Don’t make assumptions about your customers

There's something you should know: Expert advice from Debbie Hunt

There’s something you should know is our bite-sized business advice column. The amount of advice out there can be overwhelming, so we ask the professionals we meet along the way to tell us the one thing that they think every start-up needs to know.


Debbie Hunt is a customer-service devotee and a people’s person. She’s spent the last 10 years tuning her consultative approach to deliver exceptional customer experience in FMCGs.


Her essential piece of advice is not to make any assumptions about your customers.  


“Don’t assume people are going to want your product, or that they’re going to prefer it over other products they already use”, says Debbie. “Yes, you should know which specific features of your product could appeal to your target market, but you shouldn’t assume that it’s going to be the solution to their problems.


“It’s up to you to understand what customers like about the current products they’re using, and the specific reasons they might be looking for a change”. Debbie says this process should be “consultative” – a period of conversation with your target audience, working out what they do and don’t like. This really thorough understanding of your audience, teamed with confidence in what you’ve made, is a winning combination. 

While you’re thinking about why people like your competitors, don’t be tempted to be negative about them – people don’t respond well to that.


Debbie says you should in fact go the other way: “Wax lyrical about the things you like about them – that way you’ll be riding on the back of any features and benefits that people have already bought into, rather than knocking them.”


You’ve invested a lot of your life into this, and negative feedback can be hard to take, but Debbie says it’s invaluable. “Similarly, don’t be afraid of the word ‘no’ – maybe it means the person hasn’t understood your product properly, and that only gives you opportunity to explain further.”


As for the people that love your product instantly, get them on board. “People love being recognised as ‘early adopters’ or for being involved with something that’s quite pioneering –they’re likely to be very happy indeed to help you spread the word. Keep them updated, invite them to things, make them feel special – after all, they were here first.”

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