David Standing: know your customer

David Standing, commercial director of AIS, discusses the importance of knowing your customer.

Whilst it might be stating the obvious, there really is no argument against adopting as a retail mantra: ?find out what your customer wants and give it to them?.

However, before you can set about doing that, the bigger issue in the first instance is whether you know what the customer wants. A lot of our independent members rely on their own hands-on experience and what they see in their stores.

There?s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, but it doesn?t tell the whole picture and is unlikely to reveal what customers think of you, what they might want from you that you don?t give them, or what they might like fro you that you?re unaware of.

In other words, what you see from people on the shop floor and from actual sales data tells you how it is but not necessarily how it might be or maybe ought to be.

There are many ways of supplementing first-hand personal experience and adding to intuition or assumption with factual data, replicated shopping experiences, or customer research; I?d like to touch on a couple.

Actual customer data

Last month I mentioned using actual customer data as the basis for demographic profiling and, providing you?ve got some source data, it remains an easily accessible tool that can help with targeting marketing communications to the best catchments and to identify the type of products and services that you might want to introduce or change the existing emphasis of.

Even if you?re not operating any form of garden club, newsletter or reward programme you can still collect addresses through simple mechanics such as delivery details, prize draws or event registrations and this information can be used to generate demographic profiles through any of the proprietary systems such as Acorn, Mosaic or Cameo.

Even just plotting their location yourself onto a catchment area map can give useful insight in conjunction with your own knowledge of the local area. If you don?t have the wherewithal to do it in-house there are many agencies that specialise in providing analysis and subsequent execution and delivery of communications.

Mystery shoppers

Another long established technique is ?mystery shoppers?, and a couple of years ago AIS introduced a scheme for our members using two recommended service providers; one for video visits and another for conventional report based scoring.

Somewhere in the region of 40 stores, including a major garden centre, have used our third party mystery shoppers to get an external perspective on their business reflective of real shoppers. Many others run their own programmes to get valuable insight and there are, of course, many companies providing this service.

Virtually every one of our members who use mystery shoppers have become massive advocates of it and seen uplifts in sales as a direct result of learning gained from it and customer service or sales training programmes subsequently put in place.

Anything from simple first impressions and acknowledgment to more in-depth testing of particular product knowledge and selling skills can be measured. Our furniture members have tended to use video mystery shops in order to get more in depth appreciation of their sales team and these do provide incontrovertible evidence of what might be missed by senior management.

This might be asking a customer to get out of the way whilst moving a sofa or studying the racing paper oblivious to a potential customer wandering aimlessly around. These are real examples where names have been removed to protect the guilty!

In garden centres, high ticket categories where there is also a need to convey product knowledge could also benefit from video, however, whatever mystery shop method is used it has an application and value across all retail sectors.

These are just two ways of adding richness to personal observation, there are many others, and anything that contributes to better customer understanding is worthwhile.

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