which enhances a company’s chances of retaining their customers and gaining valuable insights into their future needs and expectations.
It is important also, for a company to keep a finger on the pulse of their closest competitors. Understanding what they do well and their shortcomings will help to a company to improve on them and have a better chance of attracting their competitor’s customers too. The fact is that as businesses and customers ‘go global’, companies must change the way they look at solutions and customer needs. With markets becoming more diverse, the customer base too would be more diverse and hence their needs both current and future would have overwhelming diversity. The customer future needs in such cases would need careful evaluation and consistent re-evaluation.
There is no doubt that it is customer future needs and expectations that will shape the future of companies and businesses. It is therefore critical that companies align themselves to the future by listening actively to customers, gaining insights into their expectations by gathering and analysing data and being genuinely interested in the customers. It is about interesting your company in the future – needs, interests and concerns of the customers – such that your company moves along the path of strategic alignment with these aspects.
Understanding customer future needs is a prerequisite for success and will be indispensable to the sustainability and profitability of the company. A company focused on its customers will be able to train and coach their employees to move in this direction and ensure success. A successful company has happy employees, investors and other stakeholders. These happy business partners ensure that the company’s customers are happy……is your company able to predict customer future needs?