Pain points are a part of business. They create opportunities to innovate, diversify and grow. Without customer pain points, there is no reason to be in business. Trading goods and services is as old as mankind itself.
Eliminating pain points began with a simple barter system, where one person grew or made something of value to another person, who in turn had something of value to trade with them. As society became more complex and the population grew, barter became time consuming and inefficient. Business, as we now know it, evolved out of the need to serve other people more effectively. Each person’s talent and skill became their ‘currency’ to purchase things they needed from others.
To a large extent, this is still the premise that operates in all businesses today. If a business fails at solving business problems, it won’t remain profitable in the longer term.
Identifying pain points is easy in some businesses. A food store solves the obvious pain point that people need to eat. But not all food stores meet the needs of all customers. Food stores now contend with meeting the specialized food needs of customers wanting sugar-free, vegetarian or gluten-free foods. Even within a single food, business must deal with micro pain points.
In Europe, cheese manufacturers are debating whether vegan ‘cheese’ – containing no dairy – can be called cheese. The vegan cheese manufacturers argue that vegans have a pain point by not having a cheese without animal products. Traditional cheese manufacturers have a pain point about fooling customers with something called cheese that isn’t really cheese.
Clearly, the complexity in identifying and solving pain points is a major issue for businesses today. Kary Oberbrunner of Souls on Fire says that there are six steps involved in the purchase decision: pain, proof, picture, process, people and purpose.
The first three steps deal with marketing pain points to get the customer aligned with the pain point. The last three involve solving their pain by purchasing from the business. Without effectively handling the pain points, making a sale or solving a customer problem is considerably more difficult.
The simplest way to identify pain points is to ask current and former customers two questions: What are we doing right? And, what are we doing wrong?
If a business already has a customer service program, look at customer comments. Is an issue mentioned repeatedly? Are there patterns or complaints about a particular area of the business? Are issues facing the business the same ones competitors face?
To discover small business pain points, businesses can search social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) for people’s comments about larger companies within the same space. They can read blogs devoted to their product or service category to see what is good and bad with competitors. They can read comments to see emergent issues that affect their business. Comments are insights into the customer’s mind.
It’s an opportunity for a small business to solve pain points the big guys may be missing. An online search will reveal what people are really talking about. Blogs, articles and comments from unrelated industries can also uncover similar problems in another business sector. For example, customer demand for curated goods at online retail sites has spilled over into the food industry with customers wanting foods tailored for their medical conditions.
Individual business needs, or the unique selling proposition (USP), determines how a business deals with pain points. Sometimes a business cannot solve all of its pain points. When a product is seen as a commodity (such as, laundry detergent, gasoline, etc.) by the customers, the customers choose the business that solves their most pressing need, and willingly put up with other pain points in exchange for the primary need being met. The commodity triad of price, service, and quality rule their decisions.
Basically, the customer ‘agrees’ to forego getting three to get two benefits instead. For example, a customer may trade good quality for a lower price and faster service. Strong customer engagement is key to reducing customer pain with commodity businesses.
Pain points also evolve over time. As one pain point is eliminated, another one takes its place. Continuous pain point analysis is necessary to keep customers happy with a business. When Henry Ford began manufacturing automobiles, the automobile solved the pain of slow travel. Once the initial problem was solved, more small business pain points had to be solved. Bad roads created a bumpy ride for drivers, but Ford did not have the ability to fix roads. Better tires and shock absorbers, innovations that came from other industries, eventually solved the bumpy ride.
Pain points are also not static. One industry’s pain often becomes the genesis for a new industry. In order to remain profitable, businesses must strive to lower or reduce customer pain, even when they cannot directly solve it with their current business model or product offering.
Businesses should remain flexible in what they do in order to meet customers’ changing needs. They should be aware that letting the competitor find the pain point solution may mean losing their customers. When Ford asked a buggy whip maker to make seat covers for his automobiles, the whip maker said no, because he wasn’t a seat maker. He did not see that seat making also involved working with leather, something his business did well. He was soon out of business as automobiles quickly replaced horses. Business opportunities often come from solving another business’ pain point.
In the end, the customer’s pain points help a business innovate solutions, expand their business offerings, move the business in a new direction, or cause the business to grow exponentially while solving another business’ problem. Customers go where they get what they want, where they find comfort, and a reduction in their pain.
It’s up to the business owner to stay aware of pain points and to solve them, not through hastily created business patches, but through continuous pain point analysis, where solutions can be created not only to retain old customers, but also attract new ones.