How to Build Customer Knowledge Across Your Company
Knowledge is power. And when it comes to your customers, knowledge is profit.
Customers should be any company’s true north. A deep understanding of your customers, of their wishes, fears and problems, helps everyone in your organization to do a better job.
Marketing will have a better sense of how to market products, product development will have more clarity on what features to prioritize, and top management will be better informed in crafting strategic plans.
Unlike data and information , however, knowledge lives inside people’s heads. In most companies, understanding of who your customers are and what they want remains confined to the customer-facing departments. Other departments, like marketing, product development, and top management, end up isolated in bubbles.
That’s why it pays to create dedicated processes for collecting, categorizing, and transferring customer knowledge across your company. This puts everyone in touch with reality and provides direction and alignment across the board.
Here are some best practices for doing just that.
1Assign a customer knowledge role
To take customer knowledge seriously – to make sure the collecting, categorizing and transfer of knowledge gets done – some person(s) should take it on as a responsibility.
Depending on your size, you can create a dedicated position or department, or add it as a responsibility to an existing person or department.
Since much of the process is about research and communication, the marketing department would be a natural candidate. But it could also fall under customer success or business development.
2Define the type of knowledge
Before you get started, it’s a good idea to define the type of knowledge that you’ll be collecting so that your efforts are focused and coordinated. For a deep understanding of your customers, here are a few pointers:
- The types of customers you’re dealing with (buyer personas)
- Their motivations for choosing your company
- How they make decisions
- Their emotional drivers
- Common questions/requests
- Common pain points
3Collect customer knowledge from employees
Your frontline employees are your direct line to customers. They’re in constant contact with your customers, so they hear at first hand their needs, pains, and wants.
Yet, in many companies, customer support is seen as the “complaints department” — open issues in, resolved issues out — rather than the valuable source of insights it is. More often than not, no one is responsible for analyzing the different sources of customer feedback (support conversations, phone calls, reviews, etc.) received on a daily basis.
Formalizing this process of capturing tacit knowledge (knowledge acquired from personal experience) ensures that knowledge doesn’t just stay with your frontline employees, but is also shared with the rest of your company who are also working for your customers:
Actively collect knowledge from employees. Surveys and interviews promote open dialogue and give employees a voice. In particular, employees who have been in your organization for a long time will have a lot of knowledge about your customers and where your product needs improvements.
Besides interviewing our customers, some marketing team members here at Userlike have recently interviewed senior members from our sales, support, and account management teams.
Create a culture of knowledge-sharing. Your company’s culture plays a part in whether employees share or hoard knowledge. Transparency starts with the leadership team. When founders and managers actively share information, whether via company meetings, newsletters, or informal chats, employees are likely to follow suit.
Another way to encourage your employees to share ideas and concerns is to introduce a knowledge-sharing platform. At Userlike, we use Asana to gather ideas on all aspects of the business from our employees. This allows different teams to collaborate and gives everyone from the CEO to interns a voice.
Besides company culture, research by the Harvard Business Review found that the way that jobs are designed can also affect whether employees share or hide knowledge. When employees are given more autonomy, they’re more motivated to share knowledge. Similarly, people enjoyed sharing knowledge more when they were given cognitively demanding work.
Create opportunities for informal knowledge-sharing. Knowledge-sharing doesn’t only have to take place in a formal way. Employees often share thoughts, ideas, and concerns on internal communication channels with each other. To promote open dialogue across the company, you could set up something like a customer knowledge channel in Slack or Microsoft Teams.
Team standups and 1:1s also facilitate knowledge-sharing. Asking employees to share ideas and concerns ensures that problems are brought to the forefront and that everyone has an overview of current projects.
4Collect information from your customers
Your customers are individuals with unique needs, wants, and preferences. Collecting information from your customers allows you to get to know your customers individually. This understanding lets you know whether you’re on the right track with your marketing, sales, customer service, and product development efforts.
The best way to learn more about your customers and to get inside their heads is to talk to them.
Interviews. In a one-to-one setting, interviews allow you to glean insights about your customers’ motivations, deepest desires, and pain points. They also give customers a platform to share information they may not otherwise share, say, in surveys.
Surveys. When paired with interviews, surveys are an effective way to test or prove assumptions. For example, if you found out in an interview that a particular product feature is causing problems, surveying customers is a scalable way to establish whether other customers share the same concerns.
Focus groups. These can be susceptible to groupthink but can be useful for eliciting a wide range of opinions on your product or service.
Dinners or events. Allow you to get to know customers away from a corporate setting. Breaking bread with your customers is a great way to break the ice and sets the scene for open, honest dialogue.
Social media listening. Your customers talk about your business on social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) In most cases, whenever they experience poor service. Through active social listening, you get to engage with your customers and act on concerns before they get out of hand.
Review platforms. Online reviews can make or break a customer’s decision to purchase. They also give you an open line to customers — more than simply venting, customers expect you to respond to reviews. At Userlike, we regularly monitor G2 and Capterra . Depending on your business, you may want to check Amazon, Yelp, or TrustPilot.
For a holistic overview of your customers, it helps to gather all the feedback you’ve collected from customers in one place (Asana, Trello, Basecamp, etc.) It’ll then be easier to spot trends and form a holistic view of your customers.
5Consolidate data, info, and knowledge into customer knowledge
Consolidate your customer data. Customer interactions take place at multiple touchpoints and with different people from your company. To be able to form a unified view of your customer, you need to consolidate that data into a customer database or a CRM.
While CRM tools are mainly designed for marketing and sales, there are some solutions that help manage those customer interactions such as Agile CRM and Hubspot Service Hub which provide customer-facing staff access to real-time data for faster resolution of customers’ issues.
Identify and segment your customers. To identify who your customers are, it helps to divide them into different groups according to similar characteristics, preferences, behavior, etc. This process, which is called segmentation , helps you to get to know your customers on a deeper level.
Create buyer personas. Everyone in your company should know who they’re serving and what they value. Sharing customer personas with everyone in your company helps people to think of customers in terms of individuals and not as a mass entity. Ask your customer-facing employees to see if they recognize the descriptions with your customers before sharing them.
Create a buyer journey map. This is a way to visualize the different steps customers take as they move from one touchpoint to another. Customer journey mapping helps you to understand your customers’ emotions and motivations.
6Transfer knowledge throughout your organization
Peter Senge, a senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said it best when he made the following point about sharing knowledge:
Sharing knowledge is not about giving people something, or getting something from them. That is only valid for information sharing. Sharing knowledge occurs when people are genuinely interested in helping one another develop new capacities for action; it is about creating learning processes.
Implement training. It can be difficult to transfer personal, experiential knowledge from one person to another. Job-shadowing or mentoring is one way to facilitate knowledge-sharing between two people. A non-customer-facing employee could sit in on customer chats, for example, and ask questions about how the customer success agent handled an issue a certain way.
Document workflows, processes, and must-know information. To avoid knowledge staying inside people’s heads, it’s important to document workflows, processes, and must-know information. This makes it easier to share updates and lessens the risk of misinformation spreading throughout your company.
Internal knowledge base. This is an effective way to disperse information throughout your company. Employees also spend less time searching around for information or asking colleagues.
Tutorials, whitepapers, blog posts. For new hires, these provide a wealth of information about your products and company developments. They also make great self-service solutions for your existing and prospective customers.
8Adopt an all-hands support approach
While explicit knowledge (like buyer personas) can be easily shared, it’s not so easy to pass on tacit knowledge.
Feedback from customers sometimes gets lost in translation when conveyed by frontline employees to other departments (product, marketing, sales). Employees may misinterpret or forget what the customer exactly said.
That’s why there’s no replacement for first-hand customer knowledge. One of the best ways to give everyone in the company an unfiltered, first-hand view of your customers is through “all-hands support”. This is the idea that all employees spend time answering support queries, no matter whether you’re a marketer, salesperson, or developer.
When everyone spends some time talking to customers, they gain a shared understanding of the issues that your customers most care about. More importantly, this instills company-wide empathy:
When you limit your team’s exposure to customers, you’re making it difficult for them to understand and stay focused on customers’ needs. By instituting all-hands support, you’re enabling team members to get to know customers and proactively solve problems before the tickets roll in.Deidre Scully, Teamwork.com
By baking knowledge-sharing into your company’s culture, practices, and processes, you gain a better understanding of your customers and build relationships with your employees.