Getting up close and personal with your customers

by Alex Culshaw

Want to get closer to your customers? Step this way as we give you a tour of what we know and how we do it….

Business needs, and their research solutions, come in all shapes and sizes – from geographies and demographics to tactical interventions and strategic planning. Here at Spark, we’re always chatting with our clients about what they want now and in the future – a two-way conversation that’s valued by all parties. And, within these conversations, one trend we’re seeing more and more of is a demand for customer closeness.

It’s clear to us that, more than ever before, our clients are recognising the benefits of really getting to grips with their customers’ needs, wants, hopes and fears. As one of the senior executives at an international sporting goods brand recently bemoaned during one of our chats, ‘We simply don’t know who our customers are’.

Spark are currently proposing, planning and delivering several projects in both the UK and Ireland that are designed with the specific objective of getting our clients closer to their  customers, in sectors as diverse as FMCG, finance and media. These projects, allied with personal experience, leave Spark well placed to share our top ten tips for making customer closeness activity as immersive and effective as possible.

Let’s go…

Planning closeness

  1. Right from the off, getting to grips with the existing business context will help you inform a closeness solution that hits all the right spots. Knowing that the business is swimming in quant data but light on qual insight, or that there is a specific promotion coming down the line targeted at a customer segment, will help shape the style, content and outputs of the end solution.
  2. You may be an insight professional, but your stakeholders typically won’t be. Could you do their job for a couple of hours? Probably not – so don’t expect that they will be natural researchers. You’ll need to spend time with them outlining how to (not) ask questions, what to listen and look for, and how to respond. Devoting time up front here will reap dividends for their experience.
  3. Customers and businesses often talk in different lexicons that are not always easy to align. So, understanding how technical and complex product terms might translate to in ‘consumerese’ – as we did to move scientific food terms into consumer benefits for one client – helps to shortcut confusion and build bridges between customers and brands.
  4. Let’s be real, customer closeness sessions can be intimidating for all concerned. So, laying ground rules, managing expectations and creating the right sort of energy is crucial in helping everybody get the most of activities. This isn’t an exam, and nobody is going to fail, so let’s enjoy it.
  5. What’s in a name? Quite a lot we’d suggest. Whilst you could give your closeness programme a literal and accurate description, is this going to win the hearts and minds of your stakeholders? Perhaps not. Much better to think about a catchy title to make discussions easy and exciting – which do you think will get more traction – ‘Customer Closeness Activities for Q4’ vs. ‘Brand X Briefings’…?

Doing closeness

  1. Why wait until the event itself to allow stakeholders to interact with customers? A nicely judged digital pre-task (or homework) – let’s call it a customer safari – will help get the ball rolling early for stakeholders, warming them up to the attitudes, ideas and behaviours of customers meaning they can make the most of the precious time spent with customers.
  2. Customer closeness is typically, and correctly, perceived as a qualitative approach – after all, we’re unpeeling those infamous onion layers to see people ‘behind the screen’. But we know that going one further and adding in even just a smidgem of quant data can help build a better picture of who customers are and their lives. Our integrated work where we develop customer segments and then bring them to life, shows us the value of this twin track approach time and time again.
  3. We know that the main purpose of customer closeness is to build an understanding of, and empathy with, customers. But why stop there? Closeness sessions are also ideal for up-stream problem spotting along with being fertile ground for NPD. Yes, give boundaries about core objectives but also remind stakeholders of the possible halo benefits.

Landing closeness

  1. So, you’ve done your closeness activities and your clients are fully immersed in customer-world – but how can they share and discuss their knowledge efficiently? We’ve found that providing simple tools such as story arches, maps and journeys really helps crystallise knowledge and allow for planning.
  2. Having a select number of stakeholders know their customers is better than none at all – but also not as good as a wider group of staff and stakeholders holding the same knowledge. So, making sure there are options to embed and activate knowledge within the wider business is always important. A brilliant way of doing this is through mini movies. Professionally produced for more impact (but with an associated cost), or informally produced for speed (with perhaps less HD quality) – we know from experience the impact these mini-movies can make.

From speed depthing to online communities to co-creation sessions, we’ve helped numerous clients get closer to their customers and know what it takes to help a brand immerse in the real world. We’d love to hear from your and share our experience – get in touch at!

And….it’s not just bespoke closeness projects that we’re experts in. Spark can also create a Customer Closeness programme that gives you an always on research link to your customers, built just for you – check out  Always on, or when you need us, we’ve got you covered.

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