Rolling out new tech? Get to know your customer first

- May 12, 2022 4 MIN READ
Customer using smartphone at checkout

Socrates’ secret to a happy life was to ‘know thyself’, but in the world of digital product creation the secret is ‘know thy customer’. No amount of tech can help you achieve scale unless you get to know your customer first, writes Ben Lipschitz, CEO and cofounder of FoodByUs.

Technology can do amazing things, but it fundamentally needs to solve a problem in order to be useful. It’s only when you listen and understand a customer’s problem that you can utilise your tech knowledge to create a solution.

A lot of tech founders still base their business plan on the idea that ‘if you build the tech, they will come’. But being able to build a smart, sexy app or a killer system doesn’t make you an expert in what your target market wants. Conversely, inviting them to articulate their problems doesn’t necessarily mean they understand how your tech can help them, either.

This is when a two-way conversation needs to take place. As CEO and co-founder of FoodByUs, Australia’s largest online hospitality marketplace, we’ve found this is the approach that leads to tech success and customer satisfaction.

It’s not enough to just be a founder with historical experience in an industry; finding answers will always come from listening and understanding your customer.

It’s easy to slip into the habit of putting your ideas first and forgetting the simple needs of your customer. For example, we had a rep try to engage a chef in a business chat during lunchtime service – he got a potato thrown at his head! Remember who you’re speaking to and what THEIR priorities are before you push your agenda.

To learn how your tech can integrate into their business, you have to immerse yourself in their world (at the appropriate time, of course.)

digital graph depicting digital growth for business

Methods for getting to know your customer

It’s essential to implement an ingrained business practice of maintaining continuous dialogue both with individual clients, and across your entire industry. A customer may present you with a problem, but they don’t know the tech solution, that’s where you come in.

Website usage data is helpful for broad based insights, but it only shows you what users are engaging (or not engaging) with – it doesn’t help you understand their day to day problems. Surveys can go a level deeper, however the risk is that customers are guided to answer your specific questions rather than an interactive dialogue being created.

By and large, face-to-face interviews are worth their weight in gold. During an interview, we once had a customer who wanted to export a spreadsheet of their orders. After a two-way conversation where we asked a lot of ‘whys’, we found they actually wanted to upload it to their accounting software. This was a problem that could be solved with tech, so we presented them with a suitable integration. This solved a problem for them and made our company integral to their operation.

In listening to a customer and implementing strategies that benefit them above all else, you’re actually serving your own business and building an arsenal of solutions to present to other customers who may be facing similar problems..

Hospitality tech is an ecosystem within the customer’s world

Building those strong bonds with your customers and innately understanding their needs means accepting that your product exists as part of an ecosystem of additional products the customer may be using. By conducting on-site face-to-face interviews, you can also look around the operating environment of your customers to understand complementary products or services you can form a partnership with.

Your product may focus on one business problem and solve it very well, however there are adjacent problems the customer may face – and rather than try to solve this too, your business can partner with other technologies to ultimately provide the ideal customer experience.

Such alliances can deliver extra depth or new features that are a win-win-win for both parties, plus the customer. But just as importantly, the sharing of intelligence and leads can bring new opportunities, meaningful partnerships, integrations and customer insights you otherwise wouldn’t know or have access to.

Listen, adapt and provide a solution

No matter how thoughtfully you’ve crafted your product, always remember it has to evolve to survive. To remain truly useful and effective to your customers, your tech must always adapt to meet their needs. Don’t be afraid to cater to your customer even if you’re not sure it will benefit your business. You could surprise yourself.

We were originally a ‘curated marketplace’ of suppliers, but our customers wanted to freely upload their own suppliers, so we opened up our software for them to make this happen and our supplier database grew by over 1,000 per cent almost overnight.

By allowing customers’ needs to guide your tech and business decisions – rather than the other way around – you identify solutions you may not have spotted otherwise. As one issue is resolved, another arises: and that’s how you adapt and grow as a business.

When you put the customer, not technology, at the centre of your product development, you always know the answer to ‘what’s next?’. They’re happy to tell you. You just need to take the time to listen.

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