Understanding Your Customers

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Understanding Your Customers

By Terry McKenna, Convenience Store Coaches - 08/14/2014

What type of customers do you have? And don’t answer that question with: “The type that buys gas, soda and snacks.”

Yeah, I know. So, let me rephrase the question: What do you know about your customers? Do you know who your most profitable and loyal customers are? Do you know how much they spend on an annual basis? Do you know what’s most important to them: price, location, product offering, customer service, all of the above, or none of the above?

Are your most frequent customers working moms, soccer moms, business professionals, blue-collar workers, senior citizens, college students or high-school students? How does your store impact your customer’s daily life? What are your customers' routines, needs and challenges? 

If you don’t have this type of information, you need to get it. If you do have this type of customer insight, congratulations –- it’s the first step in a winning strategy.

Engaging Your Customers

There are two types of customer categories: primary (your regulars) and secondary (occasional customers). Your primary customer defines your business. Identifying your primary customers and then creating processes to learn what is important to them, what they expect when they visit your store and what they value is important.

Different customers value different things, and customers often don’t know exactly what they value. Customer tastes and preferences are constantly changing; you have to be plugged into these changes.  You must be alert to emerging threats and opportunities that will redefine what your customer values and influence their profit potential.

Uncovering the truth about their needs and expectations requires systematic research at multiple levels. Many companies assume their products and services meet the needs of their customers, but surprisingly few actually test those assumptions.

So ask yourself: What are the processes we use to make sure that we truly understand what our customers value and we consistently deliver that value better than our competitors? Establish systematic dialogue with your customers. I don’t mean surveys or participating in focus groups; I mean face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball dialogue.

Customer Observations

Observing your customers experiencing your store will provide you more meaningful insight than any online or paper survey. What people say and what they do are two different things.

Observe your customers in the act of experiencing your store: forecourt, foodservice, coffee and fountain areas, and transaction counter. What is that experience like for them? Is it fast, easy and pleasant, or is it slow, frustrating and uncaring? 

Customer Onsite Intercepts

Keeping in mind that you never want to slow down or inconvenience your customers. We are, after all, a convenience store. Look for engagement opportunities when you can talk with your customers: pumping gas, standing in line, leaving the store to go back to their vehicle, etc.

Ask a simple question -- not 10 questions, just one. Select a different question per week until you really feel you know your customers, what’s important to them and why they visit your store over competitors. 

Introduce yourself and ask a question like: Why do you shop here? If you could change one thing about this store, what would it be? What are we good/bad at? What would it take to keep you as a customer for life? Always keep your question simple and brief.

Taking Action

Without analysis, data is just plain reporting. Insights must be translated into initiatives.

Continually ask yourself: What are we missing? Look for gaps between the industry’s assumptions and your customer’s actual experiences. Think solution vs. trying to sell something. 

Shift your perspective by looking at your store from your customer’s perspective vs. your own. What type of solution can you offer your customers that would be meaningful and add value to their daily lives based on what you learned by engaging them? 

Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner