The other day I was talking with a Director of a service business in a B2B market. They felt that they didn't need to focus on understanding their customers as much as a consumer products company. It's their understanding that the decision criteria for choosing their service was much more objective than the decision criteria a consumer exhibits when choosing products from the store shelf.
As the conversation continued, I learned that their customers do in fact have fairly straightforward selection criteria for their type of service. As I suspected, however, the actual decision making process isn't that simple. When I asked what these customers liked best about their service, the answer was that they were very consistent. They never let their customers down. That type of failure would leave the customer with egg on their face, and potentially cause their operations to be severely hampered. Then I asked how they were able to gain new customers, and how they gained the level of trust their customers needed to have in them. These answers were not so straightforward. I then asked how he imparted this knowledge to new employees. Silence.
This Director clearly has a good understanding of his customers and the intangible value his business provides. Yet until this conversation, he only articulated the tangible value to outsiders and new staff. It became clear that his customers were much more like consumers at the store shelf than he had thought.
I often hear discussions of whether to use the words consumer, customer, user, or target when describing the insight portion of my work. I use the word consumer because at the end of the day, a person decides whether or not to buy your product or service instead of an alternative. In that moment, this person is a consumer of what you are selling, and they are all influenced by their own tacit and explicit motivations. Ultimately, they are more similar than they are different.