"Yes! They get me. Finally."
That's the way I felt when I went to a restaurant here in Buenos Aires where everything on the menu was gluten-free. Ev-er-y-thing. It was amazing and delicious, and I have not been able to shut-up about La Pastroneria since discovering it. I go there often, and take friends whenever I can.
Why? Because when you follow a gluten-free diet, eating out isn't always the easiest or most pleasant experience.
Thus, whenever I eat here, I am so thankful the owners took the time to acknowledge that not every customer fits seamlessly into a one-sized-fits-all package. They catered to me, someone whose needs are often ignored.
As a result, they've earned my loyalty, and lots of my money.
What happens when customers who don't fit the mold are ignored
Business is about belonging. And you can't create that sense of belonging for your customers when you don't acknowledge that your customers are not all the same.
Over time, as the people who need your products grow more diverse, if you and your team aren't prepared to serve in a way those differences warrant, you will start to lose business to companies that do.
Ade Hassan is the founder of Nubian Skin. The idea for her company, came because her needs didn't fit what was mainstream:
"Nubian Skin is a very simple concept. I came up with the idea in 2011 because I could never find nude lingerie or hosiery that matched my skin tone. So if I walked into a shop and asked for something nude I was given something, but it wasn't anything close to being my nude. And that's when I came up with the idea to start a business that provided women of color with that."
A very simple concept indeed. The company launched in 2014, and was an instant hit with women of color. Their customers were so excited to have a product that finally addressed their needs, they shared the campaign in mass on social media, causing it to go viral.
They've even earned some high profile clients too. Beyonce and her dancers wore the line of lingerie during the Formation World Tour last year. And the cast of Hidden Figures wore the hosiery in the movie.
How to prevent yourself from ignoring large groups of your customers
Most companies aren't making a proactive decision to ignore segments of their customers. In many instances, not addressing needs that fall outside the norm is a result of limited perspective.
Hassan explains her rationale for why popular lingerie and hosiery brands such as Victoria's Secret didn't offer nude products for women of color:
"A lot of people ask me, 'Why didn't that exist before?' And the honest answer is I don't know. But a lot of times, larger companies are owned by people who don't look like you and me... Nude sells well, and unless you have the experience of saying, 'Actually, that nude doesn't work for me,' then it would never sort of come to your mind that there needs to be more than one nude. And that was it. That was the specific problem, is nude being defined as a specific one size fits all, and it really doesn't."
Business is about solving problems.
But to solve the problems your customers have on a consistent basis, first you have to understand your customers, and the unique challenges they encounter.
You've got to walk a mile in their shoes to understand how their experiences may differ from the way you see them.
This means that practicing empathy needs to be a mainstay of your company culture. Wherever possible, you've got to open yourself up to seeking out and welcoming diverse thoughts and experiences, so that your frame of reference can be expanded.
And you've also got to have regular communication with your customers. When you seek out their opinions and try to consider things from their point of view, they will tell you their challenges.
Hassan and her small team encountered this first-hand. Once they launched their products, they quickly started to get feedback from women whose sizes weren't represented in the product line. The team spent a lot of time engaging with their customers to find out which sizes were most needed and will be launching a broader range later in the year.
Don't put all your customers in a box. Acknowledge the differences that make them unique, and then create products and services that speak to those differences. Then you will be well-positioned to earn the attention, adoration, and loyalty of your customers who recognize that you do indeed get them.