10 Seriously Good Ways To Identify Customer Needs [Guide]
Every business exists to meet the needs of its customers. So to be successful, a business must identify its customers needs, and wholly fulfill them with high-quality products or services.
But humans are a complicated bunch, and discovering their needs and desires can be messy. There isn’t a single method that magically reveals what people want, but a bunch of different techniques that work in unison.
In this article, we explore ten of the most effective ways to identify customers’ needs, so that you can structure your business around them, and build something truly valuable.
How to identify customer needs
These are the best methods to identify customer needs, ordered by what we consider to be the most important.
1. Customer surveys
Surveys are one of the best ways to identify your customers’ needs and wants. By asking them a range of questions on their preferences, behaviours, and opinions, you can unearth a ton of valuable information.
Two surveys are most useful for this purpose: a customer needs survey, which aims to discover your customers’ needs, and a customer feedback survey, which aims to gather feedback on how your business is doing.
Or you aren’t keen on sticking to one format, you can create a survey that uses a mixture of the two. This might include important questions such as:
- What are your biggest challenges?
- How well do our products/services meet your needs?
- How would you describe our products/services?
- What can we do better to fulfill your needs?
- What would you like us to do differently?
- How do you think we could improve our level of service?
Modern software makes surveying easy—Survey Monkey, TypeForm, and Qualtrics are a few good examples. Some of them also allow you to categorise and analyse your responses more easily, taking away some of the manual legwork.
2. Talk to your staff or colleagues
Front-line staff (usually your sales and support teams) are constantly talking to prospects and customers, and can be highly tuned into their wants and needs. You can discover these needs by chatting to your staff, or asking them to complete surveys, with a view to find out the following:
- Customers’ biggest problems
- Customers’ common solutions to their problems
- Customers’ most common complaints
- Customers’ most common compliments
3. Focus groups are a great way to discover customer needs
Focus groups encourage open discussion, and can provide some great insights
A focus group is a selection of people who share their opinions and ideas in a face-to-face meeting. They can help to validate existing needs, identify new needs, and offer useful feedback on your current products and services.
The group can be made up of existing customers, or people who meet the demographics of your target audience. Before starting the meeting, it’s vital to prepare a list of questions that really get at their needs and preferences. These questions should be asked one by one, with plenty of time scheduled for each—people can get chatty! When the conversion inevitably goes off topic, you’ll need to gently steer it back on track. And if somebody says something that needs clarification, always ask why. In fact, you should be constantly asking “why” during most techniques in this article, to encourage people to build on their points.
The session should be recorded (ideally on video), and then people’s responses categorised and analysed afterwards. This stage can feel a little overwhelming, but satisfying when you start seeing patterns in people’s responses.
Focus groups are quick to set up, cheap, and a great way to get deeper insights into your customers’ wants and needs.
4. Talk to as many people as possible
Casually chatting to people is a great way to identify their wants and needs. And it doesn’t need to be formal—you can talk to strangers, business associates, friends, and family pretty much anywhere, in the coffee shop, supermarket queue, over lunch, or at an industry conference. You can also call them up, or send them a friendly email asking for their thoughts. The conversation shouldn’t be an interrogation, but a friendly natter that can be steered towards the area of your business. With patience and consistency, you’ll dig up some gold.
Your customers are also a great source of information. Your happy customers will tell you what you’re doing right, and your less-than-happy customers will tell you what you’re doing wrong. This highlights and validates the customer needs you’re already addressing, and helps to identify needs that you weren’t aware of.
5. Interviews to identify customer needs in marketing
One-on-one interviews are another excellent method to identify customer needs. Again, they don’t have to be formal—just a casual, structured chat with someone from your target group, where you ask them a list of questions, and then talk about their answers (if you need some help creating customer groups, check out our article on market segmentation).
Many of the questions would be similar to those in a customer survey, but because you’re having a two-way conversation, you can quickly respond to interesting points that are made, ask for clarification, and create an engaging, enlightening discussion.
You may want to make an audio recording of the interview (with permission), just in case you miss something important.
6. Customer visits
Customer visits let you delve into the how their business operates
If yours is a B2B business, visiting a customer to see how their operation works can yield some valuable insights into their needs. When you get a close look at their daily processes, the problems they tackle, how they tackle them, and their frustrations, you have a first-hand account of their requirements. This can help you to improve your existing products, or create new products that solve freshly-discovered problems.
As with the other customer-facing methods in this list, prepare a list of questions before your visit, and if you’re unsure why they do something a certain way, ask for clarification. You’ll need to probe and dig for the good stuff.
7. Data—an exceptional tool on how to research customer needs
We’re in the Information Age, and have so much access to valuable data. Often, this data tells you a lot about your customers’ needs. These are some common forms of data that you can review and analyse:
- Sales and revenue report—the sales figures for your products and services help to describe which are successfully meeting your customers’ needs, and which are failing. You can delve further into each product and try to figure which needs are being met, and which aren’t.
- Marketing report—which sales channels are performing the best, and what do the demographics look like for them?
- Website traffic report—with Google Analytics, you can access a wealth of valuable information about your visitors and their potential needs. This includes their demographics, the pages they visit, where they came from, how long they stayed for, and more. If you write blogs as part of a content marketing strategy, knowing which blogs are popular tells you what people are interested in, and hints at their desires.
- Demographics—if you’ve collected useful information on your customers such as their biological sex, occupation, income, or address, this can tell you a lot about their possible needs.
If you're interested in learning more about measuring the right data for your marketing efforts, check out our article on key digital marketing metrics.
8. Keyword research
Keyword research tools help you find out what your customers are searching for
Keyword research is an SEO technique that identifies what people are searching for in Google and other search engines. It’s usually performed with a keyword research tool such as SEMRush's, and provides telling information such as the phrases that people search for, how often they search for them, and how expensive they are when used in adverts.
By running keyword phrases that are related to your business through a keyword research tool, you can get an idea of their popularity, which is a direct reflection of the user’s wants and needs. You can run the following through the tools:
- Your products and services
- Ideas for new products or services
- Topics related to your business
For example, if you were an arborist looking to understand which services your customers need, you might search for the terms “tree pruning,” “tree lopping” or “tree care,” and review the keyword results to see if anything jumps out at you.
Tons of people use social media. They like, dislike, share, and comment on a slew of posts, pages, and groups, with every one of those interactions telling you something about them. You’ll need to pick the social platforms most used by your target audience, and then use the following methods to identify their needs:
- Use social analytics software like Awario to filter information based on keywords and topics. This “social listening” technique offers a window into people’s thoughts and feelings.
- Search for hashtags that are related to your business, products, and services, and observe the conversation. You can also set up alerts for when these hashtags are used in future.
- Join relevant groups and pages, and keep an eye on the chatter.
- Create advert polls for your target audience, to get a better understanding of their needs. To learn more about measuring your advert efforts, check out our social media advertising metrics article.
- Use pages or groups to create “focus group” discussions, where everyone gives their opinion on something related to your products, services, or business.
10. Customer journey map
Customer journey map. Image from Nielsen Norman Group
A customer journey map shows the buyer’s journey from the moment they become aware of your product/service, to the moment they buy. It outlines their needs, choices, actions, thoughts and feelings, displayed in a logical journey that might include stages such as “consideration,” “compare,” and “negotiate.” It unveils the process your customers go through when purchasing your products, and can establish some of their most important needs.
Customer journey maps can be time-consuming to complete, but also very useful. HubSpot has a great step-by-step guide on how to create them.
Customer needs summary
Knowing your customers needs and wants is crucial to creating a great product or service for them. By identifying customer needs using the methods above, you'll become much more intimate with your prospects and customers, and be able to create exceptional value for them.