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Understanding your customer

CUSTOMER knowledge has become so essential to modern day business that owners and managers have access to demographics, psychographics, life-style analyses, generation analyses, consumer monitoring through scanning and other technological devices to provide them with almost instantaneous knowledge of the market place and its dynamic changes.

However do business people know what their customers actually look like, their thoughts and feelings, or are they now just clinical figures on a computer print-out?

I have become aware of this issue since teaching Consumer Behaviour to marketing students.

Once businesses only had to have a return or refund policy and a basic knowledge of their customers’ names to meet the requirements of customer service. They kept in touch with their customers by either talking to them on the floor, if a retailer, or by making sales calls, if a manufacturer.

Today, much marketing strategy is planned in offices using impressive numbers of spreadsheets.

Everything, both past and present, is analysed to the ‘nth’ degree. The customer has become a remote objective figure as businesses strive to gain the cutting edge by being the first to analyse what they think the customer will need for the next season or buying period.

However, when faced with actually being asked to talk to consumers, some marketers, both practising and student, baulk at the prospect. Some intending practitioners don’t even want to venture into shopping malls because they do not like the ‘look’ of the customer. Sound far-fetched?

These are actual reactions from the next generation of marketers: those who may be planning the future marketing strategies for your business.

Consumers still want to be treated as people. They want the businesses they frequent to understand their needs and wants and not just try to sell them what the business has currently in stock. What do I mean by this? A simple example occurred during my weekend shopping for a dinner party.

I went to my usual fish market and butcher to gain some necessary supplies. Both owners know me from my frequent custom. Both asked me why I was purchasing what I was.

Both had suggestions to make about whether my request was suitable for my needs; both also made suggestions about how the ingredients could be cooked and presented.

Both used my first name. I went away very satisfied, feeling that I would give my guests a well-planned meal.

You may feel that such service is not cost-effective in the present day.

However, the interchanges took little time and both merchants have a customer for life. Surely that is what business is all about. Understanding the customer, so that both you and they may benefit from the mutual exchange.

l Professor Leonie Still, Graduate School of Management, UWA

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