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From Management’s Point of View ~Knowing your customers~

Updated: Jun 14

May 17, 2024



In business, it is extremely important to know your customers and understand what services you should be offering them. Taking an accounting firm as an example, looking at the case of a simple tax filing where the working steps and formulas are fairly straightforward, it’s not impossible to complete the project without a deep understanding of the client. However, our company’s mission is “Empower Company, Empower You,” meaning that we don’t just offer accounting services; we seek to support the overall business of our clients from behind the scenes, working together for the growth of successful enterprises.

 

To execute this mission, we need to know our clients and be a good partner for their expansion and success in the United States. That being said, our firm’s staff (including myself) have often been reminded that we still don’t have a complete understanding of our customers. In this post then, I would like to share some of the things that we have discussed at our Beer Bash events with respect to this topic.

 

What information is needed to know your customers?

First of all, it’s important to know what the client is actually doing. It will be useful in gaining this understanding to consider various angles such as:

  • Industry    

  • Market

  • Products/services  

  • Price range

  • Geographical region 

  • Sales method

  • Sales/marketing  

  • Competitors

Beyond grasping the industry and products/services, it is also essential to understand what markets and regions are being developed, what the sales channels are, what kinds of competitors are being faced, and how the company is intending to grow and contribute to society.

 

Next, in implementing the project, since there will be differences among companies in terms of methodology, timelines, and technology, it will be necessary to undertake close communication with the client’s management and project contacts.

 

What does the client want?

Thinking about taxation, for instance, it is often more important to know if the client “thinks” that the amount of tax they have been paying is high or low, as opposed to the actual amount paid. We might spend a lot of effort on research from our own monetary perspective and come up with a tax approach where we think, “This is wonderful tax-savings support!” But if that is not what the client really wanted, then that effort doesn’t mean very much.


Some clients want us to set up a tax reduction framework even if that involves a certain amount of risk, while others would prefer that we instead use that time to support their business administration or perform analysis, so as to offer advice on how to better manage the company. Since each entity has its own policies, despite the fact that business objectives and project targets may be similar, the starting point is to figure out the basics in terms of what the client wants to achieve and what the underlying goals are, and then to clarify any concerns in a tangible way to arrive at a mutual understanding.


Some clients may be feeling nervous about expanding their business in the U.S. It’s important for us to consider how to leverage our expertise, so as to align with the expectation levels of our customers.


Communication methods

“Communication” is a broad term, but its effectiveness will be reduced when the method doesn’t properly match the purpose. The arrival of the internet and cell phones has diversified the means of communication, and costs have plummeted. It feels completely different now compared to when I first came to America, back when voice calls were over $1/minute. Still, even if there are more ways to communicate now and things have become more convenient, there is a danger of inviting misunderstanding when the wrong tool is selected. Communication methods in order of ease would be email, text, phone, video conference, and in-person meetings, but we need to remember that each type has its own characteristics.


  • Email:  This is the easiest way to communicate in business, but it has a one-sided aspect to it and can be difficult to achieve nuance. On the other hand, it leaves a clear written history of interaction, and lends itself to factual confirmation. At the same time, it may not be the best way to build personal trust with customers.


  • Texting: While less suited to lengthy factual confirmation, texting allows instant confirmation of intentions through short written messages. Replies are typically received quickly, making it easy to ascertain the other person’s situation or feelings and share a “temperature reading”. Texting can allow a better sense of familiarity than email, but users should be careful not to allow business conversation to become overly casual.


  • Phone: While it tends to be difficult to make official records of audio calls, this method is helpful in terms of hearing the other person’s voice directly, providing a better grasp of the tone they are using and their emotional state. Also, feedback is instantaneous, so this method is advantageous when the topic requires multiple emails back and forth or when you need to get a sense of how the other person is feeling about something in real time. However, care must be taken with timing, since there is a danger of appearing to infringe on someone’s personal time.


  • Video conference: Communication tools such as Zoom, Teams, and Google Meet have now become commonplace for face-to-face communication. Compared to previous methods, this allows users to both hear and see the faces of others when meeting, offering a more specific realization of how people are actually feeling by seeing their facial reactions. A downside, however, is that videoconferencing tools have to be set up in advance, and meetings can take time to organize.


  • In-person meetings: While video conferences allow participants to see each other’s faces and hear each other’s voices, in-person meetings allow participants to use all five senses to really feel the other people’s human qualities as well as appreciate the atmosphere. This can help move things along more quickly in business by mobilizing imagination and experience, for example, in discussing how to best move a project forward. Furthermore, by sharing meals or undertaking other activities together, we can get a better sense of customers from a personal standpoint, which is an advantage in building trust. Just having the opportunity to share stories and the like can be expected to allow smoother interaction later on. That is why talking together in person is still the most effective means of communication. Notwithstanding, it requires time and money to travel to the meeting point, so the disadvantage is that these expenditures are far higher than for other methods.


As you can see, we need to choose our methods of communication in accordance with the actual purpose of knowing our customers better. However, more important by far than the communication tools themselves is that all of our staff members take an interest in our clients, acquire a good grasp of client company basics, and fully understand what kind of growth each company is trying to achieve. As we move forward, I will be striving to help our staff members develop the ability to better understand our customers through communication in order to support our customers’ growth, even as we consider what is needed and how to transform that into action.

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