Sales consultant talking to clients.

By Rick Delgado

Figuring out what makes a customer tick remains a significant challenge for businesses all over the world. It’s always been that way, of course, but in the past decade, getting to understand who customers are and why they act they way they do has become even trickier. With the rise of social media and an abundance of choices now available at every turn, customers aren’t as loyal as they used to be. They also have more access to information than ever before, giving them more power over which products and services they choose. As a result, understanding them has turned into a crucial goal for every company, one made simultaneously easier and more difficult thanks to the flood of data organizations can now collect on customers. But getting to know your customers doesn’t have to be a highly complicated process. Some helpful tips can make all the difference.

1. Customer Characteristics

Businesses can now compile extremely detailed information about their customers thanks to advances in big data and other technologies. This means they can set up profiles about individual customers that go beyond simple demographics information. Which do you think gives you a better understanding of a customer: knowing someone is a single female who recently bought a new car, or knowing a customer is a single female with a new car, high-paying job, who enjoys browsing fashion websites, prefers hot weather, has lived in both the Northeast and Midwest, and follows golf and the Yankees? These customer characteristics can be identified, giving you more insight on who they are.

2. Customer Experience Familiarity

Few methods are better for understanding customers than putting yourself in their shoes. That comes down to knowing what the customer journey is like from beginning to end. You need to know what every step of that journey is, becoming familiar with what customers may feel during that process. You may even decide to go through that journey yourself through anonymous means. Role playing the customer journey can act as a substitute. You may also use a pro surveillance system to observe customers when they’re in the store, all in an effort to understand what drives them as they make their decisions.

3. Brand Perception

Does a potential customer think highly of your brand, or do they regard it with distrust? Do they like the product but disapprove of the customer service? How do they feel about a new idea you’re promoting? The answers to these and many other questions can prove crucial to your business strategy. While surveys and questionnaires can provide some insight, social media listening has proven more effective since customers are more likely to be open and honest on social media platforms.

4. Customer Teams

The people in your organization that interact with customers the most can help you understand those customers. But to make them more effective, it’s important to ensure those customer teams are diverse. A customer representative with a unique background can perhaps provide a different point of view that will help you reach out to customers with more success. Customer teams should also employ people of different fields of experience. A marketer will have different ideas than someone with a background in finance, for example.

5. Content Preferences

Another aspect of understanding your customers is finding out what kind of content they enjoy the most. At the same time, you need to figure out which content types lead to the most conversions. A Facebook post may get a lot of likes, but if that doesn’t lead to actual sales, how effective was it in the long run? Once you know what your customers like to see and experience, which in turn leads to them buying more of your products or services, you’ll be better positioned to capitalize on their preferences, which can only mean good things for your business.

With a thorough understanding of your customers, your business operations will improve in significant ways. Customer understanding means taking out the guesswork when it comes to making important business decisions. It means being suitably informed as you interact with your customers. It also means being able to treat each customer as an individual person, and that can lead to dramatic increases in success both now and far into the future.

Rick Delgado is a technology commentator and writer. Follow him @ricknotdelgado.