We live in a world of changing expectations, amazing choice and purchasing freedom where we as customers, consumers and clients hold all of the cards. When it comes to doing business, we are not afraid to take our business elsewhere if we feel that we are not being heard or our needs are not being met.
When it comes to understanding our customers, a big question that I think every business owner simply has to know the answer to is; "what's the one thing that would make you stop using my business?". This means getting to the bottom of the deal breaker for the customer. Sure, there might be lots of small issues that would be irritating, and over time these will result in the loss of their business, but what is the one thing that is simply not acceptable and the one thing that would make the customer turn their back on your business right here, right now?
As business owners, this is powerful knowledge that we simply have to have. We need to be humble enough to have a conversation with our customers or clients, to identify what it is that would end the relationship from their perspective. I think it is surprisingly easy to find this out, of course the key is that once we know the answer we need to do everything in our power to avoid making that particular mistake, which seems easier said than done for some businesses.
In simple terms this is all about expectations. I often talk with business owners about this point, and they make excuses for some part of their business, by talking up another part. For example, think of a restaurant. The food might be fantastic, but the restrooms are terrible. For some people that will be OK, because for them, the quality of the food is the most important aspect of the experience. For others who value the cleanliness of the restrooms over the quality of the food, it's a deal breaker.
This means that you can't justify some substandard part of your business by trying to promote the parts that are above standard, and think that it won't cost you some business. Customers can generally be grouped into common likes and dislikes - and there will certainly be common deal breakers among them. For example to some people poor communication will be the deal breaker, for others it might be a lack of attention to detail.
I will go so far as to actually ask the question "what is the one thing that we could do or fail to do that would stop you using our business?". Know the answer to this question and you have every opportunity to build a great business.
In business as in life, we have to get better at asking the bigger, more meaningful questions, rather than assume we know the answers.