Guaranteed Customer Connection: 18 ways to understand your customer

Understanding your customers accurately can help your business succeed – because you can be more relevant to those customers. But what goes into achieving that knowledge? To find out, I poured through two-plus years of episodes of the market research podcast “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show” and the guest experts mentioned 18 overarching themes.

Understanding those themes makes the lives of many in a company easier and can help companies be more relevant to customers.

“It’s no longer someone else’s job to understand the customer,” said Jenn Mancusi, chief revenue officer at conversational insights platform Voxpome. “It really has to be ingrained into everyone’s day-to-day.”

Let’s look at the 18 themes that help us better understand our customers.

1. Understanding the market as a whole

“They need to understand not only the consumers but need to understand the marketplace,” said Jorge Calvachi, director of insights at La-Z-Boy. 

That includes everything from ensuring to include the right people in a study to having the right mix of participants to mirror the relevant community.

Read next: How to ask inclusive demographic questions in your market research

2. Empathy

According to empathy activist and author Rob Volpe, the ability to show and feel empathy has taken a hit in the last couple of decades.

But understanding our customers is way more complicated if we can’t empathize with them. So empathy is something that many of us have to relearn and then implement in our day-to-day interactions and occurrences when we review customer feedback, for example, in the format of video responses. 

3. Understanding the person

A lot goes on in a customer’s life, and it’s not always about the products they love. Every customer has many other things on their mind – personal problems they may be struggling with, issues at work, and the list goes on. Understanding the complete human as much as possible can also help us understand the customer.

Megan Kehr, consumer insights manager at PepsiCo, has said people are parents, employees, and consumers – among other roles. All those facets affect them, their decisions, and their brand interactions.

"Take somebody like me and not just seeing me as a Pepsi drinker... I'm also a wife, a sister, a daughter, I'm a cat mom. All these other aspects of my life outside of the beverage I drink that make up who I am."

4. Understanding the context of the current situations

The exact words spoken in different contexts and while displaying different body language make a difference in what is actually being communicated.

Nick Graham, global head of insights and analytics at Mondelez International, mentioned the example of a focus group that was asked about an idea for a new mid-calorie snack. Many said it would be a good idea, but Nick recalled their body language didn’t seem to agree with that.

"They were like, 'yea, yea, it's a great idea,' But I just didn't believe it. And it wasn't like they were lying. It felt like something they should like, but there was no real enthusiasm."

5. Emerging trends

Some pieces of understanding your customer are part of overarching trends. That could include the change in loyalty to brands and how the next generation is making decisions to new direction-changing consumer behaviors.

And sometimes, behaviors change for what we might call irrational reasons.

Understanding your customer: "I would say the study of consumer behavior, in general, is studying irrational behavior. So we always have to get into those research methods to start to crack the code and understand what they are really thinking."

6. The effect of emerging brands

New brands enter the market, and they can affect our customers. So what brands are getting their attention? That’s important for you to understand in your quest to understand your customer.

  • What other brands are they currently paying attention to?
  • Why?
  • How are those brands different?
  • What gaps are they filling?
  • Etc.

7. The messaging customers are exposed to

That goes from the advertising they see and what they think of it to social media ads and whether they are relevant to what they see in stores.

And the messaging can include the competition and even unrelated brands vying for the customer’s limited attention.

Read next: [Consumer study] How are consumers feeling about ChatGPT? ️

8. Understanding the customer’s why

Marketing expert Mark Schaefer explained that for every company to understand its customers truly, they have to know the customers’ why. Why are they doing something?

9. Understanding the culture

Different cultures – sometimes even within a country – have different customs, behaviors, and expectations. Understanding people’s traditions, what influences them, and their expectations of life is another important pillar to understanding them.

10. Understanding what your brand offers to the customer

At a high level, brands need to understand how their brand fits into a customer’s life. What problem can they solve for customers, how do customers view them, and how do brands integrate even more into the customers’ lives?

That includes mapping the customer’s experience and where a brand can be relevant to the customer.

Read next: Revolutionize Your Brand for More Customer Centricity with Centralized Data

11. The right mix of what and why

I’ve been in plenty of projects over the years where people report on what the customers are doing. They are clicking here and clicking there. And that’s good to know and helpful, but there’s also something to be said about understanding why customers are doing what they are doing.

So, yes, watch customer behavior and use qualitative surveys to understand the what, but also ask them why they are doing something.

Understanding your customer: "Ask 'why?' over and over. Why is an insight-inducing question."

12. Understanding customer intent and motivation

Customers are trying to do something, and sometimes what that is exactly isn’t as straightforward as it could be. For example, what is their intent in asking about a product? Whether they have a specific motivation for looking at a particular product can help us better understand them.

13. Understanding pain points

Of course, it all does come back to what a brand can do for a customer. And that comes back to the pain points the customer has.

Conversational insights leader Andy Barraclough said it’s also important to check in on evolving pain points. As the market changes and customer needs shift, keeping a pulse on evolving pain points is crucial.

Read next: How to follow the design thinking process to be more relevant to customers

14. What are the customer decision points

At some point, customers will make decisions. Even not buying anything at all is a decision. And understanding when customers come to those decision points is crucial.

Some customers make decisions long before they enter the store (online or physical). They have a list. Others browse and look at prices.

“How I make decisions is I usually stick with familiar brands, but sometimes I switch up if things are on sale,” said consumer Rebecca, 37, of Reynoldsville, in our study on in-store experiences.

In some situations, customers make planned, rational decisions; in others, it’s a knee-jerk reaction to what is in front of them, for example.

But understanding those influences can help us understand them better.

15. Generational differences

We know that different events and upbringings have influenced different generations. Gen Z is different from Millennials, who are different from Gen X. To understand the different generations, we must look at their past and present to understand the future.

16. Having some foresight

Talking about the future – we should focus on that too and foresight teams can help here. Foresight teams are different from teams that forecast. Foresight researchers determine how today’s consumer will likely evolve into the future.

“You have weak signals and strong signals. The strong signals, they’ve been around for a long time, and they may have already been scaled in your category or another category.”

Reading the weak signals correctly can give us an understanding of the customer in the future.

17. Understanding loyalty

Much has been said that loyalty is less than what it used to be, but yet loyalty programs exist for a reason. To understand your customer better, look at how they interact with your brand. Do their actions show they are loyal? Do they keep coming back? Does something specific bring them back at particular times? Are they actively promoting your brand?

Look at what level of loyalty their actions show, and then consider asking them about it. What makes you such a loyal customer of ours?

Read next: How to do brand health tracking correctly

18. Connecting the dots

Laura Eddy, vice president of research and insights at, explained that feedback can come in through various channels, and sometimes it’s not connected at all. But when teams connect the dots, they can understand the customer base better and make better decisions.

Final thoughts

Understanding your customers is crucial as you try to help them succeed and make your company part of their lives. Also, remember that to understand them truly, it’s essential to make it easy for them to give feedback. Find out what their preferences are. Maybe it’s a short video message from them to you, or perhaps it’s an online focus group. Whatever works best for them will help you as a company, too.

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