KNOW HOW

3 Slam-Dunk Ways to Give Customers Exactly What They Want

Making customers happy doesn't have to be terribly difficult. In fact, they usually want just one thing from you. Here are three ways to deliver it.
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Regardless of what you're selling and whom you're selling it to, there is one thing that your customers want more than anything else: They want your product to be easy. There are three aspects to this:

1. Be easy to understand.

Customers are in a constant state of information overload, even more so now that smartphones and tablets are everywhere. Customers no longer have the patience or even the ability to listen to a product description.

Unless you're selling directly to engineers, customers stop listening (or reading) the second you spout features and functions. Even engineers have low tolerance for this; if you aren't describing the exact feature that interests them, you're history.

Customers stop listening the second you trot out vague claims ("we're the highest quality") or biz-blab ("we're state of the art"). They don't have the patience or interest to wade through your meaningless verbiage.

Customers stop listening the second you add complexity to the situation by talking or writing about yourself and what you want, or about your firm and its history. They don't have time to think about that bullsh*t. They just don't.

Rule of thumb: You must be able to describe in 25 words or less what your product means to your customers, why they should buy it from you, and why they should buy it now. If you can't, you'll eventually be put out of business by somebody who can.

2. Be easy to buy.

When customers make the decision to buy something, they want it now. They don't want to struggle through options, apply for credit, provide personal data, listen to an upgrade pitch, or think about picking up a package.

When most people talk about Apple's success, they attribute it to the quality of Apple's products. They forget that powerful, well-built MP3 players, smartphones, and tablets existed long before Apple got into any of those product categories.

What Apple really did was make content and software easy to buy. iTunes has driven Apple's success far more than its devices, which (though well-constructed) tend to lag the rest of the industry in technical specs.

The business world is rife with companies--telecoms, cable providers, banks, etc.--that have made it needlessly complicated for the customer to buy products or services. All of them will someday be replaced by firms that "get" what customers really want.

Rule of thumb: Customers should be able to buy your product either with a single click or a simple handshake. If they can't buy from you like that, they'll eventually buy from somebody else who will make things easier.

3. Be easy to use. 

Customers aren't willing to spend days, hours, or even minutes to learn how to use your product. They're especially not willing to stay on the phone for hours trying to get customer support.

Yes, customers will tolerate this kind of folderol when there's no alternative. That's why people continue to use insanely difficult-to-use products like Windows and Quicken, or why customers still patronize airlines and rental-car companies.

What those companies and monopolies don't understand is that captive customers are not loyal customers. Nobody loves Windows, for example, except for IT groups that get paid to support it. Everyone else leaves the fold the minute a viable alternative appears.

Similarly, it's only a matter of time before somebody makes business travel easier without adding costs. Same thing with online banking; witness the Simple app, which makes banking about as easy as playing Angry Birds.

Rule of thumb: If using your product requires the customer to attend a course or read a manual, you'll be driven out of business as soon as somebody figures out how to provide whatever you're providing without taxing the customer's patience.

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IMAGE: Shutterstock
Last updated: Jan 31, 2014

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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