By Joshua Lucas

Issue # 4

Wednesday, March 25, 1998

After a week of researching his competition, Bill is excited. He has found that while he has to face the national chains on the Web, he doesn’t have any competition from local businesses. He is sure that the lack of competition won’t last forever so he wants to make an impact now.

Where should Bill go from here? He has the knowledge of what his competition is doing online but how can he take advantage of his research? The answer lies in learning and knowing about everything you know about your competitors, it is how you handle your customers which will indicate how successful your business will be. So how can you learn about your customers? Can you just go online and search through a large database which holds all of the information? I’m afraid not, but there are several things you can to do to start to understand your customer's needs.

Who Are Your Customers?

The first question you need to ask is so obvious, it is often overlooked; "Who is my customer?" The answer will give you information which can be very powerful for your online presence.

As Bill thinks about his customers, he finds that they fall in two major groups, either professional workers or the weekend handy-man. Both of these categories are equally important to Bill’s business. He can’t focus on one and not the other. What if he would have built a web site which only caters to the professional worker? The weekend handy-man who gets online and find Bill’s store might be somewhat upset about the lack of support for him. This is why it is so important to know who your customers are. Can you break your customers down into groups? If you can, then you are well on your way to creating a web site which will become very important to your customers who are online.

Listen and Learn From Your Customers

Another way to find out about your customers is to talk to them. Sure, you help them everyday but do you really listen to them? By listening to what kinds of questions your customers are asking, you can gain large amounts of information without really trying. Have you found that customers ask the same sorts of everyday questions? Maybe this is a start to a Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ) list on your web site. By getting to know your customer and finding what information they need and want, you can offer them a great web site which they will come back to, time and time again.

"Lucas, Joshua Lucas" ... writes for a living. By day he writes software, and by night he weaves words. Josh has coded in Java, C, C++, and Perl for some of the hippest and most recognisable companies in the US, including The Gap, Starbucks, Nike, and Nordstrom's. Josh's rich experience, coupled with his diligent daily research, places him as close to the "cutting edge" as you can get without falling off. He and his wife recently moved from Los Angeles, CA to Boston, MA.

This week, try and break your customers down into different groups. Try not to be too specific. Once you are done, see if you can boil them down (if need be) into no less than 2 and no more than 4 groups. Also, try and listen more closely to both your customers and your employees this week to see what additional information you can glean. Are they on the Web? Do they use e-mail? Is there information about your business that they're looking for time and time again?

But Don't Forget Your Employees

Besides talking to your customers, talking to your employees can be a great source of information. They are on the front lines in the business war and they deal with customers every day. They know what customers ask for and know what they want. By not involving your employees in the plan of your web site, you will miss out on a great resource. Don’t just ask them about customers but tell your plans about a web site and have them start to listen to customers more carefully. Great information can be yours if you enlist your employees to help.

These three things are by no means the only way to get to know your customers but I think that they are a great start.

Next Week: Customer Surveys - How, Why, and the Dangers involved if handled poorly.

In Two Weeks:  What to do with all this information.

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