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What Are Customer Needs?

Kit Jenkin
22 May 2024

If you want a customer to buy something from your small business, you’ll have to meet their needs. While that may seem like a nebulous grey area, we explore what it is your customers need from a buying experience.

Identify Your Customer

Before you can start meeting the needs of your customers, you need to understand the types of customers [1] who are buying and using your products or services.  You can do this in several ways, such as:

  • Consumer surveys
  • Consumer research groups
  • Interviewing your staff

The needs of your actual consumers may vary from the needs of your perceived consumers. You can go out of your way to meet the needs of the customer you think you have, but if you’re wrong about who your customers actually are, you’ll be meeting the wrong set of needs and eventually hurting your bottom line.

Not only will identifying your customers help you better meet their needs, but you’ll also be able to create marketing campaigns tailored specifically to those customers.

Consumer Surveys

Surveying your customers is usually the most straightforward way to determine who’s buying your products. You can do this via email, direct mail, through your business website and social media, or any combination of the above. 

SurveyMonkey [2] is one popular tool that allows you to create custom surveys. 

To get the most comprehensive dataset possible, you may need to ask customers to provide the following information:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Income Level
  • Occupation
  • What media they use (online, print, television, radio, etc.)
  • How they learned about your business/products
  • How often they buy a product or service
  • When they’re likely to make their next purchase
  • For whom they typically purchase your products/services

For business-to-business sales [3], you’ll want to ask the following:

  • The industry they’re in (if you serve multiple industries)
  • How long they’ve been in business
  • How many employees they have
  • Their average annual revenue/sales or their annual purchasing budget

Let’s say, for instance, that your company sells skateboards, and you’ve always assumed that males aged 16-25 make up the majority of your customer base. 

However, after conducting multiple consumer surveys over a 12-month period, you discover that nearly 90% of your sales during that period were to customers aged 45-65, and nearly two-thirds of those were female. 

Your research indicates that these women are buying skateboards for their sons, grandsons, nephews, and great-nephews. How you meet the needs of these customers may vary a great deal from how you’d meet the needs of male consumers under 25.

Consumer Research

Many companies out there base their businesses on understanding customer buying trends, habits, and demographics so you don’t have to.  

Some companies, such as NPD [4], work with small business owners directly to provide custom research and data analysis for a specific business and product(s) or service(s).

Some research groups compile data from multiple sources and convert them into basic graphs and charts for free, like Statista [5]. They may charge a fee to access more detailed, in-depth graphics.  

For example, you can access a free chart on the most important in-store features [6] for consumers who shop at physical grocery store locations.

Use of consumer research agencies can help you quickly identify what customers are looking for in your specific niche, how much they’re willing to spend, and how likely those trends are to continue.

Interviewing Your Staff

Many small business owners make one crucial mistake when determining their core customer base—they forget to ask their front-line workers and customer support teams who they interact with daily.

Your staff can give you a general idea of who you’re selling to, who’s reaching out with concerns, complaints, or questions, and how often those customers are coming back. 

Before you spend money on a consumer research firm, talk to your own employees about who your customers are.

Typical Consumer Needs

Once you’ve identified your actual customers, and even have an idea of who you’d like as potential customers, you can start to break down what their purchasing needs might be. 

Typically, consumer needs [7] can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Ease of use
  • Product/service price
  • Information about the product/service
  • Return/refund policies
  • Quality of product/service [8]
  • Environmental Impact
  • Customer Service
  • Power over the product/buying process

Most of the items above are fairly self-explanatory. If your products are overly complicated to use, overpriced, or of poor quality, you’ll lose customers to your competitors.

The same goes for the quality of your customer service. If your customers are stuck on hold for long periods of time only to speak to a customer service representative with a poor attitude, you’re going to lose those customers. And they won’t hesitate to share their negative experiences with others.

Consumers also want accurate information [9] about the product or service so they can make an informed purchasing decision, and there should never be any hidden fees or “surprises” for the customer after they’ve made their purchase.

In the same vein, consumer returns/refunds should be a straightforward process, meaning it should be fairly simple for a customer to request a refund or return an item. 

Finally, consumers want to feel like they have some say or power in the purchasing process, such as choosing the product’s colour, quantity, and size, or how they’d like to make their purchase (credit card, PayPal, google pay, etc.).

Identifying Your Customers’ Needs

You can determine which of the above needs are most important to your customers (and how well you’re doing at meeting those needs) with a few simple tools, such as:

  • Customer surveys
  • Encouraging consumer ratings and reviews
  • Targeted focus groups [10]

Surveys [11] should be specific enough to determine what consumers like and don’t like about a particular product or service and include room for customer suggestions. 

By allowing consumers to rate your products/services and their customer experiences [12] with your business, you’ll have a better understanding of where you’re missing the mark on meeting customer needs and what you can do to improve. Of course, you’ll also learn where you’re excelling at meeting customer needs, as well.

Though more time-consuming (and expensive), you can try a targeted focus-group based on your customer demographics to help you with new product development, give feedback and ideas for improvement on existing products, and determine how consumers feel about your brand [13] and your products/services.

Each of these methods will give you necessary insight into how well you are (or aren’t) meeting the needs of your customers and ways you can improve to capture new sales and retain existing customers. But one need you may be ignoring is the customer checkout and payment experience.

An EPOS System That Meets Customer Needs

Customers also need secure, simple, and flexible payment options. Your point of sale system should be versatile enough to allow you to ring up their orders and customer purchases via tablet or mobile phone for brick-and-mortar locations, while also offering secure purchasing options using Apple Pay and Google pay.   

Epos Now allows you to do all those things and more, including being compatible with major credit cards like Visa, MasterCard, and American Express to name just a few. Not only that, but you can also provide customers with a seamless online checkout and payment experience using Epos Now. 

If that wasn’t enough, Epos Now was recently ranked as one of the best EPOS providers in the country by US News and World Report [14].

Now that you’ve learned how to identify customers and their needs, and already have a great EPOS system in place, you’re ready to grow your business into the future.