To Grow Sales, Become a Seer

By Heather Baldwin

Imagine inserting your ATM card into a machine and instead of the machine asking you to choose a language for this transaction, the on-screen message asks whether you’d like your usual $100 cash, no receipt. Press yes and you take your cash and leave; press no and you can access the normal menu of services. Sound too good to be true? Not in Australia, where St. George Bank, Australia’s fifth largest bank, provides that level of customer service every day, according to Don Peppers and Martha Rogers in their new book, Return on Customer: A Revolutionary Way to Measure and Strengthen Your Business (Doubleday, 2005). In short, St. George Bank recognizes that it’s not just enough to understand customers’ needs. To get ahead today businesses need to anticipate those needs.

"The logic behind anticipating customers’ needs is compelling," say Peppers and Rogers. "If you know what they need, then you can better figure out what they’ll want next and when. You become more relevant to customers – maybe even essential to them – so they’ll keep doing business with you." Here are three types of insight you can use to anticipate your customers’ needs.

1. Memory. Your memory of customers’ past purchases and preferences is the simplest method of anticipating future needs. When customers can rent a car without having to specify the model, credit card or insurance company, the car rental firm is using its memory of past rentals to anticipate customers’ needs. Similarly, say Peppers and Rogers, if customers buy flowers for their mother’s birthday each year, the florist can remember the date and anticipate their need for flowers the next year. "However customers communicate their need or preference," say the authors, "all you have to do, as a business, is rely on your memory of those specifications to anticipate the next event."

2. Editorial influence. By taking your memory of customers and coupling it with some type of content or editorial influence you anticipate their needs – and drive increased sales. For example, the woman who bought flowers for her mother’s birthday also might want to celebrate Mother’s Day or recognize another relative’s birthday. Or customers who buy music CDs from your store also might be interested in CD-cleaning solutions.

3. Comparisons. Each customer is unique, but they have similarities as well. If you delve into your system you might find that almost everyone who purchases Product A also purchases Product B, or that people who wear certain clothes tend to prefer certain features in a car. "Your goal when making such comparisons is simply to do a better job of anticipating what it is that any particular customer needs," say Peppers and Rogers. "You want to be there first, ready to serve customers by addressing their needs and activating their motivation to change their behavior." When you can do that, you’ll cultivate devoted, lifelong customers.